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By Eric Packer
From the June 2024 Issue

 

Commercial facility owners in the United States remain focused on green energy-saving retrofit and upgrade activities, either on their own or pushed by government mandates, which offer enormous opportunities to decarbonize the economy. Electrical distributors are an important cog in the wheel to help enable these green transformations to occur — these distributors must source inventory and efficiently distribute the components needed for much of the work underway in our nation’s office buildings, factories, malls and sports arenas, homes and other structures.

Many organizations are engaged in deep energy retrofits of commercial properties, which takes an integrative and whole-systems approach that implements multiple Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs). The measures improve the building infrastructure’s energy efficiency and typically include upgrades or replacements of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, utility systems, roofs, and windows. Many plans tackle HVAC and lighting first, easy targets that can slash energy consumption in half in some buildings.

Energy Retrofits
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Elzerl)

 

While a vast landscape of initiatives is underway to reduce carbon emissions, a recent report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency points out that buildings are anticipated to deliver larger greenhouse gas emissions reductions through 2035 than any other end-use sector, particularly through programs created under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“Buildings sector emissions are projected to drop by 52–70% by 2035 with the boost from IRA taken into account, or a median projected reduction of 66%. By comparison, industrial emissions are projected to drop by 23–56% under the IRA with a median reduction of 36%, and transportation emissions by 15–35%, or a median of 27%,” wrote Ben Evans, Federal Legislative Director, of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Energy-efficient solutions to cut indirect emissions that are most adopted include:

• Solar and Energy Storage Systems: The utilization of solar is now much more valuable with the ability to harness the energy and apply at will through energy storage systems. The new capability to utilize solar captured energy and apply at critical times when demand charges are at their peak allows facilities to drop utility bills by shedding the stored energy during ideal times of consumption. This is becoming a more impactful use of solar energy.

• Upgrade lighting systems: Upgrading lighting systems to energy-efficient alternatives is an important retrofitting measure for building interiors and exteriors including parking lots and private streets. LED lighting systems consume up to 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer. Motion sensors, indoor and outdoor, can optimize lighting usage where occupancy is low or natural light is sufficient.

• Improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC): More smart and efficient HVAC systems or the replacement of motors, pumps, fans and other components can lower energy consumption. Facility owners are investing in smart thermostats and IoT sensors to enable zoning strategies that can help optimize temperature control, such as adjustments for an unoccupied building floor. While green-friendly markets are hot beds for adoption, so also are warm-weather market areas where hotter summers are driving up energy costs.

• Electrification of onsite processes: Replacement of gas boilers or diesel-powered machinery with electric-powered equipment can help dramatically reduce operational carbon emissions. Modern electric boilers reach high efficiencies and offer a variety of benefits in suitable applications including faster startup/shutdown time and quieter operation. An indoor housed electric boiler transfers 100% of electrical energy into heat, with no stack or heat transfer losses, even in cold weather. According to a McKinsey report, heat pumps could constitute approximately 90% of new heating unit sales by 2050, compared with 35% today.

• Better monitoring and control of energy usage: Centralized, real-time monitoring and control of systems can reduce energy consumption. The integration of smart technologies into retrofitting projects is gaining momentum. A recent study by Dodge Data & Analytics found that 65% of retrofitting projects include smart building automation. A smart building system can track and monitor occupancy, enabling facility managers to reduce energy consumption via automatic lighting on/off enablement air flow reduction in unoccupied areas. Modern smart building automation systems can reduce energy consumption by 10-30%, resulting in substantial cost savings and improved environmental sustainability.

Renewable Energy Systems

To further enhance the environmental performance of retrofitted buildings, we are seeing an increase in the integration of renewable energy systems. Most notably, the use of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps are being used to generate clean energy while also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and long-term energy cost savings.

Adoption of solar technology across residential and commercial sectors has been in the spotlight for quite some time. The commercial solar market has been dominated by California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) projects an average growth of 8% in the commercial solar sector over the next five years as emerging markets see increased development.

Lastly, facility energy upgrade activities include employee-focused amenities, most notably the installation of vehicle EV charging stations, a tactic that is also helping to lure post-pandemic home workers back to offices. According to a recent report by real estate firm CBRE, about 70% of prime U.S. office buildings equipped with charging ports. Facility activity has been aligned with the fastest-growing U.S. EV markets, led by California where about 37% of all EV drivers reside. Other leading markets include Florida, Texas, Washington, New Jersey and New York.

Demand Response: Strategies For Summer Energy Peaks

To maximize preparedness, savings and resilience, facility managers should evaluate their energy strategies and demand response in the summer. Read more…

According to the International Energy Agency, about 1.6 million EVs were sold in the U.S. in 2023, a 60% increase from the one million sold nationwide in 2022. Although sales are currently slumping, research firm BloombergNEF revised its 204 forecast to 31% year-over-year sales growth.

With net zero commitments leading businesses to create strong action plans, the electrical distribution industry remains an important, supportive partner for advisory and supply.

Energy RetrofitsPacker is the SVP of Strategic Growth Initiatives for Rexel USA.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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Facility Executive Magazine