Bottom Line And Beyond: Smarter Commercial Energy Management
This piece was originally published on Forbes.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. was responsible for about 18% of the world's primary energy consumption in 2014, despite representing only 4.4% of the world's population. This imbalance is largely due to inefficiencies, and the energy use and environmental impact of commercial buildings -- the offices we work in, the stores we frequent, the restaurants we patronize -- cannot be understated. The EPA estimates that the average building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes each year.
Countless major corporations from Apple to IKEA have made commitments to reducing their energy footprints through renewable power goals. But cutting overall energy use at the source through efficiency solutions avoids emissions altogether and saves on utility costs. Implementing smart energy management strategies can help minimize the impacts of American businesses, improve the bottom line and foster mindful company cultures.
Why Commercial Energy Management Matters
We’re seeing smart home innovations pop up almost daily, automating and streamlining the residential experience to achieve energy savings and reduce emissions. The commercial space has the opportunity to implement similar technologies, but implementing systems across a commercial building or full portfolio brings unique challenges. Building systems are developed to last, and it can be difficult to integrate new, smart technologies into existing hardware. However, given the scale of commercial energy use, this also means the smart energy management strategies that are successfully implemented provide significant benefits beyond the impact of individual smart homes. Taking cues from consumer electronics, commercial energy management technologies are offering “plug and play” solutions that seamlessly integrate with broader building systems and require no technical acumen to operate. The Department of Energy highlights the wide range of technologies available, allowing these systems to not only reduce building energy use but to optimize grid performance as well.
Energy Management Strategies Save
The 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. would greatly benefit from even small investments in energy efficiency. A study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found commercial buildings could collectively save up to $60 billion by increasing energy efficiency investments by just 1-4%. Smart energy management systems offer a comprehensive approach to enhancing building efficiency. Features of these systems range from HVAC and lighting scheduling to lockout controls preventing local overrides. Medium-sized buildings can expect to save up to 25% on energy costs with smart energy management, and returns can happen quickly with very little oversight and maintenance from staff.
Other incentive structures can amplify the direct energy savings achieved by smart systems. For example, Automated Demand Response (ADR) is a utility-commercial partnership that capitalizes on internet-of-things solutions. Utilities work with smart energy management companies to help commercial customers automatically cut back on energy use during times of peak demand, which adds to the easy savings that already come from smart devices.
Beyond ADR and smart energy management systems, businesses have opportunities to increase building energy efficiency at every investment level. Enabling the power management function on office computers and other electronics, which automatically puts equipment to sleep when not in use, is a free and simple update. Lighting upgrades are another affordable action to save energy -- the EPA's ENERGY STAR-certified light fixtures use at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last longer. Occupant sensors that automatically reduce lighting, HVAC and plug loads also help shrink your company's energy footprint with low effort.
Seeking Conscious Companies
Companies and their leaders have the opportunity to reduce environmental impact in the face of a changing climate, but even those that aren’t convinced by a “green” argument can’t dispute the other benefits that come with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. Talent is always key for keeping a company healthy, and more than two-thirds of respondents in Nielsen's global study on CSR say they prefer to work for a socially responsible company. Even better, environmentally conscious companies are also likely to see improvements in employee retention rates.
PwC's Workforce of the Future: The Green World in 2030 envisions a time “where corporate responsibility isn't just a nice-to-have but it's a business imperative.” I would argue this is already the mindset of young workers, and it’s important for corporate culture and CSR goals to reflect this growing demand.
Given the significant emissions impact of our country’s commercial buildings and the increasing workforce demand for environmentally conscious companies, the path forward is clear. With environmental, financial and company culture incentives, CEOs and other corporate leaders have every reason to tap into the potential of smart building energy management.
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