Monday, July 29, 2013

Remote Energy Audits Gain Credibility

One of the industry debates in the last few years has been about the value of remote energy audits that use analysis of interval data and other factors to identify energy savings opportunities rather than sending a team of engineers to a facility.  As this technology matures, the value and applicability of remote audits has grown.  Remote energy audits have now gained credibility as a cost effective and scalable approach to identifying energy savings opportunities.

Traditionally, building energy audits are conducted by engineers who physically visit a facility, identify the largest energy loads and analyze operations to identify energy savings opportunities.   Traditional energy audits are thorough but expensive and time consuming.

In the last several years, startups like RetroficiencyFirst Fuel and others have developed software that analyze interval data, weather, building location and other factors to identify underlying loads (lighting, HVAC, etc.) and energy savings opportunities through benchmarking.  This approach is particularly well suited to utilities that have interval data for many buildings and owners of large building portfolios, like the government.  This approach does not require a visit to the actual building by engineers so it is much cheaper and more scalable than traditional energy audits.

Vendors providing remote energy audits claim to be able to determine within 5% the lighting and HVAC loads of buildings, which is invaluable for quick benchmarking.  This is applicable to building types with common and predicable loads (e.g. offices, schools, etc.), but not ones with variable schedules (e.g. manufacturing plants). 

Remote energy audits were initially met with skepticism in the industry but this is changing as more companies perform tests to compare remote energy audits with traditional onsite audits and as the technology matures.

One case study found variability of traditional energy audits of across engineers (thanks to First Fuel for alerting us to this study). The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency Hub hired three firms to do a traditional energy audits of the same building and found wide differences in recommendations.    Click here for the full case study. 

Traditional audits are not flawless and like any labor-based system, they are highly dependent on the skills of the individual person and potentially error prone.  

So, do not dismiss the remote energy audit approach completely and be sure to understand the skill sets of the engineers doing a tradition energy audits.

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