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Most organizations welcome innovations to reduce energy use but have a limited budget to test and implement them. It also can be difficult for facility executives to justify new energy programs. Success in energy management often hinges on the ability to reduce energy costs without spending much money.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a multiprogram U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in Richland, Wash., has put a good deal of effort over the past two decades into its efforts to reduce energy expenditures significantly. Those efforts have paid off. Even with double-digit increases in utility costs, PNNL has reduced energy consumption per square foot by 33 percent in office buildings since 1985 and 42 percent in lab space since 1990. Although PNNL has invested in upgrades to improve energy performance, many steps have involved low-cost measures.
PNNL has about two million gross square feet of mixed-use space in 84 government and private buildings occupied by 4,200 staff members. Together, the buildings use 81 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. Annual utility costs are $8.5 million.
Not everything PNNL implemented has worked as expected, but the organization has learned some valuable lessons along the way. Over the years, PNNL discovered that its most successful energy programs fall into five categories: 1) changing staff behavior, 2) modernizing the infrastructure, 3) diversifying energy supplies, 4) improving the operations of existing facility systems and 5) using alternative financing.
Influencing staff behavior is arguably the most difficult aspect of energy management, but it can also be the most productive. The first step is to get buy-in from the top.
To begin, PNNL assembled a team to investigate what kind of energy the lab used and when, how PNNL compared with other facilities, and how improvements could be made. With facts in hand, the facility staff wrote an initial plan that described long-term strategies for conservation, building and system upgrades, energy diversification, and communication. Top management endorsed the plan, committing to make operational changes to reduce energy and maintenance costs with the underlying goal of reducing utility costs.
The plan spelled out goals and ways to measure progress. The original goals included reducing energy consumption per square foot in laboratories and office buildings compared to a baseline year, reducing water use in landscaping and building processes, and increasing staff awareness about actions they could take to reduce energy costs daily.
The plan began as a one-time effort, which helped build confidence and credibility for the energy team. After a series of measurable successes, the program was formally established and given additional funding for equipment upgrades. The team was empowered to seek larger savings opportunities.
Goals and ways to measure progress were spelled out. For further accountability, energy goals were written into performance evaluations for facility management staff and included in the performance measures that the Department of Energy uses to determine PNNL’s annual performance fee.
It’s one thing to get senior management buy-in, but influencing staff behavior change, especially from those who may not be directly responsible for meeting energy goals, is more challenging. The first step was an education campaign.
An important aspect of motivation is emphasizing the power of the individual, both detrimental and beneficial. If one person in ten at PNNL leaves office equipment and lights on 24 hours per day, it adds an additional $100,000 per year to our energy costs. Staff was educated about what they could do, avoiding a heavy-handed approach by using a cartoon character, Wally Watt. Staff learned about energy goals, tips and progress through e-mail messages, staff meetings, presentations, a Web site and the laboratory’s staff newsletter.
To engage staff directly, an energy-saving competition was held among eight office buildings. At the end of each of three winter months, occupants of the winning building received donuts and bagels. After three months, the overall winning building occupants received a catered lunch.
This pilot effort was a huge success. Energy use dropped by 20 percent in one building and 14 percent in the others, when compared with previous years. A $4,000 investment generated a savings of $16,000 over three months, a 400 percent return on investment.
It’s difficult to sustain voluntary behavior change without an ongoing effort. The energy program lacked funds to continue beyond the pilot campaign, and energy use crept back up to previous levels within six months. Nevertheless, the facility staff believes the short-term campaign succeeded because staff members relished the competitive aspect and the recognition from their peers and managers. The modest prizes of donuts and a lunch demonstrated that rewards don’t need to be expensive or ostentatious to motivate change.
In 2002, an energy audit showed that plugged-in equipment was responsible for 37 to 56 percent of total office building consumption. The top contributor was office computers — an average of more than two per staff member. Based on this finding, facility managers created a two-year Plug into Savings project to reduce unnecessary computer use. PNNL worked with a regional utility, the Bonneville Power Administration, to distribute nearly 10,000 motion-controlled power strips to staff at PNNL and other local companies to reduce standby power/plug load requirements in offices. Five hundred underused computers were eliminated and staff were encouraged to use the standby power settings on their equipment.
The results of this two-year project were dramatic: an estimated 8,542,601 kwh per year ($341,704 per year) in savings for PNNL and its neighboring companies.
