Deep Energy Retrofits: Benefits, Challenges & Solutions

Nearly a fifth of energy consumed in the US is used by commercial buildings – but building owners and managers have a number of options when it comes to reducing that energy consumption and increasing their margins, from simple behavioral changes to easy updates to deep energy retrofits. Basic changes that can cut the amount of energy wasted by a commercial building might include keeping HVAC systems up to date and well-maintained, using programmable thermostats, using power-savings mode on office equipment and – the most popular “low-hanging fruit” of the energy retrofit world – replacing old light bulbs with CFL or LEDs. Even allowing employees to work from home when possible can decrease the energy burden, suggests an article in Environmental Protection.

When basic tactics like these have been implemented and more energy savings are necessary, building owners are increasingly looking to deep energy retrofits – that is, a whole-building analysis and retrofit process that produces significantly larger energy cost savings than simpler energy retrofits and can enhance a building’s overall value. Deep energy retrofits are generally undertaken at the end-of-life of a building’s systems such as lighting, HVAC, windows and ventilation, or roof in a way that integrates the design of these systems and ties them together. “You’re not trying to completely redesign a new building; you’re trying to use the best bones your building has to its best advantage,” said Deb Cloutier, principal and founder of energy management and sustainability consulting firm JDM Associates (via GlobeSt.com).

Challenges of a Deep Energy Retrofit

But because a deep energy retrofit is a complicated process touching so many systems in a building, challenges abound.

One such challenge is that few building managers have working knowledge of all the different systems in a building, and yet that manager is tasked with deciding whether a deep energy retrofit is the right move. Getting senior management support and funding is another major challenge, according to Nick Stolatis, senior executive of asset management and sustainability for EPN Real Estate Services Inc.

It may be that resistance to such extensive work is more financial than technical, Energy Manager Today wrote in February based on information in Forbes. With only about 60% of commercial floorspace in the US being occupied by its owner, large-ticket upgrades such as deep building envelope or HVAC system upgrades remain difficult to sell because the company doesn’t have as much stake in its efficiency.

The Tactical Approach

A few tactics for solving these challenges include:

–Benchmark current energy performance. Without being able to measure improvements based on a baseline, it will be impossible to track whether a retrofit is successful. “If you can save $10,000 in operational costs because you’ve now eliminated waste in your building, you have $10,000 to buy a more-efficient piece of equipment for your deep energy retrofit,” Stolatis says.

–Have a strategic view. Low- and no-cost opportunities are a great place to start, but as a retrofit – and energy savings potential – deepens, be ready to ask “what next?”

–Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. “If you fall short, you will lose credibility and there will be a lack of confidence when you come back with the next program,” says Stolatis.

Despite these challenges, deep energy retrofits can save significant amounts of energy. Since the spring of 2015, for example, Efficiency Vermont has run the Deep Retrofit pilot program at five organizations. The goal is to cut energy consumption by half, and by the end of 2016, four out of the five companies in the pilot had succeeded. Fifteen companies are participating in the next round of the project.

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