While solar panels, geothermal systems and other renewable technologies are arguably the best long-term route to energy independence and lower costs, installing these systems before maximizing a building’s energy efficiency is like turning on an air conditioner next to a wide-open window. Replacing aging HVAC equipment and obsolescent lighting can literally cut energy consumption in half, slash utility bills, lower maintenance costs, and dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Yet none of this will happen if you select the wrong energy services company for the job.
A great energy services company will provide a “turnkey” solution. They will simplify and streamline the entire process, from audit and design to installation and monitoring. Such a vendor will help you establish goals and priorities for the project that could save you time and money. For example, a lighting retrofit is particularly low-hanging fruit, often providing a payback of less than two years depending on available rebates and tax incentives. And even though it uses less energy, the new technology produces better quality light, providing a safer, more comfortable work environment that boosts productivity.
A good energy services company will have experienced building performance professionals start with a thorough energy audit that serves as the blueprint for the entire project. Using hand-held computers, the technician will identify fixtures and equipment by building, floor, room, and suite, and the recommended replacements, taking note of all working conditions that could restrict access and place time limitations on the project.
Once the audit is complete, the results should be compiled into a formal proposal, which affixes a price to each recommended measure, incorporates all available rebates and tax incentives, and shows the return on investment based on current utility rates and various financing scenarios. The proposal will also detail installation and verification procedures, billing, and equipment selection.
A “vendor-neutral” energy company – one that is not wed to the products of a particular manufacturer – has the flexibility to select the most effective and cost-efficient equipment for the job. Bear in mind that the cheapest equipment is not necessarily the best option. Even if it saves thousands of dollars upfront, it may wind up costing much more than that in higher maintenance costs and lost productivity if it doesn’t provide the proper solution to the building’s energy needs. By the same token, the latest and greatest technology might not be the best option if the energy savings are not high enough to justify the expense.
Labor costs must also be taken into consideration. The company with the cheapest labor may not necessarily be the best alternative, since that could be the result of using untrained workers, skimping on materials, taking shortcuts during installation, or failing to obtain the proper permits. It is also essential to work with a financially stable company that is able to pay its suppliers and absorb the cost of any adjustments needed to achieve the promised results. Ask for case studies and customer referrals, and contact them for feedback about their experiences with the company.
After acceptance of the final proposal comes the launch of installation. A good energy services company will keep in constant communication with its customers to make sure the project is proceeding according plan. To assure minimal disruption to company operations, it helps to select a vendor that has previous experience with your type of facility. For example, energy service companies with experience in the education market know how to work around school hours and activities, arranging night and weekend shifts if necessary. They should work cleanly and quietly, and take any safety precautions needed to protect their own workers as well as the customers.
Finally, the vendor should be able to secure financing to implement the project. Many vendors will guarantee that monthly energy savings will equal or exceed monthly payments, providing a payback of only a couple years. The bottom line is that a good energy services company can help you save money, while you enhance the aesthetics and comfort of your work environment, shrink your carbon footprint, and add to the value of your building.
Written by Eileen Fox, GreenTech Energy Services