Conducting an energy audit is one of the most compelling opportunities for cutting utility bills for commercial facilities, according to green energy expert Bernie Kotlier, who spoke at a recent public service workshop sponsored by the NorCal National Electrical Contractors Association/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (NECA/IBEW) 684 Partnership in Modesto, Calif. Representatives from government, education, and private industry throughout California’s Central Valley attended the workshop.

The partnership is conducting a series of free green energy workshops for public jurisdictions, educators and business owners in the region as part of its ongoing community service program to encourage green building and energy conservation.

Kotlier, director of green energy solutions for NECA/IBEW, said that an energy audit should be the first step toward cost reduction for commercial facilities to maximize energy conservation measures.

“Not only is an energy audit the least expensive energy conservation measure we can take, it is also the most comprehensive,” Kotlier said. “We need to understand the facility, its energy-related systems, its usage and costs before we make any changes to the building. An energy audit can give us that information.”

Kotlier said the audit would ideally then be followed by retrofitting the building with energy-efficiency measures, such as highly efficient lighting and lighting control systems. The final step would be the application of renewable-energy systems, such as solar electricity.

“Prospective energy savings are not always being realized to full potential because property owners and managers do not always have all the energy information they need to make the best decisions,” Kotlier said. “The energy audit is the diagnostic tool that provides the comprehensive data required to reduce costs and obtain the best return on investment.”

Kotlier said facility energy efficiency is a key factor, including making interior and exterior electrical, mechanical and building envelope systems work in a highly efficient manner.

“The least expensive kilowatt is the one we don’t use,” Kotlier said.

Energy audits are conducted by expert electrical contractors and include two phases: a screening survey to identify the savings opportunities and a more comprehensive preliminary energy assessment that includes data capture. A screening includes a survey of a facility’s major systems and analyzes the possibilities for energy-efficiency improvements.

Kotlier said that 35 percent of the electrical energy costs in nonresidential buildings go toward indoor lighting, with fans and pumps using another 15 percent; space cooling and office equipment together occupy 28 percent of the total electrical energy usage. Energy-efficiency measures, on average, can save 52 percent on lighting in commercial buildings and 35 percent on space cooling and refrigeration, he said.

This is a service electrical contractors can perform that will pay for itself with the potential savings.