Identifying Opportunities

Step no.3 in the energy services project delivery process involves identifying potential energy project opportunities based on the results of steps No. 1 and No. 2. The benchmarks established in the previous steps can be used to identify potential improvement opportunities in this step, provide data to analyze and select improvement opportunities in the next step, and result in measurable criteria that can be used to commission and measure the success of the implemented energy project techniques. Following the identification of possible energy project opportunities in this step, we will analyze the opportunities in Step No. 4 to determine feasibility and the formulation of a comprehensive energy project plan for the customer in Step No. 5. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Energy project opportunities should be consistent with the four categories of energy services that the electrical contractor offers its customers. These four categories include energy conservation, efficiency, supply and reliability.

Energy conservation involves reducing energy usage through the use of controls, such as occupancy sensors; modification of the customer’s operations to reduce energy use; or adaptation of occupant behavior to better conserve energy.
Energy efficiency, on the other hand, typically involves replacing old or obsolete building equipment and systems, such as lighting, with more modern and efficient versions of existing equipment and systems.

Energy supply opportunities include ways that the customer can secure a more economical energy supply through on-site energy production, such as installing a photovoltaic (PV) array or cogeneration using waste heat from production processes. In some areas of the United States, customers may also select a preferred electric energy or natural gas supplier based on economics, even though delivery of the energy will still be through local retail electric or gas utility distribution system.

Energy reliability addresses power quality issues and the customer’s need to have access to an energy supply that is consistent with its operational needs. Traditionally, energy reliability has been achieved with the installation of power conditioners and uninterruptible power supplies on critical equipment and systems. However, today, energy reliability may be achieved by using natural gas for fuel cells or microturbines where energy produced on-site using natural gas is more reliable and economical than utility-supplied energy.

Energy opportunity hierarchy
When identifying energy project opportunities for customers, the electrical contractor should start with energy conservation, then address energy efficiency, and finally consider energy production opportunities. Throughout the process of identifying potential opportunities for the customer, the electrical contractor should keep in mind the degree of energy reliability that the customer’s operations demand.

This hierarchy is intended to provide a method for first identifying the easiest energy opportunities that require minimum investment and then those that increase in complexity and investment as the customer moves from energy conservation, to energy efficiency and finally to energy production opportunities. Following this structured approach of zeroing in on and categorizing energy opportunities will usually result in a rough ranking of opportunities by return on investment (ROI). In addition, addressing each of these energy opportunity categories in turn will often result in the increased investment at each subsequent step being more productive and producing a greater ROI. For example, it is much more efficient to reduce lighting energy use by installing daylight sensors where appropriate rather than to invest in a PV array that supplants the energy wasted by not taking advantage of daylighting.

Energy opportunity cycle
Today, the energy opportunity cycle is never-ending. Just because the customer performed an energy audit and took steps to improve energy efficiency in the recent past does not mean that all the simple energy project opportunities have been exhausted and that the customer’s facility is running at top efficiency. On the contrary, today’s focus on energy efficiency and sustainability in the building sector is resulting in new products and technologies becoming commercially available for the building retrofit market every day. Innovative technologies that may not have been technically possible or economically feasible yesterday may be readily available, easily implementable and reasonably priced today. That state-of-the-art system or equipment installed in your customer’s facility just a short time ago may be outdated today, and replacement may be economically justified when analyzed. Just because a system or piece of equipment works does not mean it is efficient, adequate or suited for its current use.

The author thanks ELECTRI International Inc. for its sponsorship of the research project, “Energy Roadmap: Electrical Contractor’s Guide for Expanding Into the Emerging Energy Market,” on which this article is based.


GLAVINICH is director of Architectural Engineering & Construction Programs and an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 and

About the Author

Thomas E. Glavinich

Freelance Writer
Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research end...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.