How GSA is driving building efficiency with FirstFuel

How much energy can your organization save through relatively simple operational changes, without having all sorts of people involved to figure it out?

The federal government's General Services Administration (GSA) -- the second largest property manager in the United States -- so far has uncovered more than $6.5 million in potential electricity savings across the first 26 buildings it has analyzed using remote auditing software from FirstFuel Software.

More than half of those reductions involve low-cost or no-cost operational changes, according to findings published by the company.

“Finding unique, cost-effective and potentially transformative ways to better manage our energy use has been a significant priority for the GSA in recent years,” said Dr. Dorothy Robyn, public buildings service commissioner for the GSA. “We have made significant advances to improve efficiency on many fronts, and FirstFuel’s solution and progress-to-date provides a great example of such an advance.”

GSA goes green

Since 2007, the GSA has conducted performance audits for its largest buildings and has installed more than 400 advanced smart meters to collect the necessary information. The agency is targeting an annual reduction of 2 percent in energy usage across its entire portfolio.

When it needed a benchmark against which to manage those reductions, the agency turned to FirstFuel's Remote Building Analytics service rather than investing in on-site audits. The specific products used were FirstAudit, which examines historical trends, and FirstMonitor, which applies predictive analytics.

Not only was GSA able to complete its initial audit of the 26 buildings in just six weeks, it saved a lot of money on that analysis compared with traditional on-site methods. The remote audit cost about one-eighth what the GSA otherwise would have paid for the in-person survey, said FirstFuel CEO Swap Shah. The net effect: The GSA saved about $1 million on its initial quest for benchmark information and it will save more in the next phases (about 12 times that amount), according to the case study.

"We were looking at what could be highly scalable and that could be applied to a majority of the buildings," Shah said.

Expansion plans ahead

With the pilot complete, the engagement is being extended to 300 facilities that will be audited and monitored over the next four years. Collectively, the buildings represent about 20 percent of the office space in Manhattan. About 90 buildings have been considered, and the recommendations made so far could yield $14.5 million in energy savings.

An example of the sorts of things that FirstFuel finds comes from the Reagan Building, which showed "abnormal energy signatures" largely attributable to the fans in its garage. By making adjustments to help the building operate more consistently, the GSA has been able to cut power consumption there by 6.9 million kilowatt-hours.

What sort of data does FirstFuel need to conducts its remote audits? Typically it uses one year of historical consumption data from the electricity and/or natural gas meters. It applies other data against that information, such as weather and other geographic information about the building. The approach is appropriate for building managers with vast portfolios who have hard mandates to achieve certain reductions, Shah said.

Aside from the GSA, FirstFuel is being used by the Department of General Services (DGS) to audit buildings in Washington, D.C. As a result of remote audits for the first 25 buildings, it has unearthed a reduction opportunity of 19 million kilowatt-hours, an average of 24 percent per building and enough power to run nearly 2,000 homes in the Washington, D.C., region for one year.

Reagan Building photo by Orhan Cam via Shutterstock