By Joel Sandersen

In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, author Katherine Boehret discusses some of the technologies that have been developed to assist consumers in going on an energy diet. The general ideas she talks about can easily apply to commercial and industrial customers. For consumers, Boehret’s approach rightly suggests three things: identifying unnecessary power consumption, understanding your power usage, and understanding your technology. These concepts can easily apply to companies looking to reduce the consumption of their energy systems.

1) Identify Unnecessary Power Consumption:

Many companies continue to consume more electricity than they need because that is the way they’ve always done things. The reality is that many effective energy efficiency technologies have entered the market during the past few years, and unlike the conservation technologies of decades past, these technologies do not require customers to sacrifice quality of performance to capture energy savings.

For example, consider commercial and industrial lighting. The traditional lighting solutions for commercial and industrial facilities have been the installation of high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures. These units can consume, on average, more than 400 watts of electricity to provide light to a facility. Much of that energy, however, is consumed to generate heat (HID fixtures operate at 1,200 degrees F). In the last decade, advancements in lighting technologies has led to fluorescent high-bay solutions, which in addition to operating significantly cooler than traditional HID fixtures, provide equal or greater amounts of light to a facility consuming half the energy of traditional inefficient fixtures.

Identifying energy efficiency opportunities like these will help customers prune unnecessary energy consumption from their facilities without downgrading the quality of life or the productivity of their facilities.

2) Understand your power usage:

In addition to identifying and addressing unnecessary power consumption from the technology in their facilities, businesses also can begin to reduce energy consumption by increasing their understanding of how they consume energy. As Boehret correctly points out for consumers, understanding how a person uses power is important to making meaningful changes to their consumption patterns. The same is true for businesses.

Business should take the time to consider how they use and consume energy in their facility. For example, does their building have hot spots or cold spots that lead the facility to be running both air-conditioning and heating elements simultaneously? Or does the facility let air compressors run all the time to ensure that compressed air will be available on demand for a relatively limited number of tasks? Furthermore, is on-demand compressed air required for those tasks or can the time it takes to start up be tolerated? Or does a facility keep low-use areas fully lit because start-up time (re-strike time) from their existing lights does not allow for shutting the fixtures off during low usage periods because the light will not be available immediately during the limited high usage times?

Reviewing energy consumption either through a system or building energy audit can assist companies in identifying unnecessary power consumption and help to identify and target control strategies that will allow them to further reduce energy consumption.

3) Understand your technology option:

Finally, the last step to companies effectively reducing energy consumption is to identify the options available to them. In this regard, companies should target technologies that can specifically meet their energy reduction needs. For example, if a facility’s primary electricity consumption is in the form of lighting and battery charges (i.e. a typical warehouse facility), targeting the office HVAC system would not be the most effective means of reducing energy use. While the HVAC project would undoubtedly save energy, greater saving opportunities would still exist in the facility’s lighting and battery charging.

Furthermore when selecting technologies, companies should take great care to test the technologies within their facilities — rather than taking the first technology that claims to reduce energy usage that comes along or is recommended by an energy advisor. Testing the technologies in their facility allows companies to see how the technology will perform firsthand. Additionally, this type of testing allows customers to make an objective determination of which technology best suits their needs based on performance within their actual facilities and operating conditions, rather than under an idealized test lab condition.

Finally, when choosing technologies, companies should do so with an eye to the future. In other words, is the technology they are choosing upgradable to allow interaction with other energy savings technologies (like unit controls, building energy-management systems, solar light pipes, programmable thermostats, etc.) or are they one-time improvements? If a technology is not upgradable, this should decrease its attractiveness because it necessarily limits its future energy savings potential, and/or will require significant additional installation and integration costs to be used in concert with other any savings strategies.

These three ideas — identifying unnecessary power consumption, understanding facility energy use and understanding technology options — are critical for companies to reduce their overall energy consumption. Yet these concepts also can be daunting for many companies. Selecting partners that have a proven track record of delivering guaranteed energy savings can help you reduce the hurdles that many companies face when considering energy efficiencies, and also can help assist in optimizing energy use and consumption.