Ask the Experts: Get the most from an energy audit

An energy audit can uncover opportunities for greater efficiency, but putting your results into action goes beyond technical projects alone.

An energy audit by a qualified professional is an invaluable tool for understanding how your organization is using electricity, and where there are opportunities for reducing energy waste and improving efficiency.

But how can you make sure you’re getting the most from the process?

The work starts before the audit does

"An energy audit should really be confirming your hypotheses about where you already think your organization can save energy," says Bryan Flannigan, an engineer and consultant who helps organizations become more energy efficient.

“An audit should ideally serve to answer questions about how a business need can be met,” Flannigan says. “That need could be to simply reduce costs, but more important needs may be to increase sales, improve product quality and reliability, or retain tenants. It is important to try to fully understand the ways that an energy audit can find solutions that might advance those deeper objectives.”

For example, higher-quality and more efficient lighting has a direct relationship to sales in a retail context, Flannigan points out.

To start, you’ll need to begin planting the seeds with senior leadership and other employees, to ensure the will is there to make energy efficiency upgrades down the road.

“It’s important to understand the ‘financial sandbox’ that the audit is taking place within,” Flannigan says. “What are the conditions that need to be met before an investment can take place based on audit results? Answering these questions can help frame and prioritize the audit, and help to get maximum value from the process.”

Set technical priorities based on your business objectives

Gaining a better understanding of your organization’s strategic objectives will help you prioritize which technical projects to pursue after your audit.

"Again, look at how energy efficiency can play a role beyond cost savings alone," says Kady Cowan, an energy management expert at the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). "Is your property management team concerned with employee comfort? Then perhaps start with upgrades to your HVAC system, to better regulate temperatures and improve air quality."

Cost savings, though, aren’t unimportant. After completing an energy audit, Sajeev Shivshankaran, an energy and facilities engineer with the City of Greater Sudbury, works with management to determine the budget for retrofits per year, matching that to an asset management plan for the particular organization’s infrastructure over the next five years. Then, they prioritize and execute based on where projects can deliver the most savings.

“Talk to your auditor to get more insight into what non-utility benefits you may be able to achieve through addressing areas uncovered in the audit process,” says energy consultant Stephen Dixon.

Consider your culture

“Including building staff in the audit process is critical,” Dixon says. “They understand the facility better than anyone else, and will be able to identify opportunities for improvement.”

"It’s important to work with people internally to help them see the value of energy efficiency as it applies to their role in the business," Shivshankaran says. "Sometimes change can be difficult, but I've found that bringing people together, empowering people – that's the key here."

"By focusing on occupant engagement and shifting internal behaviour (think turning off lights or switching off power bars), a business can save roughly 12.5 per cent of its energy costs, without any technical retrofits," Shivshankaran says.

There are plenty of low-or no-cost opportunities to engage employees and get them thinking about energy. Cowan points to Japan’s long-running Cool Biz campaign as just one popular example of the power of behavioural change. The country’s government encouraged its office workers to give up suit jackets and ties in favour of cooler clothing during the summer, so it could save on air conditioning costs. The campaign has been running successfully for nearly a decade, allowing government to keep its air conditioning consumption lower, at a minimal cost.

Use your audit results to educate employees

Employee engagement remains crucial after the energy audit is over, too.

Just as the energy audit process should involve on-the-ground employees, the results shouldn’t stay with just the energy management or sustainability team.

Use the findings as the basis for educating the rest of your organization about where there's room for improvement and why you’re undertaking the next steps that you are. That way, when the time comes for implementing retrofit projects, they'll have a greater understanding of why they are happening and will be less likely to act as a roadblock.

Shivshankaran points to a pilot project he implemented at a university. Every day, employees would turn on their computers and get to read a small blurb about how the university, and their department in particular, was performing in terms of energy efficiency compared to the previous week, which encouraged them to keep energy-efficient behaviour going.