Never Mind 30 Percent Energy Savings, What About 50 Percent Savings?

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By Nicole Carpenter 

Efficiency Vermont, a statewide energy efficiency utility, wanted to find out. They also wanted to find out what it would take for these customers to invest the necessary time and effort to meet the challenge to drop their electricity and heating and cooling energy use by 50 percent. And further, Efficiency Vermont wanted to know: would the projects be economically viable?

The efficiency utility invited several of its commercial customers to participate in a pilot project to test the market on these questions. Six businesses, each of which already had an account-managed relationship with Efficiency Vermont, signed up for the Deep Retrofit pilot.

The results are in, and the answer is yes! Saving 50 percent in total energy use is doable. To date, four businesses have completed the specified work in their energy efficiency plans. Preliminary numbers are showing that they have achieved or exceeded a 50 percent reduction in energy use! In fact, the numbers show that cutting energy use in half is not only doable, but also offers a solid return on investment.

The highlights:

  • Hiland Hall School was the first business to complete its energy efficiency improvements. After 12 months of post-project measurements, they’ve seen a total reduction in energy use of 60 percent. The majority of their energy savings came from building envelope improvements and LED lighting upgrades. After pursuing efficiency first, the school installed a photovoltaic solar array to meet much of their remaining electricity needs.
  • Bennington Early Childhood Center completed all of their building envelope, lighting, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) improvements by September 2016. Their preliminary fall electrical savings are over 50 percent. Winter fuel use is down by over 50 percent, too. Staff in the building have already noted a dramatic increase in their comfort level after the insulation, air sealing, and heating and cooling projects were completed.
  • St. Albans City Hall finished their energy efficiency work in October 2016. They took a very comprehensive approach to their improvements, installing attic insulation; air sealing; and making upgrades to their windows, lighting, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation equipment. The results from their first four months—a winter season—showed 40 percent savings. After reviewing this progress, they recognized that they needed to optimize many of their controls. With that work completed, they expect to save over 50 percent of their energy use.
  • Hannaford Supermarket completed their work in January 2017. To date, they have realized more than 50 percent savings in electricity use during the first few months of measurement. Hannaford took an aggressive approach to their lighting, refrigeration, HVAC, and kitchen equipment upgrades, and combined those with control enhancements wherever possible.
  • One company, a waste hauler and processor, created a plan following an initial evaluation, showing a process for reducing their energy use by 50 percent. However, they chose not to pursue the comprehensive, deep retrofit in this first round of the pilot. Even so, they took a few preliminary steps in HVAC and IT improvements, and achieved a significant, 17 percent reduction in their electricity consumption.
  • A multi-tenant office building created an implementation plan showing a path to achieving 50 percent in total energy savings. However, because four parties own the building and not all of them were on board about investing in the facility, the project did not move forward.

Hannaford Supermarket

The four participants that are on track to reach the 50 percent reduction mark (or have already met it) will collectively save an estimated 5,000 million British Thermal Units (MMBTU), and approximately $105,000 per year in energy use. Once those savings have paid for the improvements, these businesses will enjoy reduced operating expenses for many years to come. These businesses range from large commercial facilities to small, nonprofit schoolhouses. Their successes in this program have sent a strong signal to Efficiency Vermont that the deep retrofit approach works for a wide range of Vermont businesses. Completing the deep retrofit allows participants to learn more about their operations and have some fun during the process. Although the projects might be challenging to undertake, participants reported that they constructively engaged employees, contractors, designers, and the business owners in rewarding ways.

How did Efficiency Vermont support these projects?

Efficiency Vermont provided both technical and financial support for each project. All Deep Retrofit Program participants were assigned an energy consultant to facilitate the whole process and provide encouragement. They also suggested approaches to achieve 50 percent savings, reviewed vendor proposals, and offered ideas to overcome challenges along the way. When the Deep Retrofit Program pilot began in 2015, the efficiency utility offered a simple $10-per-square-foot incentive, structured across four payments upon completion of the key milestones: (1) detailed implementation plan finalized, (2) facility improvements finished, (3) 6 month verification of results, and (4) 12 month verification of the results.

In 2016, with the program moving beyond the pilot phase, Efficiency Vermont shifted the incentive offer from a process structure to a performance structure involving dollars per MMBTU saved. The utility kept the four-payment schedule, tying it to four outcome milestones. The 2017 offering will use the performance structure, with an offer of $55 per MMBTU of total savings achieved). Efficiency Vermont converts all fuel sources to MMBTU, using the conversion formulas in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager. Efficiency Vermont uses that tool to track historical results, establish the baseline year (typically 12 months preceding the project start), and verify performance results at 6 and 12 months.

More businesses are in the process of cutting their energy use in half

Beginning in 2016, 13 businesses signed up for the Deep Retrofit Program. They represented greater geographic and operational diversity, spanning urban to rural areas with buildings ranging in size from 4,000 to 27,000 square feet.

Preliminary calculations show that these 13 businesses will together save 14,000 MMBTU and approximately $300,000 per year in energy savings on electricity, fuel oil, propane, and wood, once their efficiency upgrades are complete.

The 2017 Deep Retrofit Program is currently recruiting participants through May 1. To date, Efficiency Vermont expects 20 to 30 businesses to sign on. The results of this program have been inspiring. The right formula involves a motivated customer, an economical plan, and technical and financial support from an energy efficiency service provider or utility. The Deep Retrofit Program has checked all the boxes:

  • Business customers can achieve 50 percent (or more) in total energy savings in their buildings.
  • The appetite for achieving these savings is stronger than the resistance to undertaking the projects.
  • The projects pay off.

Nicole Carpenter is the Associate Director of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation’s engineering division. VEIC operates Efficiency Vermont. This article is contributed by the AESP Implementation Topic Committee


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