Sometimes scarce resources, conflicting priorities or simple inertia cause facility executives to overlook opportunities for energy savings in existing buildings. PNNL used a systematic series of steps to reveal these opportunities.
PNNL started by making a checklist of no-cost or low-cost energy-saving strategies, based in part on the database of the Industrial Assessment Center of the U.S. Department of Energy. Actions included fine-tuning HVAC systems, adjusting temperatures, using night temperature setbacks, turning off unneeded lights after hours and reprogramming heating and cooling systems to shut down based on outdoor air temperatures. With checklist in hand, facility executives could systematically inventory energy use in their buildings. The master checklist also included larger efforts. For measures that cost between $100 and $1,000, the decisions were made based on long-term return on investment. Steps costing $1,000 or more were planned for and executed separately from the less costly items.
To overcome their initial reluctance to adopt this new approach, facility executives were encouraged to take on the low-risk/high-return tasks first, such as adjusting the temperature setpoints. When facility executives saw the results of their efforts, the credibility of the recommissioning checklist program increased, prompting more challenging energy conservation measures.
The master checklist is updated continually as new opportunities for energy savings are identified. Over a five-year period, these activities have resulted in an estimated energy cost avoidance of more than $600,000. Some of the savings were used to purchase renewable energy. These activities also helped get facility executives more involved in all phases of building operation, as they seek energy conservation from design through procurement, operations and maintenance.
Sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond individual buildings to make companywide upgrades. For example, the internal network was used to set computer monitors to automatically go into hibernation mode after 20 minutes of non-use. Water heater thermostats were lowered to 110 degrees for tanks serving restrooms and kitchens. Occupancy sensors were installed in common areas. Lighting was retrofitted from T-12 to more efficient T-8 models. Office light fixtures were reduced from four lamps to two where appropriate. Lighting retrofits paid off in less than three years.
Because PNNL is a research laboratory, facility executives look for opportunities to pilot-test new energy technologies. One steel-concrete building needed new temperature sensors, but a conventional wired system would have cost $8,400. The commercially available wireless system selected cost $6,000, plus the cost of changing batteries every three to five years. Wireless systems are now installed in eight buildings that had a history of temperature inefficiencies.
Because wireless systems can be averaged and the information sent to the heating/cooling system, the systems run less often. In addition, the new systems show where existing equipment is not working properly, so adjustments can be made to the hardware. In one 70,000-square-foot building, the payback was less than 12 months on the initial installation, followed by cost savings of more than $6,000 per year.
One of the lessons learned was the need to communicate with staff before installing new technology. Some occupants were convinced that the new wireless thermostats were surveillance cameras monitoring their activities. It took a great deal of communication to explain that the sensors were actually part of PNNL’s energy conservation programs.
Most renewable energy is still more expensive than traditional sources, but large consumers such as PNNL can help make it more widely available, thus driving down costs over time. PNNL is steadily increasing its renewable energy sources to diversify its supply, make better use of environmentally sound alternatives, and meet federal and state goals.
The main campus in Richland uses 12.8 percent green power from renewable sources including wind, small hydro and biofuels. PNNL’s Marine Research Operations on Washington coast’s Olympic Peninsula is powered completely by electricity generated by recovered landfill gas. PNNL’s purchasing commitment enables the City of Richland to buy a block of wind power from Bonneville Power Administration, some of which the city makes available to residents and businesses.
This year, PNNL began using biofuels containing part ethanol and biodiesel in its 28 vehicles, as well as in boilers and backup generators in its largest (200,000-square-foot) laboratory building. PNNL’s purchase commitment enabled the state’s first public ethanol fueling station to open this year in Richland. Biofuel costs currently are comparable to those of petroleum-based fuel.
One way to stretch the energy management budget is to get others to pay for some of it. Over the last eleven years, PNNL has brought in more than $13 million in alternative financing for energy programs.
As a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory, PNNL uses federal energy savings performance contracts to borrow capital to hire private energy service companies to make building improvements. Project costs are paid back through energy savings; the target payback period is five years or less.
PNNL has also received up to $200,000 annually from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program to implement energy conservation measures such as lighting retrofits. The Bonneville Power Administration’s cost-shared funds are used for projects such as the power-strip occupancy sensors mentioned earlier, where the partners contribute an agreed-on combination of dollars, equipment and labor.
Mike Moran is the manager of the Facility Energy Program Office at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Andrea McMakin is a senior communications specialist at the laboratory.
Energy-Saving Programs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory