Holistic energy management strategies – the smart way to manage energy efficiency

In the past, South Africa has been settled into a false sense of security thanks to historically low energy costs.

July 11, 2012

By Karl van Eck, Regional General Manager: Africa Johnson Controls Global Energy Solutions

In the past, South Africa has been settled into a false sense of security thanks to historically low energy costs. However this is rapidly changing and electricity costs are now being brought more into line with those of the rest of the world.

Given the increasing cost of electricity, and to some degree an enhanced awareness of eco-consciousness and the damaging effects of fossil fuels on the environment, energy efficiency is becoming a point of importance for many businesses. This is further driven by corporate governance guidelines such as the King III report, which advocate a more responsible attitude towards business and a move from simple financial reporting towards reporting on other issues such as the environmental sustainability of organisations.

With increased pressure from stakeholders to take steps to improve energy efficiency coupled with rising electricity costs, reducing energy consumption has become an issue of importance on the business agenda. Common areas of energy consumption across businesses include heating, ventilation and cooling, or HVAC, which often makes up around 50% of energy consumption, lighting at around 20%, general computer equipment about 20% and other equipment approximately 10%. Each of these areas offers potential for more efficient usage and resulting savings.

However, a common practice for many organisations is to adopt a fragmented approach when managing energy consumption, often with individual service suppliers addressing individual components. For example, lighting is one area that is frequently addressed in isolation, however this forms only a small part of the total energy consumption of a building. This means that it is impossible to gain a full understanding of the energy consumption and savings in a building. Commonly in this scenario, when savings are not realised to the predicted level, individual suppliers may engage in a game of finger pointing, with each blaming the other and the business having no recourse on investments made.

An alternative way to address energy usage is to take a holistic approach that offers a consolidated view of the building’s energy usage and provides an overall solution to energy management and efficiency. This holistic view will give an overall assessment on energy consumption, including areas such as boilers, geysers, HVAC and lighting as well as the building management system which should effectively control many of these functions.

An energy audit conducted by a service provider with expertise and relevant experience will deliver an overall picture of the entire building, what equipment is using how much energy and where, which will in turn highlight areas for improvement. This energy audit should take on a two-tier format, with a preliminary audit focusing on measuring the entire building which will identify areas for improvement, which can then be drilled down into a detailed major audit on specific areas should this be necessary.

Using the results of the preliminary audit businesses can highlight interventions where quick return on investment can be gathered to help boost organisational buy-in, and can identify areas for future development which may require longer term repayment. Power factor corrections, occupancy sensor controls, HVAC optimisation, some lighting environments and upgrading HVAC equipment to newer, more efficient models are typically some of the areas that can be addressed for quick wins, as they generally have a return on investment period of less than five years and can greatly improve the energy efficiency of a building.

If an organisation is serious about improving the sustainability of the enterprise, it is vital to have an overarching view of where all of the energy costs are. With an integrated, holistic view it is easier to identify areas that can be addressed for return on investment and greater energy savings.

On top of this an integrated approach using a reputable company means that there is one point of contact so there is greater recourse, should anticipated savings not be delivered, and one company to contact in case of a problem, as opposed to a piecemeal approach where every savings initiative uses a different company with a different contact person. Ideally a reputable company should guarantee the return on the investment for the building owner.

The facilities manager plays an important role in delivering energy efficiency initiatives for an organisation, but with all of the other tasks this person needs to execute, he will not be able to focus solely on achieving energy savings. Organisations and facilities managers need to partner with consultants from a reputable company that will walk the energy savings path with them over period of time. Energy efficiency is not a once off event or a short term initiative, but a long term change, and a partnership with specialists who will help them to proactively manage the process over a number of years will ensure a greater degree of success.

Consultants and Escos with specific experience and a tested methodology taking this holistic approach will be able to measure and verify savings and as a result will be able to guarantee a certain level of saving right from the outset.