Holistic energy management – the ultimate goal of energy efficiency initiatives

Energy efficiency is fast becoming an important item on the South African corporate agenda, for a number of reasons.

August 16, 2012

By Rip Wyma of Shared Energy Management, a Johnson Controls partner

Energy efficiency is fast becoming an important item on the South African corporate agenda, for a number of reasons. While some organisations have taken this to heart with the implementation of Green Star energy rated buildings, and many organisations are beginning to take steps to reduce energy consumption, others have not even begun. There are many things that can be done to reduce energy consumption, however addressing these issues in isolation means that organisations fail to achieve the important ‘big picture’ view of their overall energy usage. Improving energy efficiency is a journey, and it pays to remember each of the steps taken should work towards the ultimate goal – holistic, integrated and all-encompassing energy management solutions.

The drive towards improving energy efficiency is due largely to increasing cost pressures. As energy costs continue to rise, organisations are increasingly looking towards saving energy costs, which mean reducing consumption and becoming more energy efficient. This cost saving exercise is augmented by increasing social and environmental awareness, as well as by legal requirements. These currently include the need for all Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed companies to include sustainability and carbon emission reductions as part of corporate reporting. However, there are several other laws in the pipeline around energy consumption and carbon emissions, and organisations are beginning to gear themselves towards meeting these criteria as well.

These increasing pressures are leading large corporates particularly to examine initiatives for improved energy efficiency. Green Star energy rated buildings are one way that companies are achieving this, with the side benefits of financial savings on energy and an image of eco-consciousness. However, such buildings are expensive to construct and are best suited to new developments on Greenfield sites, something which is not always a feasible option. For most organisations, energy efficiency revolves around optimising energy consumption in existing buildings, including areas such as lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), geysers and boilers, and so on, and substantial savings can often be realised from improving these areas.

Lighting is one area where quick wins can typically be achieved, and as a result is the first area organisations look towards when aiming to improve energy consumption. However, while swopping out inefficient light bulbs for more energy efficient ones is a step in the right direction, lighting is often left on unnecessarily, particularly after hours, which wastes significant amounts of energy. Central air-conditioning systems are a major culprit for excessive energy consumption, as the system is often not optimised for efficiency during commissioning, and the maintenance on these systems often falls behind which causes them to run inefficiently, with heating and cooling fighting each other and wasting energy. Heating and cooling units are also often left on unnecessarily, running after hours and wasting power.

By simply ensuring that heating and cooling are optimally tuned, well maintained and that these units and lighting are switched off when not needed, organisations can save up to 30% of their energy bills. However, the reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to improving energy efficiency, and if these initiatives are left to human co-operation they will often fail. Energy audits need to be conducted to identify areas for each individual building where improvements can be made, and automated controls should be put into place for areas like lighting and air-conditioning to ensure compliance.

These aspects of improved energy efficiency are a solid starting point, particularly for organisations that have not yet begun the journey towards optimising energy consumption. However, carbon footprint is not just about kilowatt hours of electricity usage, but includes water consumption, fuel consumption, transport, travel and more. Meeting the challenge of reducing carbon footprint all around requires an integrated approach to energy management that gives organisations a complete picture of energy consumption across all areas as well as carbon footprint. This big picture approach enables organisations to identify the best cost versus benefit relationships, so that initiatives for reducing consumption can be selected based on their benefit to the individual organisation, and then use these savings to drive adoption of efficient practices and embark upon other energy saving initiatives.

When it comes to improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprint, having the end goal in mind of an integrated, holistic and big picture approach gives organisations clear objectives to work towards. As energy prices are only set to rise further and carbon emission reductions are becoming increasingly important from a legal perspective, adopting such an approach will stand organisations in good stead now and into the future.