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ENERGY STAR Program Aims to Find Low-Cost Ways to Reduce Energy Consumption
It amounts to a $10 billion challenge. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program has challenged facilities executives to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent or more using proven methods like low-cost building tuneups, lighting upgrades and replacement of old equipment. By EPA’s estimates, if all facilities executives participated in the Challenge, by 2015 greenhouse gas emissions from buildings would be reduced by
the equivalent of 15 million vehicles, while facilities executives would save $10 billion in energy costs, says Jean Lupinacci, director of ENERGY STAR’s Commercial and Industrial Branch.
The ENERGY STAR program has been helping facilities executives reduce their buildings’ energy consumption since 1992. In that time, according to EPA estimates, steps taken by program participants helped conserve enough energy to eliminate 23 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions and save $12 billion in utility expenditures.
There are two ways to measure the success of the Challenge program, which was launched in March 2005. One indication is short-term: In a little more than a year, 23 organizations have demonstrated a reduction of 10 percent or more — a substantial cut in a short period of time. But a better indication of the long-term potential of the program may come from the broad range of organizations that have signed on to help ENERGY STAR promote the Challenge: Dozens of professional associations, states, school districts, and other entities have thrown their support behind the Challenge.
That breadth of support is important. Part of the message of the Challenge is the fact that energy-reduction benefits are accessible to facilities executives at many different types of facilities — schools, hotels, health care, and government entities as well as offices.
“The real target audience for the message of the Energy Star Challenge is the end user—the bill-payer,” says Stuart Brodsky, EPA’s program manager for the commercial real estate market sectors of ENERGY STAR. “But working with the associations and states helps get the message to phenomenally large numbers of bill-payers. So a lot of work since last March has been focused on how to help these associations bring resources to their members."
Primary roles for the states, school districts, associations, and other entities partnering with EPA on the Challenge include the dissemination of information about ENERGY STAR and linkage with its tools and resources. For some partners, that has meant a focus on being effective liaisons with EPA.
“Our role with ENERGY STAR is primarily as a communication vehicle to our members and school districts,” says Jay Snyder, member relations manager, Association of School Business Officials. “We are trying to spread the word about the benefits Energy Star offers, and we’ve been doing that through presentations about ENERGY STAR’s programming as well as on environmental issues in general, like IAQ. We make the information available on our Web site, and through presentations at conferences and at the association’s annual meeting.”
Other partner agencies have developed programming specifically in response to the Challenge. As one prime example, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International rolled out its BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) as a direct response to the ENERGY STAR Challenge. Delivered primarily through a Web-assisted audio seminar format, BEEP’s series of six two-hour courses was designed not only to help facilities executives access ENERGY STAR tools, but also provide them with training about how to identify low- and no-cost strategies for reducing energy expenditures and to demonstrate the value of energy efficiency for commercial real estate organizations.
The first BEEP session drew more than 1,000 participants.
Doing things in order
BEEP provides instruction on a number of topics that are critical to effective energy management. These include:
- Fundamentals of energy management, including load management and related issues.
- Benchmarking strategies that use ENERGY STAR tools.
- Energy audits — what they cost, how to do them, where some of the best opportunities for lowering energy costs can be found.
- Identifying low- and no-cost opportunities for energy savings.
- Techniques for financially valuing energy efficiency improvements, including the application of concepts like net present value, payback, and return on investment to energy performance enhancements.
- Building an energy awareness program that educates stakeholders about efficiency efforts and their impact. This component provides sample communications, letters, and newsletters, and also shows how to create an over all communication plan or prepare a case study to illustrate successful efforts.
BEEP’s approach adheres to the stage-wise process advocated by ENERGY STAR, which recommends that facility executives focus first on tracking and quantifying current energy use, then on setting goals for energy reduction, and last on implementing efficiency improvements. Brenna Walraven, BOMA’s vice chair and a key player in the development of the BEEP program, knows from experience how critical this process can be. She is executive director of national property management for USAA Realty, a subsidiary of USAA Real Estate that owns or manages a portfolio of approximately 60 commercial properties valued at more than $3 billion across the United States. Under Walraven’s leadership, USAA has distinguished itself as a national leader in energy performance. She notes that facility executives can rise to the ENERGY STAR Challenge by taking common-sense steps that don’t have to cost a lot.
“It’s things like making sure your energy management system is operating as it is supposed to by doing a “night walk” of the property,” Walraven explains. “A handful of faulty relays, costing less than $100, can result in systems running 24 hours even when the EMS indicates that everything has been turned off.”
Another example: Saturday service on request for HVAC and lighting.
“Many leases call for the owner/manager to provide HVAC and lighting on Saturdays, but in many buildings across America only a relatively small percentage of tenants actually come into the building on Saturdays,” says Walraven. By better understanding tenants’ businesses and work patterns, she continues, building owners can minimize wasted energy from heating/cooling/lighting unoccupied sections of the facility. And they can realize the added benefit of understanding their tenants’ businesses and operating strategies better.
Of course, not every organization can reach the ENERGY STAR Challenge’s minimum 10 percent energy-reduction threshold through steps like these. Achieving the reductions can require larger-scale operational changes and initial expenditures for more efficient building systems. Especially for organizations that have already identified the low-hanging fruit through existing energy management programs, the ENERGY STAR Challenge can be, well, challenging. For those organizations, the value-added support offered through Challenge partners can be the difference between stagnating and achieving significant reductions.
For instance, the ENERGY STAR program’s increasing name recognition — Lupinacci estimates that 60 percent of the target market is familiar with the program — can be an important asset for facilities executives running up against what is still one of the largest obstacles to energy upgrades: the perception — still intact at a surprisingly large number of organizations — that energy-efficient enhancements will cost more than they can save. The Challenge can be a useful tool for marketing an energy management program internally.
In addition, with participation from some 30 states, the Challenge leverages existing and newly created government incentive programs that can help make even costly energy upgrades more affordable.
“Some states have the resources to offer direct incentives to building owners — New York State is one example,” says Lupinacci. “But those that do not can offer in-kind support, such as bringing all the school districts in the state together to discuss energy issues and share ideas.”
In general, the associations and entities that are participating in the Challenge do not provide incentives. Most support the initiative through education and training. But the Challenge has made technical assistance more readily available. For example, the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO) members’ efforts have long been focused on helping end users reduce energy consumption. But NAESCO regards the Challenge’s focus on providing supportive resources to assist in energy-reduction efforts as an opportunity to have more direct contact with their members’ customers.
“It underscores the efforts we had already been making, but it also gives us more access to customers we can work with directly,” says Nina Lockhart, senior program manager.
Not surprisingly, Challenge partners report that the cost savings that accompany a 10-, 20-, or 30-percent reduction in energy use provide ample incentive in and of themselves.
“The fact is that the motivation for customers to reduce energy costs is usually localized in terms of their own desire to cut energy expenses,” says Dan Gaherty, market manager with Efficiency Vermont, the state’s energy-efficiency utility. “The Challenge is useful in helping get the message out that large reductions are possible. It supports our mutual goals of getting people to reduce consumption.”