One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy costs is to monitor energy consumption in one minute increments and watch the trends over time.  Almost every building will immediately find quick and easy ways to reduce energy costs by 5% or more.  And knowledgeable professionals can often use the data to drive down energy costs by 20% or more and improve facility comfort and performance at the same time.

Let's take an actual example.  Forward Energy Solutions recently subscribed to Continuous Energy Management & Optimization (CEMO) from Davies Energy Systems.  The process involved two steps:  (1) installing a real-time energy monitoring system from Noveda Technologies; and (2) having Davies Energy's engineers analyze the data and develop better ways to manage and optimize facility energy usage.

Here is the minute-by-minute display of electricity consumption that Forward Energy Solutions saw after just one day:

Notice the two distinct sets of spikes in energy consumption.  The first occurred just before 4:00 a.m. when no one was in the building.  The next set of distinct spikes started at 7:00 a.m. and continued until 5:00 p.m.  Each of the spikes lasted only a minute or less and were not noticed by the people in the building.  But over time they amounted to a significant increase in kwh consumption.  They also may increase the peak demand charges on the company's monthly electric bill.

The culprits were quickly identified.  A small refrigerator was malfunctioning and spiking the consumption at 4 a.m.  An air-conditioning system in need of repair was causing the spikes during regular business hours.

Catching these types of problems generates immediate savings by reducing kwh consumption and peak demand charges.  The avoided costs will continue to be realized each and every month into the future, often adding up to thousands of dollars in energy savings.

Identifying these types of problems early on also avoids the cost of more expensive repairs down the line.  Without monitoring, no one would have noticed the air-conditioning problem until it stopped cooling the building -- most likely on the hottest day of the year.  At that point, the company would have already wasted money on unnecessary energy costs, plus it would be facing the higher cost of repairing or replacing the air-conditioning system on an emergency basis.  Not to mention the loss of employee productivity in a sweltering office until the repairs could be made.

Francis X. Lamparello, P.E., the Chief Technology Officer at Davies Energy Systems, says that he finds these types of issues in almost every building.  But these problems are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to saving energy.  "Buildings are living, breathing entities that must be monitored and adjusted on a continuous basis," he says.  "For example, maintaining proper air pressure inside the building can keep warm air from entering in the summer, and letting in more cool outside air on a sunny Fall day can give you 'free cooling' to offset the heat caused by the sun shining on the windows."  All of these energy saving solutions, he points out, are free or inexpensive once you have real-time monitoring and expert advice on how to manage the facility.

What's next for Forward Energy Solutions?  Now that they have the data, they are working with Davies Energy on a number of additional ways to drive down their energy costs.  More on that in later blog posts.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida
In 1969 a blowout off the coast of California caused an 800 square mile oil slick.  We kept drilling. 

In 1973 members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries refused to sell us oil, causing an economic crisis.  We invented the SUV and the McMansion to consume even more oil. 

In 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil along 1,300 miles of pristine coastline.  We built more and larger supertankers. 

In 2001 the son of a Saudi Arabian construction magnate orchestrated the worst terrorist attack ever on US soil.  We went on to buy more oil than before, sending more of our money to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries where, as Thomas Friedman notes, "it ends up with mullahs who build madrasas that preach intolerance."

In 2010 the BP blowout is destroying the ecosystems and the economy along our Gulf coast.  We . . . .

Have we learned anything at all?  Or will we increase our dependence on rapacious oil companies and despotic regimes once again?

We can and should blame BP for their reckless disregard of the environment in the Gulf of Mexico, the Niger Delta, and other places around the world where they and the rest of their industry have destroyed entire ecosystems and communities.

But they will never give us the solutions.  The solutions will depend entirely on our own choices.

Will we choose to continue wasting energy?  Or will we require that all cars, trucks, and buildings reduce energy consumption by 20% or more?

Will we allow oil companies to sell products that pollute the air and water without including the cost of that pollution in the price of the product?  Or will we level the playing field for clean and renewable alternatives by imposing the type of pollution tax (or cap and trade system) favored by well-known conservative and libertarian economists such as Nobel Laureate and Reagan advisor Milton Friedman?

In 2020 will our children thank us for making the right decisions today?  Or will they suffer even worse catastrophes brought on by our selfish, thoughtless, and unnecessary addiction to oil?

The choice is ours.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

Governments around the world spent $550 billion on energy subsidies last year, mostly to keep down the price of dirty energy from oil and coal.  The Financial Times broke the story today based on an advance copy of an International Energy Agency study.

In fact, that number represents only half the story.  The $550 billion in direct government welfare payments for the oil and coal industries does not include all of the indirect government subsidies that these industries receive.  It does not include the cost of soldiers protecting oil fields in Iraq; or the cost of treating respiratory illnesses caused by particulate emissions; or the cost of free liability insurance for oil and coal companies (in the form of limitations on their liability for harm to third parties); or the cost to individuals who lose their livelihoods when oil gushes uncontrollably into the Gulf of Mexico or the Niger Delta.

But let's stick with the very tangible number of $550 billion in cold, hard cash for now.  What would happen if we took that $550 billion away from oil and coal, and invested that cash in clean, sustainable energy technologies instead?

Just taking the welfare payments away from the oil and coal industries would have a tremendous impact on the level of investments in clean, sustainable energy technologies.  Think about it for a moment.  You are considering an investment in a new technology.  But the existing technology that you want to compete against receives $550 billion in direct government welfare payments every year to keep its price artificially low.  So your new technology will not only have to be better than the existing technology, it will also have to be a half trillion dollars less expensive.  That is a high hurdle for anyone considering an investment in new technologies.

Take away that half trillion dollars in government welfare payments, and now you have a level playing field.  That alone removes a hurdle and provides an incentive to investors in new technologies.

And if you actually shift that half trillion dollars from the oil and coal companies to investments in clean, sustainable energy technologies, you can start a green revolution.

As an added benefit, the clean, sustainable energy technologies will not require these subsidies forever.  Give a man a welfare payment to buy oil today and he'll be back for another welfare payment tomorrow.  But give him the same payment to buy solar panels, and he'll have energy for a lifetime.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida