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A few weeks back I came across an energy blogger that referenced a software developer who would do an energy audit via address and energy bills.  Period.  Really?

As my roommate and I used to say, “C’mon dude,” as in give me a big fat (or favorite expletive here) break.  We have done the address / energy consumption analysis many times but at MOST, we can do a decent job of benchmarking the facility against comparable ones but even this is difficult.  We can measure the building footprint with satellite images.  Easy.  The challenge is multi-story facilities, and I mean facilities with two hundred thousand to a million square feet – large schools and medium size hospitals.  To determine the square footage you need the number of floors and footprint.  This is difficult with street views because there are pesky trees and the fish-eye lens meant to give viewers a feel for the area, not see how many stories there are in a hospital.  Sometimes if the building is new and big, square footage will be available online, but this is rare.

So the first claim that all you need is an address will work for about 30-40% of facilities.  Been there.  Done it.  And all you have with that is benchmarking, which is valuable but it can’t tell you the condensing boiler is running too hot to be at optimal efficiency – or even what type of lighting is in the place, without conversing with the owner.

The next step in the satellite and billing analysis is determining the types of heating and cooling systems the building has.  This is even more difficult without a conversation with the customer.  So what do we look for?  Signs of system types – cooling towers, boiler stacks, with as much street view as one can get.  Can’t find these things from satellite images or street views?  It could be a ground source heat pump building or if it is in an urban setting it may be on district steam and or chilled water.  Building energy use varies so widely between the pigs and the misers that a building on expensive district chilled water may use as much electricity as a building that makes its own chilled water – with electricity from the meter.  One time we benchmarked a corporate HQ building in Minneapolis and it had electric RESISTANCE for heat and it still barely used as much electricity as some gas/electric buildings.  In summary: you can typically learn very little without at least talking with the building owner or maintenance company.

The idea of bill-and-satellite-only audit is a farce.  If you want one of those, step this way.  I have a better deal for you.  I have a relative in Libya with a million dollars she has to get rid of before the rebels snatch it.  She just needs your bank account number, SSN and birth date – and a couple credit card numbers just in case.  The money will be in your bank account tonight, that is, if your bank can hold that much.

Commercial buildings have fixed loads and seasonal loads, the latter of which are a strong function of weather but also sometimes due to seasonal use, such as schools where the occupancy drops to almost nothing or half in summers.  Without doing a fairly detailed inventory and analysis of fixed loads, it is impossible to break these loads into useful, telling bins for a specific facility.  These fixed loads (non-HVAC) combined probably total 60% of the building’s electric use.  Without building specific inventory, one is stuck with using typical building end-use analysis (i.e., averages), and what good is that to a customer?

Numerous times this blog has blasted generic and specific federal government officials for their ignorance about energy efficiency and alternative energy.  They seem to think the answer to perpetual zero emission electricity, and did I mention free energy, is sitting right there on the shelf like a can of chick peas but we chowderheads in the engineering world are too dense to see it.  Similarly, although it is a much more obscure need, I’ll bet they would bite on a magic app for doing audits, hands free and blind.  The iPhone or Android device will take care of it all.

Beware.  Somebody will develop such a sham and it will be introduced like the second coming of Macintosh riding a white horse.  And it will be crap.

It isn’t all fluff, however.  But don’t tell me what you are selling is a five star hotel when really it’s a pup tent.


The amount of monthly energy bill increase that will trigger homeowners to do something.  Homeowners with higher incomes and more advanced academic degrees will act with lower increases than average.  Lower income households actually wait for even higher increases in their bills before doing something about it.

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General Motors Meets Energy Reduction Challenge

GM, a subsidiary of the US treasury department, has cut energy intensity in 30 plants on a per-vehicle basis.  Congratulations for turning out the lights in ¾ of these plants that are no longer used.

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Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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