Starting-or Restarting-an Energy Conservation Plan

Louis Rugulo

August 1, 2008

Starting—or restarting—an Energy Conservation Plan (ECP) fortunately is not the most difficult task. There are two prerequisites, however, that are critical to success.

Prerequisite 1: The facility must be aware of its energy usage. It is surprising how many facility managers do not see their energy bills and are unaware of their monthly demand (kW) or usage (kWh). Often, the bills are paid from a central office elsewhere in the country. The first step to an ECP, therefore, is for the facility manager to see the bills to understand usage patterns and rate structure.

Prerequisite 2: The person in charge should be able to commit several hours per week to an ECP for a typical building/facility. Obviously, campus-type facilities or a region of buildings require more time.

Once the above prerequisites are met, one can move on to the steps of developing the plan.

Step 1: Gather energy conservation information. The wide variety of information available on the Internet will be of great value in developing an ECP. Sites such as or that of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ( have benchmarks and descriptions of how to perform analysis. The Links page of (click on “Links to Online Resources”) also provides access to a number of helpful sites.

Step 2: Identify a champion. Champion, spark plug, cheerleader-whatever the unofficial title, someone within the management structure should be aware of and receptive to energy conservation. A receptive ear can be critical at the stages of capital appropriation or approval of promotional item budgets.

Step 3: Enter the facility’s energy data for 1 year (preferably 2 years) into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will need to include billing periods (start and finish dates), demand (kW), usage (kWh), and total dollars. These should be entered directly from the bills. The final column is often useful to calculate the “blended electrical rate” by dividing the total dollars by the kWh usage for the month. If the facility purchases energy from a third-party supplier, that cost also should be added to the utility bill.

It is often helpful to summarize the data in a chart, which will allow comparison of energy usage over a period of years. Typically, such charts show a peak in the summer and/or winter, with minimums in the “shoulder” seasons that reflect lighting, plug loads, and other non-weather-dependent usage. If a facility’s chart does not show a distinct minimum, it could indicate economizers not working or simultaneous heating and cooling. The difference in energy usage between the spring and fall minimums and the summer maximum typically constitute the energy used by the facility’s air-conditioning system. Visible differences or abrupt changes in year-to-year usage should correlate to an identifiable cause: facility expansion, ontraction, new equipment, etc.

These charts can take the analysis a step further by comparing degree days or normalizing differences in billing periods. For initial review, though, the parameters described above should give some directions in pursuing energy conservation at a facility.

Often, the utility collects “interval data,” or 15-minute records of a facility’s electrical usage. This data can be secured by contacting the local utility. While more cumbersome to analyze, this data yields much greater insight into a facility’s demand profile.

Step 4: Compare the facility’s energy use to norms. Once Steps 1 through 3 are completed, divide facility results by its square footage and compare this number to “benchmarks” widely available on the Internet. This will provide an indication of how the facility’s energy usage compares to similar facilities in the nation. The Energy Star program ( is one such benchmarking tool.

If the facility appears to have a high minimum load in shoulder seasons, or no shoulder dip at all, begin to look at around-the-clock loads such as lighting, plug and occupant loads, and possibly electric reheats. If the facility has a high summer peak, look at air-conditioning systems, chiller systems, and building HVAC controls.

Armed with this data, one can walk the floor and look for energy wasters.

Facilities also should consider instituting an Energy Awareness Plan to remind employees of the value of energy conservation and to encourage them to keep a sharp eye out for energy wasters around the facility. Encouraging employees to become active in the program, either by designing the program itself or sending in suggestions, can prove very valuable. Energy education makes everyone “energy smarter,” allowing employees to spot inefficiencies on a daily basis. Pretty soon, dozens of sets of eyes will be looking for energy waste and helping the facility move toward its goal. At this stage, it will become particularly clear why it is vital to have someone who can devote time consistently to working the program!

As energy wasters are identified, the facility should document what energy waste is occurring, the cost to repair it, and the energy cost saved by repairing it. From this data, one can calculate a payback and make budget allocations for the repair. This data also can be used to prove a payback from the ECP itself.

Step 5: Chart the results as each new monthly bill comes in. Charting these results and comparing them to the previous year’s usage for the same month will show early results of energy conservation efforts. Additional benefits can be gained by displaying the charts (with an explanation) in a prominent location. It is often necessary to find or “normalize” the data for billing period length or weather to enable these year-to-year changes to be seen clearly from the energy bills. Information on some of these more advanced topics can be obtained from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers ( or the Association of Energy Engineers (

Outside assistance often proves helpful in developing or running an energy conservation campaign, to assist with the program’s week-to-week administration or with the savings or payback analysis. Consultants have the benefit of seeing a wide variety of facilities and competitors’ operations. They can offer valuable perspective.


Energy reduction at a facility can seem like an insurmountable task. While the steps outlined above may appear overly simplified, performing a consistent and modest effort at conserving energy while enrolling (or drafting) other employees into the effort will produce an observable drop in energy usage at the facility. Ask the building equipment operators where the energy waste is… They know.