Energy Conservation: How a High Performance Building Approach Saves Energy and Money

For years, conservation groups , public utilities and government agencies have promoted energy conservation as a critical priority for the nation. But energy conservation doesn’t have to mean uncomfortable conditions for occupants.  By taking a high performance buildings approach, organizations can engage in conservation efforts while promoting a comfortable, safe and productive environment for all building occupants.

When we think about creating high performance buildings, the organizations that typically come to mind are businesses or companies. But in reality, the unpredictable nature of energy costs means that all types of organizations ­– from businesses to non-profits, public sector agencies and units of government - all have a stake in the game when it comes to building performance.

Performance is a multi-pronged aspiration

Within the high performance buildings community, we have created pillars around efficiency of energy, reliability of system performance, environmental and operational impact, and occupant health and welfare. What sets the high performance buildings approach apart from the singularly focused, less ambitious approach of the past is the focus on discovering how we can improve all of these pillars in harmony and create the right environment across the board.

In other words, efforts that can achieve improvement in performance in all of these factors simultaneously is a home run. However, energy efficiency at the expense of productivity , health, safety or welfare is not a good thing, and will likely bring a premature end to efforts to improve energy efficiency unless the organization quickly finds a way to correct its approach.

Energy is a Global Commodity with Worldwide Impact for Organizations

When you look at the current global situation, the thing that organizations are universally faced with is a growing volatility in energy prices.  Recently, oil prices jumped back above $110 per barrel, and could climb significantly higher by summer.  History tells us that these price levels could easily translate to gasoline prices above $4.50 per gallon. This type of chain reaction changes the whole approach to how organizations address and manage the budgets for their buildings.

Some areas of budgets can reasonably be predicted. For instance, across much of the United States, building owners and operators have caught a break this year with expenses related to snow removal. However, last year was a heavy snowfall year, and so we see that year over year, it is possible for organizations to look at past costs and reasonably predict what costs will be next year. Over the longer term, those predictions are somewhat linear.

But no more is that the case with energy costs. The potential upward spikes of 50 percent or more make predicting energy costs a difficult and dangerous proposition. While consumers might reduce their driving habits when gas prices rise, building operators who haven't prepared can't simply flip a switch to begin saving energy if their costs rise dramatically.

Instead, organizations today must look at how energy prices impact the costs of not only running their building, but also the costs of operating vehicles, delivering goods or services, etc., and build an understanding of the total impact of escalating energy costs on their enterprise.

The days of just picking a number and plunking into the budget are gone. Organizations must analyze their operations and determine the most effective way to manage assets so that in the event of an energy cost spike they are minimally impacted and it doesn't crush the whole enterprise.

For different organizations that may mean looking at school busses that run on natural gas or using hybrid delivery vehicles, and for many it may mean modifying energy using systems in the building and improving building controls to improve efficiency.

When the price of energy is out of your control, efficiency in today's reality is all you can manage.

The high performance buildings approach to supporting organizational conservation efforts means you must think out as far in advance as you can and position yourself to be insulated as much as possible from negative impacts of cost spikes. Get your mind thinking about what you can do today to prepare yourself for the future, and manage the one thing firmly in your control – the efficiency of your operations.

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