Potential for Energy Saving in Buildings

Published on Tuesday, 4 March 2014 18:15:40    Written by Marc
When talking to building owners or managers about energy saving projects, I often get a comment from people that they think there is no more potential for saving energy in their building. Their argument range from, "We have recently done a project," to, "My building is relatively new." Moreover, let us not forget the standard, "My guys operating the building have done everything already." My reply is practically always the same, "The chances are that you will never be done in finding and implementing energy saving opportunities."

energy savings in buildingsMy reasoning here is that there is always energy saving opportunities in a building. Even if you just completed an energy saving project recently, chances are there are items you did not address and this is perfectly normal. There are actually numerous reasons for this. First, some projects carry a better payback than others do, so the ones with the best payback tend to be done first. Equipment tends to lose its efficiency over time and be replaced by newer and more efficient equipment. Because of this, virtually all buildings are potentially good candidates for some kind of energy reduction.

Over the past years (read decades here, although I sometimes wish it was only years) I was often asked to look into properties which we either owned or leased in order to give advice to my colleagues on potential energy saving that we could find. Often a colleague would let me know that in advance that they had done everything that was possible to do and that I would probably not find any opportunity. However, I knew that there are always opportunities, regardless of the type of building, its age, or its condition. Unless the building does not use energy at all, chances are there is energy saving opportunities somewhere.

I remember one occasion that happened a few years ago, I was pushing all our business units to come up with energy saving ideas and, budget permitting, to implement them whenever possible. One large business unit where my colleagues prided themselves in being among the best in the company invited me to come and see what they had been doing. I asked them if I could bring an energy specialist with me to tour the site and see if he could identify potential energy savings that they would not have yet found. My colleagues said that they would be happy to receive the energy specialist but that his visit would be a waste of time since they had already identified every single energy-saving opportunity in the business unit. They agreed to provide us with some of the building maintenance people to tour the site and answer our question if we had any, but indicated that they would not attend the tour themselves since they would be busy with their normal work. Considering that the site was a heavy manufacturing plant with over 350,000 square feet of floor, I knew my colleagues would be in for a surprise, but I also wanted to play the political card and not put anyone in a bad spot.

"The chances are that you will never be done in finding and implementing energy-saving opportunities."
- Marc Lacombe

So, a few days later we toured the site with our energy expert and sure enough, we was quick to ask specific questions to the building operators that were touring with us and start taking notes. Initially we were touring with the building maintenance people but I guess word quickly got out that we were finding energy saving opportunities because by coincidence, my colleagues, the operations managers initially too busy to tour with us started to tag along for the tour and remained very close to our consultant. As the day continued and our energy expert continued to give ideas and point out specific energy-saving opportunities that the business unit could do, it became clear to the operation managers that the energy expert would go back to head office and report a long list of energy saving opportunities that had yet to be done at the business unit. We could see that some of the guys were getting increasingly nervous as the day was ending. For months, they had claimed to everyone during the regional and company-wide manufacturing meetings that were well in front of all other business units in their energy saving program. Now, in one single tour from an energy saving expert they realized that they missed a long list of opportunities and they felt cornered.

However, the goal for me was to have all of the company’s business units improve their energy consumption, not to corner anyone or put them in a bad spot. Therefore, I directed our energy expert to provide copies of his report to myself and to the business unit only. I kept my copy to myself and let my colleagues go back and do their homework. We also did not publicize the fact that we had found a ton of energy saving opportunities at the site; there was no need for that. My colleagues at the business unit, after the initial shock of the visit, were actually very happy to report a few weeks later that they had found new energy saving ideas to reduce even more their energy consumption and that they were working on business cases which they would be seeking approval in the coming weeks. The report they had received gave them ideas for new savings and they were working towards applying these ideas. I was happy. They looked good and the company was going to save money, so it was really a win-win outcome. This business unit also became a good ally for pushing the notion of doing energy saving projects across the company.

A few months later, I had a conversation with my colleagues and they did agree in private that they never expected our energy expert to find so many energy saving opportunities. They really were thinking that they had done everything that was possible. For my part, I was not surprised. I would actually have been surprised if we had found nothing; it would have been the first time in many years.