4 Questions Building Owners and Managers Should Ask Their Utility

Have you called your utility?

Here are four questions you should ask your utility to help improve your building’s performance and save you money.

1)      Do you offer audit services?

Whether you are looking for simple retrofits or a long-term investment project, an energy audit is the first step toward reducing energy use and improving the performance of your facility. Call your utility and ask if they provide audit or commissioning services, if so, request it. It does not matter if you’re a large office facility, retail store, auto shop or school. Request an energy audit. Simple energy audits equip building owners with a list of no-cost or low-cost recommendations for future planning.  The type of audit services will vary from utility to utility but it’s an opportunity to get advice on your lighting, heating and air conditioning system or controls.  Some utilities may specialize in refrigeration systems,  industrial operations and commissioning services. Building owners and facility managers should ask their utility what technologies they should consider to increase efficiency in their operations and save costs. Utilities may provide you a list of recommendations with cost-benefit analysis. Take the advice. Ask questions. But don’t wait. Call them.

2)      What rebates and incentives do you offer?

Take advantage of rebates and incentives. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about replacing your lights with LEDs but you’re not sure.  Or you just had your boiler repaired for the third time and they don’t even make parts anymore for your water heater.  Start planning now. Go to http://www.dsireusa.org/ to find out about rebates and incentives in your region.

Call your utility and ask about available rebates, incentives, eligibility rules and effective dates. Some programs may require a utility representative to verify the equipment before it is replaced. Others will want to see the receipt and the name of the contractor that installed the equipment. Some rebates will be a fixed dollar amount while other rebates may be based on total costs or energy savings. Know the eligibility requirements and make sure your contractor or knows the utility requirements. Best way to know about eligibility requirements is to call the utility. Verify the rebates. Are there performance specifications? Are the rebates available for a limited time? Are you required to work through a third party? Do your planning. If you are preparing an operations and maintenance budget for the following year include the rebate incentive into your projections.

3)      Do you offer Demand Response incentives?

Ask about other rate options that can impact your bill. Are you on a time of use rate? You’re utility may offer “Demand Response” programs that offer incentives to businesses who reduce the energy use of their facilities during times of peak demand? Are you managing your operations to take full advantages of alternative rates and demand response programs?  Taking advantage of demand response programs may not always save energy but you may save money, maybe lots of money.

Final note, if you manage a facility that is a large power user or you’re considering new technologies there may be other ways to work with your utility.  Projects that are typically much larger in scope may qualify for customized incentives.  You’ll need to pre-qualify. Call and ask for a meeting with the utility.

4).     Do you offer benchmarking services?

You can’t manage without knowing how your building is using energy. Energy management is defined as, “the process of monitoring, controlling, and conserving energy in a building or organization.” Utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) offer automated benchmarking service  http://pge.com/benchmarking which simplifies data entry by automatically feeding required historical and future monthly data to ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager. EPA offers Portfolio Manager, a free, interactive management tool that allows users to track, assess, and benchmark energy and water consumption for all facility types across entire building portfolios over time.

However, manually reading meters and entering consumption is time consuming, especially if you have more than one meter. It takes time and is prone to error.  EPA offers a complete application programming interface (API) to facilitate data exchange with Portfolio Manager. Utility customers can then request that their property, energy, and water data be directly inserted into their Portfolio Manager accounts. This lets you view, track, and report out key metrics, including the ENERGY STAR score, without the hassle of entering utility bill data every month. EPA provides a list of utilities in your region that offer energy data access solutions at https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/tools-and -resources/utilities_increase_access_energy_data_help_commercial_customers_benchmark.

Contact information and additional resources for each utility are also included where available.

You can start the process, by calling your utility today.


image by Tam Tam on flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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