Action Guide

Manage Energy in Commercial Buildings

Environmental Defense Fund

Commercial buildings are responsible for a significant portion of energy consumption, accounting for approximately 35% of total U.S. electricity consumption and 16% of all U.S. CO2 emissions. As such, companies must take an active role in managing commercial building energy usage to reduce emissions and lower operating costs.

Commercial buildings come in all shapes and sizes, from office buildings to hospitals to hotels. Each type of building uses energy in different ways, so it’s important to design specific energy management strategies based on your industry and building needs. For example, office buildings use a lot of energy for air conditioning and lighting, while hotels need to heat water and keep guests comfortable.

Energy intensity, which is defined as energy used per square foot of space, is used to measure the efficiency of buildings. According to the latest Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, food service buildings, food sales buildings, and inpatient healthcare buildings use the most energy, while vacant buildings, warehouses, and religious buildings use the least.

Sources of Energy Consumption in Commercial Buildings

The main sources of energy consumption in commercial buildings include heating, cooling, ventilation, water heating, refrigeration, lighting, cooking, office equipment, and computing. According to the latest Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey by US Energy Information Administration, about 32% of building energy consumption was for heating. Ventilation and lighting are other significant sources of energy consumption, each accounting for 10% or more of total energy consumption.

An energy audit is a thorough review of a building’s energy usage and can help you pinpoint key areas where your company can make improvements. An energy audit helps identify areas of energy waste and provides recommendations for energy-saving measures. The audit can identify opportunities such as lighting improvements, heating system repairs, and process changes to reduce energy usage. For example, a building’s heating and cooling system could be inefficient, and upgrading to a newer, more efficient model could result in cost savings.

Potential Solutions to Optimize Energy Use in Commercial Buildings

1.      Optimize & Upgrade HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) Systems

The HVAC system is the largest consumer of energy in most commercial buildings. Optimizing and, if required, upgrading HVAC systems can significantly reduce energy consumption. Replacing older systems with high-efficiency equipment and implementing control strategies such as demand-controlled ventilation and night setbacks can lead to significant savings. Proper maintenance, including regular filter changes and equipment cleaning, can also help maintain optimal system efficiency.

2.      Optimize Lighting

Lighting is another significant source of energy consumption in commercial buildings. Some examples to optimize lightening in commercial buildings include switching to LED lighting and implementing daylight harvesting and occupancy sensors that can reduce energy consumption while maintaining lighting quality. Daylight harvesting systems can automatically adjust artificial lighting to complement natural light, reducing the amount of energy used by lighting fixtures. Occupancy sensors can detect when a room is empty and turn off lights automatically.

3.      Manage Plug Loads

Electrical devices that are plugged into outlets create plug load. This includes computers, printers, and other office equipment. Implementing power management strategies and turning off devices when not in use can reduce plug loads and energy consumption.

4.      Engage Building Occupants

Building occupants play a critical role in managing energy consumption. Educating employees on energy-saving practices, such as turning off lights and unplugging devices, can significantly reduce energy consumption.

5.      Implement Energy Management Systems

Energy management systems can track energy consumption and identify areas for improvement. These systems can monitor HVAC systems, lighting, and plug loads, providing real-time data on energy consumption. You can then use this data to identify trends and patterns in energy consumption, thus enabling informed decisions on energy-saving measures.

6.      Consider Renewable Energy

Incorporating renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines can significantly reduce your company’s external energy consumption and operating costs. Solar panels can provide electricity for lighting and plug loads, while wind turbines can provide energy for HVAC systems. The feasibility of renewable energy depends on each building’s location, energy needs, and available resources. Government incentives, such as those in the Inflation Reduction Act, can also make renewable energy investments more affordable.