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Topic Highlight: How companies can combat rising energy prices

Tracy Sturla May 6, 2022 50

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By Quandel Construction Group

Energy prices are rising after a relatively calm and steady period. Consider these facts:

  • Fuel oil is roughly 67% more expensive than last year at this time.
  • Electricity is up 45% from a year ago.
  • Natural gas, which is the primary fuel source for electricity generation, has increased by around 39% year over year.

“Fortunately, there are some things building owners can do in the short and long term to hedge against these increases,” said John Hayden, Director of Engineering at Quandel Energy Solutions.

Here are some outward tactics to consider: 

  1. Call an energy broker and see what kind of short- or long-term commodity pricing is possible. Check to see if utilities offer rebates for building tune-ups or equipment upgrades. 
  2. Have a service contractor or energy auditor look at your building with fresh eyes and provide recommendations. They will look at the physical building (i.e. walls, windows, roof), its mechanical systems (i.e. HVAC) and how the building is being used by its occupants. 

“It can be as simple as making sure employees turn off the lights when they leave or unplug the coffee pot when it is not in use,” Hayden said. “This is the least costly tactic and something everyone can participate in. Some of this can be automated, and some of it is personal action. Most people do not care because they are not aware of what the costs are, but behavioral modification will happen when people realize their actions can make a difference.”

Here are some things businesses can do themselves:

  1. Efficient HVAC. Make sure the HVAC system is running at peak efficiency. For example, make sure outside air dampers are working correctly. Outside air is expensive to heat and cool. Bring in what you need only when you need it.
  2. Retrofit lighting. Converting lighting from older technologies, such as fluorescent lighting, to LED lamps and fixtures will reduce both the energy use and building electrical demand charges. Air conditioning loads will be reduced, too, because you will be using lighting that does not give off as much heat. You can save anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the lighting portion of the energy in your building.
  3. Eliminate infiltration. Make sure outside air is not coming into the building in an uncontrolled way. Add or replace weatherstripping at exterior doors and in stair towers. Check building joints to make sure caulking is in place. Make sure outside air dampers are closed when no one is in the building. Air can come in or go out if a damper is open. Look for spider webs. They indicate where air flow is occurring. Seal any openings that look suspicious.
  4. Be a good building steward. Pay attention to how you are using energy. Do you leave the coffee pot on when it’s not in use? It might seem like a no-brainer, but the little things can make a big difference in your energy bill when multiplied across the company.

For businesses that have money to invest or are in a position to finance a project, here are some things to look at:

  1. If it is time to replace equipment, choose more efficient equipment. While it may cost more upfront, it can significantly lower energy use and will eventually pay for itself. For example, if you replace a 20-year-old package rooftop air conditioner with a new unit, it can use about a third less energy annually. 
  2. Change anything that is a constant volume system (air, water, refrigerant) and convert it to a variable volume system. Older technologies, such as a fan, turn on and off. By converting to a system with multiple or variable settings, you use less energy. Most systems rarely need to run at 100%. You should only be using what you need at the time.

“I liken it to a hair dryer,” Hayden said. “Back in the day, there were only two settings—on and off. Most hair dryers today have variable settings. You often don’t need the dryer to be in the highest setting to get the job done.”

3. Upgrade the building’s automatic temperature control system. Systems have made huge improvement in managing energy, and if you are not using a smart thermostat or a recently upgraded system, you are missing an opportunity to save money while increasing occupant comfort.

“There have been numerous improvements baked into systems that were not available five or ten years ago,” Hayden said. “Building automation systems are like smart phones, they keep improving and making things more efficient.”

4. For industrial facilities, review processes to make sure they are running in the most efficient and cost-effective way. For example, if you are running a manufacturing facility that makes widgets, look at the way the process works to see if you can reduce energy across the whole production line or certain steps in the process.

“For a process line, what is on a conveyor belt that is running at constant speed but does not need to when production has slowed,” Hayden said. “The solution might be to have a sensor that counts the product that goes by and uses that information to speed up or slow down the conveyor belt accordingly.”

Most changes can be modeled to see which makes economic sense considering first costs, energy costs and maintenance costs along with tax implications.

“We have put a lot of these models together to show whether a change or idea should move forward or not,” Hayden said. “Risk analysis can be included in the analysis so those responsible for energy and project budgets can make well-researched recommendations.”

Click on the link below to listen to Quandel’s recent podcast interviews:

Project Profile: UPMC Pinnacle Your Memorial

Business Growth Tips from Bud Quandel

Toolbox Talk – Opioids in Construction with Don Tracy of Quandel

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