Call your client when energy prices go up

How do you take advantage of the latest increases in energy prices?

04/06/2011


Years ago, when energy prices went through the ceiling and then the roof, I thought they had gone up enough for policy makers and building owners to finally see the light about energy efficiency and renewable energy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I learned was that when energy prices go up, people get excited about energy costs. And when prices go back down, people forget they went up. Sounds basic, but what can I say?

The takeaway is that when energy prices do go up, the big concern among owners is that their energy budgets could get wiped out way too early in the fiscal year. That happened just a few years ago, so their memories are probably still fresh. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts for consulting engineers and retrocommissioning providers on how to take advantage of the latest swings coming from the troubles in the Middle East.

First, talk to your clients about their energy bills. Do they understand how they are being billed and how they are using energy? This might seem basic, but most building owners know little about their energy use and how their bills are set up. If they have high demand charges, you can save them a ton of cash just by looking into HVAC and lighting schedules, equipment startup procedures, and the staggering or shifting of process loads.

Ask to check out their controls—there are a lot of issues related to faulty control hardware and software that take very little time and money to fix quickly and easily.

Another idea is to consult with your client’s utility providers. Ask them what efficiency and peak-load-reduction programs they have in place. Your client may qualify for these programs. Also, many utilities are offering rebates on engineering and commissioning services, not just light bulbs and VFDs.

Checking for rebates has gotten mercifully simple. You can visit the rebate database at www.dsireusa.org, or you can just check the website of your client’s utility company and give the utility a call. Not only will you learn if the company has a program, but if it does, you’ll learn if it still has funding left and how much it has earmarked for next year. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask anyother questions you may have. And, you might have a pleasant conversation to brighten your day. Sometimes, picking up the phone is just faster, easier, and more fun.

Another good practice is to revisit your prior projects and ask your clients how their systems are working; make sure people are comfortable, and the operators aren’t burning an effigy of you in the physical plant—that sort of thing. Through no fault of your great design, impeccable documentation, and first-rate operator training, the performance of those systems might have slipped from the design intent. Chances are, the client wants you to nose around a bit and see what’s up; make a few tweaks, or put out some fires.

When all is said and done, energy actually is too cheap. Because America is built around cheap energy, the momentum of economics and politics is to keep it that way. People are used to the swings, and they aren’t too bothered by miniscule incremental changes to new baselines.

The wisdom I’ve gained over the years is that price swings are more of an opportunity to fix buildings than to fix policies.

Ivanovich is the president of The Ivanovich Group LLC, which provides research, analysis, and consulting services to the buildings industry. Read his blog at http://theivanovichreport.wordpress.com.


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