January 26, 2017

A small efficiency experiment with big results

Photo courtesy of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships

Photo courtesy of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships

 

At Efficiency Vermont we are always looking for new ways to help our customers save energy. Two years ago we started considering how we could work with businesses to help them save big by cutting their energy use in half. We had a lot of questions: Would businesses be interested? Would our customers be willing to rise to the challenge? Would the projects be economically viable? In the spring of 2015 we launched a pilot program to answer these questions and the outcomes have been pretty astounding.

The experiment

The Deep Retrofit pilot program was created to help Vermont businesses cut their energy consumption in half. The pilot program launched in 2015 with five participating businesses: Bennington Early Childhood Center in Bennington; Casella Waste Systems in Rutland; city of St. Albans; Hiland Hall School in Bennington; and Hannaford Supermarket in Brandon. These businesses committed to learning more about how their buildings use energy and identifying ways to eliminate energy waste. Over the past year and a half their facilities have served as models, demonstrating the opportunities and benefits of undergoing a deep retrofit.

To reach the 50 percent reduction mark a business needs to tackle its usage from every angle. A deep retrofit takes a whole-building approach to achieve big energy savings. Each of the businesses participating in the pilot program worked closely with Efficiency Vermont to understand their energy usage and develop a comprehensive plan to reduce waste and cost. The participants received financial incentives from Efficiency Vermont once they reached specific milestones throughout the energy-saving process.

The results? It can be done!

At the end of 2016, four of the businesses had completed the work in their energy efficiency plans and initial numbers showed that they had achieved or exceeded a 50 percent reduction in energy usage. So far, the results of this pilot have been very encouraging. They’ve shown that cutting energy use in half is not only doable, but also offers a solid return on investment.

Here are some specific highlights:

Hiland Hall School was the first business to complete their energy efficiency improvements and after 12 months of measurements they’ve seen a total reduction in energy use of 63 percent. The majority of their savings came from building envelope improvements and LED lighting upgrades. After pursuing efficiency first, the school installed a photovoltaic solar array to offset their remaining electrical usage.

Bennington Early Childhood Center completed all of their building envelope, lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning improvements by Sept. 1, 2016. Their preliminary electrical savings are over 50 percent. Staff in the building have already noted a dramatic increase in comfort level after the insulation, air sealing and heating and cooling projects were completed.

St. Albans City Hall finished their energy efficiency work this fall. They took a comprehensive approach to their improvements, including attic insulation, air sealing, and upgrades to windows, lighting, heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment. The first round of energy savings calculations are still in the works, but based on our estimates we anticipate they will achieve energy savings of more than 40 percent.

Hannaford Supermarket made huge strides by the end of 2016, realizing more than 50 percent electric savings during the first few months of measurement. Hannaford took an aggressive approach to lighting, refrigeration, HVAC and kitchen equipment upgrades and they incorporated control enhancements wherever possible.

During the initial evaluation and planning phase Casella Waste Systems developed a plan to reduce their usage by 50 percent. However, after some time they decided not to pursue the full deep retrofit during this first round of the pilot. Through their preliminary efforts they still achieved a significant reduction in their electricity consumption through HVAC and information technology improvements, totaling 17 percent.

The four participants that have already reached the 50 percent reduction mark will save an estimated 5,000 MMBTU (million British thermal units; one BTU is equivalent to the energy released by burning a match) and approximately $105,000 per year in energy savings. Once those savings have paid for the improvements, these business will enjoy reduced operating expenses for many years to come. These businesses are a diverse bunch, ranging from large commercial facilities to small nonprofit schoolhouses. Their successes in this program have proven to us that the deep retrofit approach works for a wide range of Vermont businesses.

“Through this pilot we’ve found that deep energy savings are possible to achieve with almost any business in Vermont today,” said Nicole Carpenter, Efficiency Vermont Engineering and Deep Retrofit program manager. “By completing the deep retrofit, not only does a participant dramatically reduce their energy costs, they learn more about their operations and have some fun during the process. While these projects may be challenging, they’re also incredibly rewarding for employees, contractors, designers and the participating business leaders.”

What’s next? Another round of Vermont businesses are set to save.

The Deep Retrofit program is now moving beyond the pilot phase as a part of Efficiency Vermont’s “Business Forward” initiative, which provides businesses with enhanced technical expertise, customer support, rebates and incentives. Fifteen businesses have already enrolled in the second round of the Deep Retrofit program, including BROC — Community Action in Rutland and Shelburne Farms in Shelburne. These participants are geographically and functionally diverse, spanning the state with buildings ranging in size from 4,000- to 27,000 square feet.

Based on our initial calculations these 15 businesses will save a combined total of 14,000 MMBTU and approximately $300,000 per year in energy savings on electricity, fuel oil, propane, and wood once their efficiency upgrades are complete. That’s money that can go back into the Vermont economy.

The results of this program have been nothing short of inspiring. We’ve now seen that with the right formula — a motivated customer, an economical plan and technical and financial support from Efficiency Vermont — big savings are possible. I’m excited to see what the next round of participants will accomplish as they work toward achieving their deep retrofit goals.

Tim Perrin is account manager for Efficiency Vermont.

 

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