How do you know your energy-saving project saves energy?

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, measurement and verification, water efficiency, building science

 

Imagine you walked into a retail clothing store at a shopping mall. There are no articles of clothing in sight, only a table in the middle with a few experts seated around it. You sit down and discuss your needs. After a few minutes, the experts arrive at the perfect solution for you - a pair of denim jeans that is simultaneously comfortable and attractive. And the price is more than compensated by the additional coolness and enjoyment this pair of jeans will introduce into your life. You fork over the money and walk out of the store, thrilled with your new purchase. 

But as you are driving home, you realize that instead of buying comfort and happiness, you bought a promise. So you hurry to try on the pants, anxious to see if all the benefits you paid for come true. Fortunately, the jeans fit fine, look terrific, and make you a better human being.

Of course it would be ridiculous to buy an article of clothing this way. Thank goodness for dressing rooms and mirrors. But in the energy business, this scenario is not far from the truth. Buying an energy efficiency project means trusting in the promise of the experts - that this new lamp and ballast will reduce electricity bills, that tuning up boiler controls will cut gas or oil costs, that low-flow showerheads will generate water and energy savings. 

In response to this risk, the energy efficiency community has created a discipline called measurement & verification, or M&V for short. M&V is a set of defined quantitative approaches that allow the person who invested in efficiency to see the savings. It proves that the money invested is delivering the promised benefit. With such an important role, it is no surprise that M&V for energy and water projects has become a hot topic in recent years. Government, academia, and the engineering community have all been active. 

For decades, measurement and verification has consisted of an energy engineer with a portable meter and a notebook, carefully recording performance data on site and then returning to the office to create detailed statistical models to ensure the validity of promised energy savings. To provide a foundation of fairness, a voluntary organization has developed a set of international protocols about how M&V should be conducted. This method, though accurate, can be expensive and slow, and has even been referred to as a "tax" on energy saving upgrades.

Modern technology is changing the game for M&V. Instead of a manual process, it can be done automatically with existing data from utility bills. Instead of looking at a specific piece of equipment, M&V can look at the whole building, allowing property managers to focus on the number they find most interesting: how much money are they saving? Instead of an art form limited to a select group of energy experts, M&V can become a standard and transparent algorithm - a tool that can be leveraged across millions of projects at minimal cost. 

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