5 Emerging Trends in Energy Saving for Facilities

Consider smart lighting, big data and other sustainability measures you can bring to your workplace.

Facilities Management, Energy, Sustainability

If you’re a facilities manager, you’re probably aware of simple steps that can make your building more energy-efficient: replacing old lightbulbs with LEDs, buying Energy Star appliances and changing HVAC air filters on schedule, for example. 

While those measures are a great start, energy usage is a constantly evolving variable in facilities management. New technologies and trends are always emerging, bringing new opportunities for efficiency. 

“Most buildings we look at can save between 20 and 50 percent of their current energy consumption,” says Jennifer Chiodo, managing principal of Cx Associates, a consulting engineering firm in Vermont and Maine that helps commercial buildings reduce their environmental impacts. “Facilities managers have the potential to really help us meet climate goals.” 

To that end, here are five emerging trends in energy saving to bring to your building. 

1. Big Data as a Resource for Energy Efficiency

Using energy data and information to understand building performance is becoming a common practice, Chiodo says, because “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” 

Harnessing the power of big data requires buying energy management information system software, but that investment is likely to pay back later. 

For example, a client of Cx Associates used monitoring software and found that a heating valve inside the facility was stuck open; the HVAC system was heating up air only to cool it back down, wasting energy and money. After the problem was identified, the facilities manager fixed the valve, saving an estimated $70,000 per year. 

2. Retrocommissioning 

Commissioning is the process of making sure energy-using systems in a building are efficient, installed correctly and working properly. In retrocommissioning, an expert analyzes an existing building’s performance and recommends steps that will reduce operating costs while improving the systems’ functionality. 

Think of it as a tuneup for HVAC systems, Chiodo says. 

A firm with expertise in retrocommissioning can advise a facilities manager on how to optimize the HVAC system and control it more effectively. 

That’s especially important because HVAC controls are often set and forgotten, even as the configuration of the office changes. Or controls are overridden to respond to a complaint and never changed back. Both situations can waste energy. 

A retrocommissioning study is likely to recommend minor changes to the controls that can have a major impact. “The facility will get better occupant comfort, lower energy bills and often increased system reliability,” Chiodo says. 

3. Employee-Controlled Lighting 

For decades, offices have used fluorescent lights that are difficult to dim, expensive to run and hard on the eyes. Today, employees can work under dimmable LED fixtures that they can control from their computer. 

Most people work on screens, so they don’t need as much overhead lighting as the typical office provides. Allowing employees to control the amount of light saves energy and makes people more productive. 

4. Building Participation in a Smart Grid 

Utility companies offer demand management programs that provide financial incentives for buildings that reduce energy consumption during times of peak use, such as during extremely hot weather. Reducing loads during these periods can generate significant savings for building owners, and it’s up to facilities managers to ensure compliance. 

“The facilities manager should be aware of these opportunities because they’re a way to offset the energy costs and the operating costs of the building,” Chiodo says. 

Adjustments to energy consumption can be subtle, such as dimming the lights or precooling the building overnight and then “coasting” the rest of the day. 

These programs might require energy management information system software, but the cost of that investment will most likely be offset by energy savings over time. To enroll in these programs, contact your utility’s account representative; the programs typically require a significant demand impact. 

5. Replacing Gas, Oil and Propane Furnaces, Boilers and Water Heaters With High-Efficiency Air-Source Heat Pumps

This trend is part of a broader movement toward electrification of buildings — transitioning from fossil fuels to electric sources for heating. A high-efficiency, air-source heat pump can be much more efficient than traditional heating equipment.

While the move to electric generally will reduce fossil fuel use, a facilities management team will need to map out its annual cooling and heating spend to address how weather conditions affect usage. Sometimes a building requires extra equipment or other upgrades to net an energy savings, Chiodo says.

For instance, in regions with frigid winter temperatures, you might need to make changes to the building envelope to mitigate the effects of wind and snow on the system’s efficacy.

For assistance in planning a conversion, facilities managers should start by checking with their electric company’s efficiency program or their HVAC vendor.