A few years ago we experienced an unexplained period of very high electricity bills. The only troubleshooting tool we had to solve this was the electric meter. Despite visits from our mechanical contractor, we were unable to figure out where we were using the excess power.
We finally purchased an electricity monitoring system from Creative Energies. This system allows us to track the electricity use of the whole building and at each of the 12 circuit breaker boxes within the building. With that information, it quickly became clear that the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system (HVAC) was the place to look for issues.
We hired a building efficiency engineer from CCI Mechanical to do a complete tuneup, known as "retrocommissioning," of our HVAC systems, even though the machinery is only four years old. Today's building control systems are much more complex than a simple thermostat, with hundreds of possible adjustments. Programming errors or mechanical failures such as a stuck valve often don't lead to any noticeable change in the building temperature. They just show up in the bills. Most of us simply pay the bills without question.
After the retrocommissioning, both our electricity and natural gas use have dropped by half. We are saving $20,000 a year, and all of our costs for the monitoring system and the HVAC work will be paid for in savings in less than a year. Most importantly, we are significantly reducing our impact on the environment.
Most buildings have issues like these that go unnoticed. Older buildings with aging equipment can have even more potential savings.
Our homes have just as many opportunities for savings. As an example, LED light bulbs seem expensive at $12 each, but they typically pay for themselves in electricity savings in less than three years. The best way to optimize a home is to pay for a home energy audit, which will find the most cost effective steps.
Improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings is not only easy, it's profitable. Even those who are still skeptical about the science behind climate change can be persuaded by simple economics.
The next steps after this will be more difficult, but we have done harder things before. We will need to cut our use of fossil fuels not by half, but to zero. Fortunately, we already have all the technology and the resources we need to do this cost-effectively.
Tom Moyer is a mechanical engineer with HDT robotics and a science teacher at the McGillis School.