Energy Audits, Onsite or Virtual, Are Vital

December 17, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

energy_auditEnergy audits are important tools in crafting policies and creating efficient infrastructures. It is, after all, impossible to fix what is wrong in a building without having a clear idea of what is going on.

The good news is that auditing tools are improving. Today, however, audits are not well monitored or managed, at least according to Jim Kelsey, the chair of a committee working to craft standards for energy audits for commercial buildings.

In an early December press release announcing the process, Kelsey said that the goal was to create certainty. “Without standardization, it’s been the Wild West out there – anyone who carries a clipboard and a camera can call themselves an energy auditor and their report an energy audit. What we hope to accomplish with this standard is to set appropriate minimum criteria for what approaches are expected, what information should be in an audit, and how that information is communicated to the end client.”

In November, ASHRAE and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) released ASHRAE/ACCA Standard 211P, “Standard for Commercial Building Energy Audits,” which aims to bring consistency and structure to the audit sector. It is open for public comment until January 4, 2016.

The process described in the ASHRAE/ACCA document, which runs more than 60 pages, is exhaustive. The .pdf of the document can be linked to from here. It is structured in four parts: A preliminary benchmarking and three subsequent steps. The audit process detailed covers envelope; lighting; HVAC; heating, chilled, condenser and domestic water systems; refrigeration (except for food processing refrigeration); on‐site power generation equipment; uninterruptible power supplies and power distribution; people moving systems; plug loads (including office equipment, appliances); laundries; food Preparation and pools, saunas and spas, the documents says. It doesn’t cover industrial processes, agricultural processes or irrigation.

There are approaches that attempt to provide valuable information in a less intensive format. A story at ACHR News looks at virtual energy audits. The story suggests that while some experts say that there is no substitute for an on-site audit, others suggest that a virtual audit can complement – not replace – a physical audit.

Since equipment can’t be directly examined in a virtual audit, the focus moves to an analysis of meter data that building is generating and its use to create recommendations for upgrades, changes and improvements. It almost certainly is true that the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analytics — which greatly increases the number of sensors in buildings and the trends that can be deduced from them – will make virtual approaches more comprehensive.

Phys.org reported this week on a $1.4 million grant that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The goal of the project is to upgrade energy audits for “light” commercial structures which, the story said, don’t generally have the embedded wiring of structures used for heavier activities. This is particularly true of older buildings.

The researchers will work with Johnson Controls during the next three years to create software that better deduces what is happening in the building. Indeed, one of the researchers likened the data streams and their ability to describe what is happening to DNA. The challenge is understanding what the data is saying.

The researchers are looking for patterns and correlations in the data that reveal if the heating and ventilation systems are oversized or undersized, when the lights come on, if the building needs better insulation and windows, and more. Using this information, a predictive model, developed from the building’s data, can then be created and tested.

Audits figure to gain a higher profile as more attention is focused on energy use and the ability to draw data out of structures proliferates. For instance, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, the State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and National Grid is offering free energy audits to municipalities, school districts and “quasi-public” state agencies, according to a story posted earlier this month at GoLocalProv.

One comment on “Energy Audits, Onsite or Virtual, Are Vital

  1. I have a problem with the statement ” It is, after all, impossible to fix what is wrong in a building without having a clear idea of what is going on.”

    Any building owner/tenant with a “Rooftop Unit(s) (RTUs)” already knows where the problem is, the Rooftop Unit! RTUs are the major consumer of energy in almost all buildings so the need to investigate every knock and cranny is simply a waste of money unit the RTUs are deal with.

    The Better Building Challenge, ASHRAE, RILA, BOMA and all the other acronyms associated with energy efficiency have already announced how 80% of all buildings can reduce HVAC energy consumption immediately by 40-60%. Install “advanced rooftop controllers” and specifically Bes-Tech, Inc’s “Digi-RTU”.

    RTU technology is ancient and terribly inefficient. A Digi-RTU controller installation does to any RTU what the upgrade of the lenses did on the Hubble telescope. It’s and immediate of turning night into day.

    The DOE even started a new website http://www.advancedrtu.org to make the statement as best they can. They say literally, replace your current RTUs or install “advanced rooftop controllers”. The Digi-RTU is the Cadillac of the breed.

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