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4 Innovative Startups that Lower Costs of Commercial Energy Audits

<p>Although an energy audit is an extremely useful tool in the sustainability toolbox, it is also usually a labor- and cost-intensive process. But these four firms are helping to make them affordable for any company.</p>

While very useful, energy audits and building assessments are labor intensive, as the experienced energy professional needs to physically walk through the buildings and analyze energy consumption data manually, often with spreadsheets.

Energy audits of commercial and industrial facilities involve a large amount of data collection and analysis. Utility bills must be gathered for at least one year and ideally multiple years for analysis of seasonality and benchmarking.

Building performance is adjusted for weather, occupancy levels, or production levels and compared with design intent and peer facilities to identify usage anomalies that are clues for further investigation. Major energy loads are identified and analyzed, and spot data logging or submetering may be used for specific energy loads or equipment to gather more data. More advanced analysis may involve computer simulation analysis of the building and load patterns.

Trained and experienced engineers are required for much of this analysis, which further increasing cost.

And this is for just one facility. What does a company with dozens of large or a utility with thousands of commercial and industrial facilities do? How do large companies justify more comprehensive and systematic programs for energy audits across their building and facility portfolios?

A number of startups are using cost-effective and scalable technologies to address some of these challenges. Among the strategies they're using:

  • Increasingly, monthly or interval data can be obtained electronically from the utilities.
  • Low-cost computer tablets with cameras ease site-based data collection.
  • Increased use of cloud-based or software-as-a-service computer software builds more powerful databases for more accurate, peer facility comparisons.

Importantly, all this information is easily stored electronically and can be used in other applications such as asset management, maintenance, or environmental compliance software applications.

Shown below is a summary of these start-ups, listed alphabetically. The approaches vary. Some sell to facilities operators and energy consultants, and others sell to utilities. FirstFuel, focuses on a "zero touch" approach for facility managers and obtain all data directly from the utilities, while kWhours automates the traditional energy audit with tablets. All are welcome innovations to the field.

Corporate managers and consultants that are looking for cost-effective energy audit solutions should consider these four innovative start-ups, each of whom are building internet software and tablets to automate part of this manual process for commercial and industrial facilities.

• EcoInsight sells a mobile audit for iPad that allows professionals to digitally collect building information while walking through a building. This innovation eliminates the need for stacks of notepads, and the information collected on the iPad is easily shared with EcoInsight's online analysis and proposal tools.

• FirstFuel's service uses hourly interval data from utilities to perform "zero touch" energy performance analysis of buildings. This "zero touch" approach requires no interaction with the building owner is particularly well suited for commercial buildings, e.g., offices and warehouses, rather than homes or factories and uses algorithms to estimate specific load use, e.g., lighting and HVAC, to provide recommendations based on estimates of load usage.

• kWhours sells an innovative tablet-based data collection tool and management software platform designed specifically for commercial and industrial energy auditors in the field. The technology can cut up to 35% of the time and cost associated with conducting a building assessment, improve efficiency in training and deploying auditing staff, and streamline data sharing among audit teams.

Retroficiency enables energy service providers and utilities to cost-effectively prioritize high-potential commercial buildings and evaluate thousands of energy efficiency measures in minutes. Its Building Efficiency Intelligence platform delivers accurate actionable insights and recommendations aligned with target goals.

(Other notable startups, including OPower and Recurve, are doing this work in the residential space.)

The innovations these firms bring are a welcome breath of fresh air to the costly and labor-intensive process of traditional energy audits.

Editor's Note: Don't miss VERGE DC (March 14-16) convening senior executives and thought leaders at the intersection of technologies and services related to energy, information, buildings, and transportation.

Building inspector photo via Shutterstock.

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