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December 11, 2012
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Wasted Energy Equals Opportunity

Most 10-year-old buildings can cut costs 20 percent via common upgrades

By Ty Vierling

The buildings where we work, shop and attend school consume $200 billion in energy each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Yet about a third of that expense can be attributed to wasted energy. In response, the Department of Energy has created the Better Buildings Challenge with the goal of “making American commercial and industrial buildings at least 20 percent more efficient by 2020.”

The Better Buildings Challenge is vital to our nation’s future. A national commitment to auditing energy usage and installing systems that use energy more efficiently can reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil, decrease emissions and save money – money that can be invested in technologies and new business and used to create new jobs. By prioritizing the issue of energy efficiency, business leaders can focus on growing their businesses rather than dealing with shrinking budgets due to wasted energy and rising energy prices.

For existing buildings, the greatest energy savings generally are achieved through upgrades to HVAC, plumbing and lighting systems; for five- to 10-year-old facilities, a 20 percent reduction in energy usage is common. For new construction, the initial cost of building to greater energy efficiency standards (i.e. Energy Star or LEED) may initially seem high, but the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that upfront costs of green building can be as low as 2 percent more. It is important to consider more than the initial cost. Of far greater concern are the operational costs during a building’s lifecycle, which account for 60 to 85 percent of its lifetime costs. By designing energy-efficient buildings and customized solutions, significant savings are possible and achieved with practical returns on the investment(s). Recent examples in Kentucky include:

The new central utility plant designed and installed by Harshaw Trane at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville led to annual utility savings of $460,000, a 40 percent decrease. The hospital had grappled with an aging and unreliable central utility plant that made temperature monitoring difficult – affecting patient and employee comfort – and led to excessive utility bills. The improvements included “Intelligent Services” monitoring – which allows staff to adjust temperatures remotely and to customize temperatures for common areas, patient rooms and offices. The use of Intelligent Services also led to a 75 percent decline in customer comfort complaints at Clark Memorial Hospital in Clarksville, Ind.

At the 3M plant in Cynthiana, Harshaw Trane conducted an energy audit and created a custom energy-reduction plan to meet the differing needs of plant spaces, such as offices used five days a week and other areas that require 24/7 operation. The improvements enable 3M staff to monitor energy data on a web-based dashboard, which staff can adjust as needed to minimize energy consumption. Estimated energy savings of $235,000 are expected in the first year of the project, completed on April 1.

In Shepherdsville, Bullitt County Public Schools faced imminent HVAC failures at three of its elementary schools and one middle school. Harshaw Trane completed an HVAC retrofit in the four schools and also made changes districtwide, including lighting retrofits and installation of Intelligent Services monitoring. Bullitt County Public Schools received eight Energy Star awards as a result. The four schools decreased energy use by 13 percent, and the overall improvements are expected to save the district nearly $400,000 annually – leaving more money for education-focused efforts, including hiring teachers.

We encourage Kentucky business leaders to take the Better Buildings Challenge, which starts by committing to reduce energy spending by at least 20 percent by 2020. The goals of the Challenge are attainable, as illustrated in the examples from Kentucky businesses. More than 100 U.S. companies and other entities have committed to date, including the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, 3M, Alcoa and Ascension Health. For more information about the Challenge, visit www4.eere.energy.gov/challenge.

Ty Vierling is energy services leader at Harshaw Trane, a building technology and energy services provider based in Louisville with offices in Kentucky and Indiana.

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