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Conducting a Successful Energy Audit

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Zack Moore

Many people see a doctor at least once a year, but how good are we about tracking the health of our buildings? If your hotel or resort hasn’t had an energy audit or retrocommissioning in the past two to three years, you’ve likely accumulated tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in added utility costs per year.

An energy audit is a detailed analysis of energy and water usage, resulting in a list of no-, low-, and high-cost energy conservation measures (ECMs) appropriate for your site. The goal of an audit is to reduce a building’s energy and water usage by evaluating building inefficiencies. In addition, a thorough audit is likely to address guest comfort issues, and will include benchmarking, energy procurement recommendations, renewable energy and on-site generation opportunities, and a review of available utility incentives.

Why Audits Are Important

Hotels are complicated, and it often takes hundreds or thousands of systems to keep them functioning. The machines in these systems all have individual life spans, control points that can be over-ridden, protocols that are developed without regard to efficiency, and quick fixes implemented for short-term problems that are forgotten and become a permanent part of building operation. These inefficiencies can compound and lead to wasted energy and premature equipment failure. Hotels are also known for high energy usage intensity (EUI) values, resulting from the emphasis placed on occupant comfort over efficiency, and often face unpredictable energy demands that fluctuate based on occupancy levels.

Who Should Have an Energy Audit

If your hotel or resort has not been audited or retrocommissioned in the past two to three years, it is generally a good idea to have an audit done. A good audit can often pay for itself within a few months to a year of implementing no-cost ECMs.

Who Should Perform Your Audit

An experienced third-party energy services company is well suited to conduct your energy audit. They can fully evaluate an entire building’s systems in one to two days, and may help you with post-audit work such as locating and negotiating contracts with vendors to implement ECMs.

In-house audits are possible, though it can be difficult to schedule an adequate amount of time to perform them, and many engineers may not have access to modeling tools used to evaluate savings associated with ECMs. Some HVAC equipment companies offer limited, free energy audits, which can be a great option if you’re on a tight budget. However, it’s important to recognize that the scope of these audits will often be limited to the equipment the company specializes in, with the hope that you will replace your equipment with their products.

Which Level Do I Want?

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) divides energy auditing into three levels according to their depth of analysis. Full service hotels would benefit most from a Level 2 energy audit. A Level 1 audit is appropriate for smaller, limited service hotels and motels that do not have a central plant, for which deeper data analysis will not provide a significant increase on return. Level 3 audits, sometimes called investment grade audits, are often reserved for the most capital intensive projects, generally exceeding $1 million to $2 million. These may be required if seeking outside investment for a major energy project. Typical price ranges for audits are $1,000 to $5,000 for a Level 1, $5,000 to $15,000 for a Level II, and $15,000 to $25,000 for a Level III. An outside contractor can advise you on which option makes the most sense for your site.

The Audit Process

1) Research—An energy audit will usually begin with review of a property condition assessment (PCA), as-built mechanical and architectural drawings, and documentation on any major renovations, as well as an analysis of past utility bills. By comparing utility bill trends with comparable buildings, the auditor may be able to identify problems before arriving on-site. If on a tight schedule, it is a good idea to have copies or digital copies of these ready to send out, even if you haven’t yet chosen an auditor.

2) Site Visit—Once the auditor has a sense for the age of equipment, he or she will visit the building to conduct a walk-through, with little disruption to hotel guests. This includes talking with the property manager, operations staff, and engineering staff about building systems and mechanical issues, as well as performing a visual inspection to account for major machinery, HVAC equipment, lighting, plumbing fixtures, building automation systems, and operational protocols.

3) Analysis—Following a walk-through, the auditors will process the data they have collected using analysis tools and simulation software to identify the ECMs with the greatest potential for savings. However, much of the decision for identifying appropriate ECMs will go beyond what simulation tools can factor for. Hotels and resorts require special attention to aesthetics and occupant comfort, may have laundry equipment, restaurants, pools, and exercise rooms, and put emphasis on the quality of their services—all of which must be accounted for in the chosen ECMs.

The End Result

After completing an audit, the auditors will deliver a report including an inventory of systems and a list of recommended ECMs. These measures are often grouped according to necessary capital investment, and will include a list of “no cost” ECMs that can be implemented immediately through minor equipment repairs or protocol changes. For hotels, energy savings range from 10 to 30 percent on average from identified ECMs, but can go much higher if a property has not been audited or retrocommissioned for a long time. A strong Level 2 report should also include recommendations on acquiring utility incentives, energy benchmarking, energy procurement strategies, and an analysis of renewable energy and on-site generation opportunities.

If not already in use, an auditor may also recommend subscribing to a building performance monitoring service, which will alert ownership when an irregularity in utility use may indicate a problem. Services such as this can preempt significant future energy and revenue losses.

Maximizing ROI

Conducting routine energy audits on your hotel every two to three years can save you tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost energy and water, reduce the environmental impact of your building, and identify solutions to occupant comfort problems. Vendor-sponsored free audit services and in-house audits are strong wallet-friendly solutions, though paying a little more to have your audit performed by an independent third party will give you the highest rate of return.

Auditing the Auditor

Before signing a contract with an independent auditor, first ask for their credentials and track record within hotels, and for a client referral. In addition, it is critically important that your auditor have direct experience in implementing suggested ECMs. Many auditors are able to do energy calculations, but have never actually implemented their recommendations. This leads to misidentifying the full scope for a project and underestimated costs.

Zack Moore is Senior Vice President Client Solutions, SOL VISTA. He can be reached at zmoore@solvista.com, or by phone at (202) 445-9350. SOL VISTA helps hotels quickly and continuously reduce utility expenses through a unique combination of on-site services and performance data analytics software. The company imparts years of energy consulting, real estate investment, hotel operations, and software experience to each new engagement. The company’s on-site services leverage Skywalk, a proprietary SaaS platform, to transform energy and water data into results that significantly reduce utility consumption and supply costs. At more than 150 hotels, including many well-known brands and properties, SOL VISTA has successfully delivered actual utility cost savings of 20 to 50 percent.

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