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Ask An Energy Pro: What is an Energy Audit?

April 15, 2022

Our highly skilled team at Energy Sciences works with businesses, government, and various industries to ensure the most energy conservation possible. To do this, the ES team starts with an energy audit. To provide some insight, we asked our Engineering Manager, James Horton, what an energy audit is.

ES: So, James, let’s start with what an energy audit is?

JH: Customers can have a variety of intentions for performing an energy audit, but for us, the focus is primarily on promoting sustainability and energy conservation while maintaining or improving facility function. Before we can save energy, we need to know how much of each type of energy is being used and where, how, and when it’s being used. Then ideas can be formulated and studied to provide a list of proposed improvements and impacts of each. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE, outlines and describes steps for these audits targeted at projects of varying complexity, investment, and goal discoveries. They can be strictly or loosely adhered to, again depending on the customer’s motivations, but they make an excellent roadmap to follow to get to the goal.

ES: That makes sense! So, how do you start an audit?

JH: Usually, the best place to start is understanding how much and when energy is used at the facility level. ASHRAE calls this the Preliminary Energy-Use Analysis (PEA). This basis allows us to estimate the potential of an audit and helps define key steps for later phases. It establishes an overall energy profile for the building by analyzing anything from electric bills to detailed time-of-use of district steam or other commodities. It also serves as a baseline to compare against similar facilities and their energy usage. This can help prioritize buildings to target throughout an entire campus or set expectations for a project ahead!

ES: Energy profiles are always so interesting! But there’s more to this, right? There are different audit levels, correct?

JH: Correct! There are three ASHRAE audit levels. A Level 1 Audit, or Walk-Through Analysis, helps assemble a more detailed priority list. Level 1 audits provide a quick assessment of a facility with onsite visual inspections. This is when we determine things like primary energy-consuming equipment in a facility and how much improvement can likely be made while still meeting occupant needs. This level audit is a quick-hit project that gives a high-level look at overall usage and is often a leader to other more detailed assessments.

A Level 2 Audit, or Energy Survey Analysis, is a step up in intensity. After an in-depth review of onsite equipment and processes and their respective operations and maintenance, it provides a refined list of improvements with savings calculations. This level of audit delivers adequate information for owners to make educated decisions about the best measures to implement.

Finally, a Level 3 Audit, or Detailed Analysis of Capital-Intensive Modifications, is sometimes referred to as Investment Grade Audits, or IGAs. They are the basis for most performance-based contracts where energy savings are guaranteed to be delivered or where large capital measures are being considered. They require intensive analysis of extensive measurements and data collection to determine actual costs, maintenance requirements, and potential savings for every measure.

ES: Thanks for the helpful breakdown! Is there any other kind of audit our team uses?

There is! They’re called Targeted Analyses. As far as creativity, the sky is the limit for these types of audits! While most follow general Level 1-3 guidelines, this type of audit can deliver a mix of items to provide the best value report and recommendations possible. They are performed with a more limited and specific scope if the owner or consultant has a particular measure they would like targeted. There is more room for creativity and negotiation to provide the best value assessment to meet the goals of the facility or owner.

ES: James, thank you for taking the time to break down energy audits for us! If our readers want to find out more information, where would they go?

Of course! The State of Michigan has a great overview page with information on programs and some incentives; the U.S. DOE also has a great detailed guide. They can also contact our team at [email protected] if they are interested in an energy audit of their building or business!

Categories: Ask An Energy Pro, Blog, Industry Insights