A growing number of colleges and universities today have established goals for reducing energy usage or a commitment to become carbon neutral. However, achieving these goals is challenging without a centralized view of campus building data. In a recent AASHE webinar co-hosted by Lucid, Justin Owen, Energy Manager at Weber State University, explained why implementing an energy management information system (EMIS) is key to driving campus energy conservation programs forward. An EMIS can be used to establish energy baselines, measure and verify energy projects, and help energy managers and sustainability leaders make more informed decisions to optimize building performance across campus.
It’s an invaluable tool for Energy Managers — but administrators need to be convinced it will deliver ROI. If you’re looking to get stakeholders to advocate for your sustainability program, the first steps are to prove the value and secure funding for an EMIS.
Potential funding sources
As you set out in search of funding for an EMIS system, you’ll find there are a number of options to jumpstart your funding. Energy managers can secure supplemental funding by pushing local utilities for rebates related to improvement projects, such as lighting upgrades. Grants are also available at the utility, federal or state level (the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is a good place to start your search).
However, Owen took a more innovative path at Weber State by borrowing directly from the institution through an internal revolving loan fund. His team borrowed from the university’s general cash fund and established terms for paying back the debt plus 3% interest from the energy cost savings. The upfront investment enabled the school to fund energy projects at scale. The result? The Energy & Sustainability Office was able to not only pay back the loan and 3% interest, but also had a surplus of funds from energy savings that they now use for ongoing efficiency projects. With an EMIS, Weber State is able to make data-driven decisions on which energy and sustainability projects to pursue.
Vladi Shunturov, VP of product solutions for Lucid, cites another example. Shunturov recently worked with an institution that was able to budget for the EMIS out of the existing IT budget. The energy manager looked at the overall operations budget and found that utilities cost accounted for 8.6% of the total annual budget, yet the funding for utilities management software to control those costs was only $1,800. In comparison, IT was spending $2.8 million on licenses for tools to manage other areas of the campus spend that didn’t have near the same potential cost impacts. Gathering this data, the sustainability team was able to influence a reduction in IT spend, and the administration granted the budget increase needed to purchase their EMIS, BuildingOS. Once implemented, they achieved $450,000 in energy savings in the first year alone, more than covering the cost of the software.
Going beyond low-hanging fruit
Many assume that energy improvement projects generate the greatest savings in their first year, becoming more difficult over time to see the same rate of savings. However, the data says otherwise. Data gathered by the Better Buildings Institute’s Smart Energy Analytics Campaign indicates that savings continue to grow years after an EMIS implementation. According to the campaign, median energy savings in year one average 4%. But after operationalizing the system and gaining experience in managing the data, energy managers saw median savings of 11% in year 2, 13% in year 3 and 19% in year 4.
Weber State has proven this to be true. At first, the school primarily pursued low hanging fruit when prioritizing energy projects. Now, the department is able to leverage even greater savings than earlier projects and has a surplus of $5 million in their revolving green fund to pursue efficiency projects with a longer ROI.
Questions to guide your data-driven journey
To control your energy use, you have to know what’s going on in your buildings. To achieve carbon neutral goals, you have to understand how you currently are consuming energy. While energy audits can identify energy conservation measures, an EMIS can help track usage and savings over time.
When you begin organizing your energy data, Owen proposes focusing on the answers to three questions:
- Who manages your utility account? Utility costs are where energy savings are realized. Get to know the individual paying your institution’s utility bills so that you have accurate information each month on how your savings analysis compares to actual utility bills. Make sure that the dollars saved line up on an ongoing basis.
- How is your utility bill adjusted year by year? Your energy savings discussions can be compromised if you haven’t accounted for increases in your utility rates or square footage, changes in how your spaces function, or weather extremes. Have risk discussions with your school’s financial team early to agree upon which factors the facilities department will be willing to absorb.
- What is going to happen with the energy savings? There are lots of options for how to reinvest money saved from energy improvements. These will depend on the administration’s goals and values, but facilities should have a plan for how to reinvest savings.
By having reliable data in place, Energy Managers can simplify funding discussions over time. Owen notes that as he worked to build credibility for his department with the school’s financial decision-makers, annual funding discussions went from spending hours reviewing calculations to a few emails and a quick meeting for signatures.
An EMIS can be a valuable tool in building credibility for Energy Managers and Sustainability Leaders. More importantly, it can prove invaluable to administrations who benefit from cost savings over time.
About the Author
Karen Becker is VP of Marketing at Lucid, maker of BuildingOS. She has been a marketing leader for architecture, engineering, construction and building ops software organizations for over 15 years.