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The Results of Your Energy Colonoscopy Are In

By November 21, 2016November 7th, 2021Energy Rant
audits or colonoscopy

Last week I was working on corporate tasks, so I needed to go into my vault of gems for pontification.  The subject that emerged is energy audits and certifications, specifically from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).  The document is the Standard for Commercial Building Energy Audits, Standard 211P.  It was up for public review in August of this year.

There are a couple of things our industry has tried to unsuccessfully accomplish over the years.  One is drop simple payback as a means to communicate financial benefits of implementing energy efficiency (or any) projects.  This can be the subject of a future rant, but one reason for using it is that for-profits have private means for determining cost effectiveness, including depreciation and tax implications.  They start with their financial hurdle for that and back it out to a simple payback number, which always seems to be 2.0 years magically.

The second thing we have attempted to do is move away from the term, “energy audit”.  We even tried to move away from “rebates” to “incentives”.  The problem is, all three of these terms – payback, audits, and rebates – are burned into too many vocabularies to change easily.

audits or colonoscopy

One term I really liked for audits came from this year’s ACEEE Summer Study; specifically from the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and their members.  Their term is “building renewal assessment”.  Isn’t that great?!  Compared to an energy audit, it sounds like an emersion into a deep therapeutic massage compared to a colonoscopy.

Audits Defined

ASHRAE defines the scopes of work and contents for three levels of audits, cleverly coined Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.  They are in order of less specific to more specific.  For comparison, a Level 1 renewal would be like one post in this blog.  A Level 2 audit would be like a twelve-page conference paper.  A level 3 colonoscopy would be like a 400-page portfolio evaluation report.

The table below includes my one-hour review of the 54-page ASHRAE audit standard.  It is not perfect.  On the scale of interesting reading, it is better than a solid half-page of an indemnification clause but not quite as fun as reading a few pages in an unabridged dictionary.

energy audits

For the wellbeing of the audience, I will provide only a brief commentary on the Level 1 audit and continue with the other two next week.

Level 1 Audit

ASHRAE’s description, methodology, and contents of a Level 1 audit are quite good.  Some audits I’ve seen in the industry do not include energy usage or benchmarking data.  They only provide energy cost and a list of measures.  This is a disservice, especially when the utility data are already in hand.

I don’t know how well the low, medium, and high cost, savings, and ROI information would be received by the customer.  One guy’s low may be another’s high.  For instance, I enjoyed a Death’s Door martini the other night at the Concourse Hotel in Madison.  It was $8.  Wow – that is cheap – like half price compared to other hotels.  It may be a good thing I didn’t know that until I took the check.  For others, that may seem outrageous and a grotesque waste of money.

Instead of low, medium, and high cost and savings, our recommendation categories include:

  • Get quotes; do it now
  • Upon failure; upgrade to efficiency X, then
  • More digging and study funding required

Energy Use Intensity (or Index)

Pardon me for saying for the thousandth time that rolling all energy use (electric, natural gas, propane, steam, etc.) into a common unit is an incredibly bad idea; but this is what ASHRAE and many in our industry do.  It takes clarity and detail and muddies it up to be less informative.  Mixing them together has the same impact of measuring your HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, adding them together and reporting only total cholesterol; not worth much at best and more often, misleading.

Next Week

ASHRAE’s audit scopes of work and contents have escalated in a nerds’ arms race.  Each level goes further than the original intent, driving up costs, adding stuff no one needs, and adding confusion for the customer.  What’s not to like?  Tune in next week.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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