Navigating Building Audits: an enlightening start to the ZNE Series

The first of a series of Zero Net Energy (ZNE) events hosted by the Grand Rapids 2030 District, titled “Navigating Building Audits”, was inaugurated on the 20th of February, 2018 for a Lunch & Learn at The Knickerbocker – New Holland Brewery.

Local experts, Mark Zoeteman from Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber, Eric DeVries from E3M Solutions, and Perry Hausman from Tower Pinkster demystified the auditing process as a vital component of the ZNE planning process. The moderator was Jake Wilkinson from Michigan Energy Office.

Cheri Holman, Executive Director of USGBC – West Michigan, opened the event with introductions and announced upcoming news including the Small Business Energy Assistance Program, 2018 Michigan Energy Summit on April 18th, and the next of the ZNE series: Harnessing Building Controls on March 13th, 2018.

The conversational dialogue between the panelists and the audience elucidated topics including: how building audits are incorporated into the ZNE approach, differences and applications of ASHRAE levels I, II and III, making the business case to higher management, data collection and interpretation, and navigating the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

“ASHRAE took audits and made them palatable” said Hausman, when the panel was recommending their trusted ASHRAE handbook.

The panel discussed the benefits of performing a high level audit with detailed components pulled from the deeper level, hence customizing a “1.5” or “2.5” audit to fit the building manager’s needs. Although a level III audit unveils detailed information which may otherwise be overlooked, sometimes not all recommendations are implemented.

“If you can’t get the detailed information to make sense to a decision-maker, you are going to have a really expensive binder sitting on your desk” DeVries pointed out.

The panel discussed strategies for communicating the value of building improvements to a CFO. Sometimes the same message delivered with alternative metrics or jargon is all that is necessary. Zoeteman offered using positive words like “survey” or “assessment” instead of the gloomy word “audit”. Even though there are multiple metrics which tell a building’s story, choose to showcase the metrics which are powerful and relatable to higher management.

Data is gold, and not always the easiest to collect. Benchmarking energy data will substantiate the depth of savings accrued over time. Demonstrated results will strengthen the business case when petitioning for the next project. Energy Star Portfolio Manager was recommended as a universal tool.

Closing thoughts of the hour were filled with real-life examples and practical advice from the professionals.

Hausman reminded the audience that  “time is money” while highlighting an example of a manufacturing facility which programmed its machinery to be shut down on weekends. That no-cost operational change saved the company $45,000 in annual energy savings.

DeVries left on the final note “Don’t forget the little things”. His story showcased that an Energy Conservation Measure (ECM) which saves $1000 for the cost of $100 may be overshadowed by large projects. Though, “10 of these little things can be just as valuable as a big sticker item”. Any ECM will add money to the bottom line. Maybe energy demand ramps up because of operational changes in a facility, but the ECMs deferred what the cost could have been. “Don’t be discouraged”, he ended optimistically.

Wrapping up the hour, Zoeteman addressed the crowd as slides displayed on the screens. He left the audience equipped with understanding how to communicate the benefits of energy efficiency measures. Energy efficiency optimization is the most effective and most neglected way to provide energy services. Utilize them!

Though the conversation could have surpassed the hour, the event was concluded punctually with the promise to continue the ZNE dialogue at the next series event.

Learn what’s on the Grand Rapids District 2030’s horizons.