Berkeley Lab Brings Energy Management to Small Commercial Buildings

September 3, 2014 By Karen Henry

strip-mall-energy-manageAccording to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, small commercial buildings—50,000 square feet or less—account for 44 percent of all commercial building energy use. Small buildings, however, are unlikely to have dedicated building operations staff who know how to take advantage of energy performance services. The average energy bill of a small commercial building is about $23,000 annually. Often, the decision to implement energy saving measures is based on simple payback period: if energy savings are 10 percent, the budget for energy efficiency services at these sites may only be $2,000–5,000.

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a strategy to bring better energy management and efficiency improvements to these buildings by way of their HVAC contractors.

The Energy Management Package (EMP), developed with the help of contractors and small building owners, is available for free on the Berkeley Lab website. The EMP provides a step-by-step guide to basic energy management services. The package focuses on offices, retail, food service and food sales buildings, where large opportunities for low-cost energy savings exist. The project targets 3 to 5 percent energy savings per building through low-and no-cost measures.

In conducting a scoping study to develop the EMP, Berkeley Lab discovered there is no single tool that provides a simple, systematic way for anyone—contractors or knowledgeable owners—to complete the key energy analysis steps for small commercial buildings recommended by the research team. Owners need simple, easy-to-understand information about their buildings that is actionable.

The resulting EMP consists of five steps: benchmarking the energy use of the target building against similar buildings; analyzing from three to 12 months of hourly or sub-hourly electric interval data (two to three hours of contractor time); performing a walkthrough of the building (one hour); discussing findings with the owner; and checking results (every six to 12 months).

The EMP includes a building walkthrough checklist of what to look for, how to find simple low- or no-cost measures such as adjusting thermostat setpoints and lighting controls that can lower energy use with little impact on activities within the building. The model also provides a detailed approach to calculating costs and benefits to the contractor and the customer.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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