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Changes to utility rebate and incentive programs show the importance of a good relationship with your utility. One reason that it's important to work closely with the utility is that rebate and incentive programs have changed over the years. While it may make sense to simply apply for rebates for equipment improvements or consumption reduction, you may be able to do more if you look at it from a big-picture perspective, says Kim Erickson, program manager for commercial building performance, Consortium for Energy Efficiency.
"The most important step is to build a relationship with your utility or program administrator and work closely with them to improve your building's performance," Erickson says. "There's usually more you can cost-effectively do."
Dan York, utilities program director, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), says that there has been a lot of movement toward offering more comprehensive rebate and incentive packages as opposed to simply saying if you replace a certain piece of equipment, you get a certain rebate. The preferred method for these types of rebates is becoming based on a big-picture look at the building systems and how they affect the entire building.
For example, York says, Seattle City Light is structuring its incentives based on how much energy is used per square foot. Initiatives such as this are intended to encourage facility managers not to just replace a piece of equipment and call it a day.
"Some of the early programs for large customers tended to be rebate programs for pieces of equipment, so if they were going to buy new pumps or new chillers, there'd be a rebate associated with that one-time replacement," York says. "Now, there's a much greater emphasis on overall system efficiency so that it's not just having the efficient chiller, but making sure that the distribution of that cold water is done efficiently and that the spaces themselves are efficient so they don't require as much cooling."
Projects such as these are rooted in energy efficiency and financial savings, but as an added bonus, they generally end up offering additional benefits that go beyond just finances, such as being able to schedule building operations or manage systems from a central point.
So, when it comes time to make an investment in new equipment or controls, consider the overall benefits to help make your case. An HVAC control system can certainly help manage energy in a way that saves money for you and strain on the system for the utility, but it can also help cut down on complaint calls due to areas being too hot or cold.
Adding control capabilities to systems or even moving into options such as fault detection and diagnostics can help facility managers make sure that operations are conforming to the desired schedule and equipment is working properly. Taking advantage of retrofits or upgrades to look at these options such as controls helps manage the facility as well as the money.
"It's not just installing the systems to be able to control, for instance, lighting systems as a demand response measure, but to install more efficient lighting and have the control capabilities as part of the retrofit," York says.
When it comes down to energy efficiency, don't just look at peak times or work hours. By adding more control capability to building systems, FMs can not only benefit from helping out the utility when needed, but also by cutting back operating hours or automatically dimming or turning off lights.
"If a building can reduce its lighting levels in response to utility system calls, the building also likely can reduce lighting levels at other times to save costs," York says.
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