Walking the energy beat: Cuffing carbon for smaller buildings

P2 Impact

Walking the energy beat: Cuffing carbon for smaller buildings

In the classic cine-crime series Dragnet, fast-talking Los Angeles detective Joe Friday is well known for the trademark line “Just the facts, ma’am.” In other words: “Let’s dispense with the distractions and get to the point.”

So it is with small and midsize enterprise energy-efficiency projects — theory turned to practice speaks louder than words. Projects are rendered in fact and this is the action in the neighborhood of great potential.

But walking the efficiency beat can be messy and complicated. It requires management; no one wants to pay for audits or analyses or anything else, for that matter. Decisions are not driven by the return on investment. Contractors are lax, contracts vague, incentive programs counter-productive. And projects can take longer than you think they should for a myriad of unfathomable reasons, not the least of which is “human factor.”

So, if you’re going to pursue these projects you need to be patient, thorough, respectful and patient.

The simple purpose of listing the successful efficiency projects you’ll find below is to illustrate that there is, in fact, opportunity, and it can be acted on. These projects reflect a small sampling of projects I have worked on in the last few years as the “energy guy” with the Small Business Sustainability Initiative run out of the University of Nevada in Reno. These projects were selected because they represent the breadth and depth of opportunity, from shallow to deep, across different business and building type. In Dragnet terms, a lineup of typical “suspects” and “circumstances.”

Let’s run with the facts.

Pay attention to simple ROI and pounds of CO2 avoided, and you’ll get the picture. If you prefer the quick “executive summary” view, scroll to the aggregate data following the pictures.

1. A small professional office building.  Efficiency project involved a simple lighting change out with added controls. This was a gateway project, opening the door to additional efficiency work since carried out but not accounted for here.




Energy cost savings / percent of original  $1,100 per year / 12 percent Project cost  $3,100 ROI 35 percent Avoided electricity 8.1 megawatt hours per year Avoided CO2 emissions 9,800 pounds per year 


Next page: A classy automobile museum

2. A classy automobile museum. 650 halogen flood lights replaced with very carefully selected and qualified LED lamps. Another gateway project, this one with deep impact. Demand control of rooftop systems is next.

Energy cost savings / percent of original $28,600 per year / 44 percent Project cost $37,560 ROI 76 percent Avoided electricity 179 megawatt hours per year Avoided CO2 emissions 213,000 pounds per year


3. A 7,000-square-foot veterinary hospital. Another lighting retrofit, and laundry equipment upgrade. A gateway project, will lead to additional efficiency work.




Energy cost savings / percent of original $1,994 per year / 34 percent Project cost $3,927 ROI 51 percent Avoided electricity 15.4 megawatt hours per year Avoided CO2 emissions 18,300 pounds per year


4. A 65,000-square-foot apartment building. Projects include envelope, windows, lighting, heating, hot water, refrigerators, ventilation and cooling. A deep retrofit. Projects under way.



Energy cost savings /percent of original $37,200 per year / 47 percent Retrofit cost  $110,500 ROI 34 percent Avoided electricity 108 megawatt hours per year Avoided natural gas 14,200 therms per year Avoided CO2 emissions 180,000 pounds per year


5. A 25,000-square-foot medical office building. The HVAC system was replaced with a modern, digitally controlled system, lighting has been upgraded, hot water system revamped and simple elevator controls established. Subsequent projects include a photovoltaic parking roof structure and possible rooftop gardens.


Energy cost savings / % of original $37,800 per year / 46 percent Retrofit cost $256,000 ROI 15 percent Avoided electricity 156 megawatt hours per year Avoided natural gas 16,800 therms per year Avoided CO2 emissions 382,400 pounds per year


There are many more projects to look at but let’s stop there and aggregate the results.

Five Small Business Efficiency Projects

Overall, the numbers show a good value proposition and significant carbon abatement. Note that the financials are driven by the relatively large quarter-million dollars invested in HVAC replacement at the medical office building. Here are the totals: 

Energy cost savings $106,700 per year Retrofit cost $411,100 ROI 26 percent Avoided electricity 466 megawatt hours per year Avoided natural gas 31,000 therms per year Avoided CO2 emissions 803,500 pounds per year


It turns out there are approximately 1,500 similar buildings in Northwest Nevada’s Washoe County where I live. Extrapolating the above results from five projects to the county yields a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 241 million pounds per year.

So there’s a simple narrative based on facts and actual project data extrapolated to a single county in a relatively small state. Of course, the system is much more complex than that, there are competing politics and undercurrents everywhere, but that’s another discussion.

For the time being, we now have a bit more information supporting the assertion that it is possible to significantly reduce carbon pollution in business-sensible ways. Perhaps we can avoid that dystopian future, looking down the gun barrel of self-annihilation and create a better world.

Take a drive around your own neighborhood. Almost every building you see has the potential for energy use reduction in the 20 percent to 50 percent range. Now there’s some brilliant potential. We just have to get to work.

For further and more detailed information please see, among a myriad of other references, including LBL Commissioning Study, RMI Deep Retrofits, NBI Retrofit and Net Zero Buildings and GreenBiz Building Efficiency.

The stories you have read are true. They are presented in full to protect people and the environment.

Photocollage by GreenBiz Group