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Assess Energy Options Carefully


This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is to carefully consider your options before taking steps to cut energy costs.

When considering ways to cut energy costs, facility managers are confronted by myriad choices: energy efficiency upgrades, renewable energy alternatives and energy procurement options. All may yield financial savings, but which comes first — or last? Understanding how they may interact could increase the return on investment (ROI) while avoiding some costly disappointments.

Talk to a contractor, and you may be told to first change out all your T12 fluorescent lighting, or install variable speed drives on HVAC fans, or perhaps replace your boiler. On the other hand, a renewables vendor may tell you to start by adding photovoltaic panels on your roof, or installing a geothermal heat pump, before a hefty state or utility rebate program gets maxed out by others doing so.

An energy broker may claim you can save more by buying your fuel or electricity through him than you'll ever save from upgrading equipment, so that's where you should start.

But the best place to begin is with a thorough energy analysis covering all those bases. Such an analysis, when conducted by an independent professional energy consultant, generally prioritizes options (or combinations thereof) based on how quickly they return the investment as savings (i.e., ROI). Doing so may provide guidance that alters both the choices and the order in which they should be pursued.

In the past, analyses of energy cost, use, and options were called "energy audits." That term fell out of favor because it sounded too much like an investigation into one's finances. Today's term is "assessment." Along with a study of energy efficiency choices, the best assessments include an examination of appropriate renewable energy options and energy procurement strategies.

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