BERKELEY, Calif. — Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have developed a package of simple analytical steps — and a strategy — designed to bring better energy management and efficiency improvements to small buildings by way of the service providers who are already taking care of these buildings: HVAC contractors.

The Energy Management Package (EMP), developed with the help of contractors and small building owners, is now available for free at LBNL said the EMP can help HVAC contractors expand the business they do with small building owners by providing a simple step-by-step guide to provide basic energy management services. The selling point to small commercial building owners is lower energy costs, with minimal financial investment. 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.

Erin Hult, Jessica Granderson, and Paul Mathew of LBNL’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) conducted R&D for the Commercial Buildings Integration Program in DOE’s Building Technology Office to develop a better approach to bringing energy management into small commercial buildings. They began by listening to those involved in this market segment for a scoping study. They talked with contractors, utility energy efficiency program managers, and vendors of energy information systems (EIS), the technology used in commercial buildings that helps managers understand real-time consumption patterns and monitor building energy use.

“We found that while some small building owners want to reduce their energy use, there are very few energy management tools and services specifically targeted to this market. Many of the existing tools are too complicated and expensive for small buildings,” said Hult.

The scoping study also discovered that 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. “Two of the contractors we spoke to suggested that a one-page report for owners would be more effective than an online tool in motivating them to take action,” Hult said.

The research team considered several different approaches to creating a process for expanding energy management to small commercial buildings that would succeed in the marketplace, ranging from providing software for building owners to buy, to using utilities as the delivery channel. They settled on developing a package for HVAC contractors that shows them how to expand their existing services to the small commercial market to include energy management to improve whole-building energy performance.

“Contractors have existing relationships with small commercial customers,” said Hult. “They regularly visit these buildings to provide maintenance.” This keeps the transaction cost of providing energy management services low — something that emerged in the scoping study as a high priority.

With guidance from the study, the research team developed the Energy Management Package, and recruited a group of 16 contractors nationwide to participate in a demonstration study to determine how well the package worked, and what improvements were needed. Contractors have identified 24 demonstration sites totaling over 400,000 square feet. Participating contractors included AAA Air Care, Advanced Energy Efficiency, Air Comfort Corp., Bay Air Systems, Burch Corp., Cooper Oates Air Conditioning, Dynamic Air Services, Eric Kjelshus Energy HVAC, Energy Conservation Pros/Syntrol, Johnson AC, Gilbert Mechanical Contractors, Marina Mechanical, Mid MO Inspectors, Murphy & Miller Inc., Peterson Service Co., and Zero Energy Associates. The demonstration program is ongoing; results should be available early in 2015.

“The package provides step-by-step guidance to contractors to minimize required training. For analyzing energy data, it leverages existing, free software tools. There are guidelines, worksheets, a simple reporting tool, and a business model for the user,” said Hult.

The process 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 package shows the user how to get the building’s total and monthly energy use from utility bill data, and how to use an existing online program such as Energy Star Portfolio Manager to determine how well or poorly the building performs compared to others of its type. It explains how interval data can reveal spikes in a building’s energy usage that they can use to diagnose problems with equipment. The data can reveal opportunities to use temperature setpoints, overnight setbacks, and other strategies to actively manage energy costs.

The EMP user is guided through the building walkthrough process by a checklist of what to look for, learning 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 package’s focus on communicating with the customer helps demonstrate the bottom-line advantages of energy performance improvement, as well as other benefits such as better IAQ and lower maintenance costs. Its model for incorporating energy management into a contractor’s business is designed to help make this a successful service offering that adds to the contractor’s business success. The model provides a detailed approach to calculating costs and benefits to the contractor and the customer.

Initial feedback from the demonstration indicates that contractors are deriving value from deploying this approach at small commercial buildings. Obtaining access to clients’ energy data can be a challenge for contractors, however, according to Hult. She believes that wider implementation of the Green Button data formatting standard and Green Button Connect data transfer protocol, in conjunction with utility smart meter deployment, are critical to enable the broad adoption of energy management strategies in the small commercial sector.

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Publication date: 9/1/2014

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