‘Small measures’ can save big bucks on energy costs, says federal efficiency expert

The federal government has people whose job it is to convince building owners and managers across the country — even those within the government — that optimizing the efficiency of a facility should be seen more as an opportunity than a cost.

The government’s point man on this mission, Philip Jago, spoke to a group of commercial real estate professionals in Ottawa Thursday at the Better Buildings Breakfast event, put on by the Real Estate News Exchange.

Wide-ranging benefits from energy efficiency

Jago is director of the buildings divisions at Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency. He told the audience about the many benefits that come from improving the energy efficiency of buildings, including lower costs, more productive staff, less impact on the environment and creating a more sustainable organization.

“A well-run building means happy tenants, happy employees and obviously higher productivity,” he said. “A well-run building means it’s not costing you as much as it might have cost you back 25 or 30 years ago. . . . And a well-run business economy in this country obviously gives us all sorts of issues on environmental protection, all on the positive side of the balance sheet.

“And then of course a well-run organization is sustainable over the long haul, which is always important, whether you’re in the public or private sector.”

Jago said commercial and institutional buildings in Canada account for 13 per cent of the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions, 14 per cent of energy usage and energy costs of about $24 billion a year.

He pointed out how cutting energy costs by 10 per cent would result in savings of $2.4 billion, and pushing that to 20 per cent — which he called “very obtainable” — would amount to almost $5 billion in savings.

“What would you like to do with five billion bucks?” he asked.

In terms of the tools his department has to help others achieve more efficient new buildings, he pointed to the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings’ 2011 edition, done in conjunction with the National Research Council. He said the standards detailed there are 25 per cent more efficient, on average, than in the previous edition in 1997, and 18 per cent more efficient than the most stringent codes in the United States.

Energy Star tools coming to Canada

Jago also said an agreement has been reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its Energy Star Portfolio Manager technology, which can help building operators track their energy usage, how successful their attempts at reductions are and compare that to the performance of other buildings.

“If you know where you are, vis-a-vis your competition, you will be spurred to action,” he said.

This Energy Star program will be available for commercial buildings and schools by next June, he said.

Small steps can make a difference

In an interview after his formal remarks, Jago acknowledged there are times when a significant project to improve the energy efficiency of a building is not practical, but that does not mean smaller steps cannot be taken.

“People seem to think that you’ve got to go into it and have capital expenditures before you’ll get savings,” he said. “We’re trying to argue that, although now’s not the time to buy a new this or a new that or tear something out, now’s the time just to turn around and say, ‘Today we’re using this much energy. How could we reduce that just by doing simple measures?’ Sometimes people don’t understand the magnitude or the impact of just starting out with simple measures.”

He talked about how the building where he works saw some unusual “spikes” in energy bills after a power outage. It was eventually discovered that the cooling system in a boardroom was not tied in with the building’s automated system and was running all the time.

“We found a couple of other things at the same time. We’re now saving . . . $2,000 a month. It’s still $2,000 a month, $24,000 a year, that we can use for something else other than electricity. And you probably have opportunities like that in your own facilities as well.”

In another example, he talked about a cement plant that saved $200,000 a year by turning off a fan that was on all the time, but no one knew what it did.

“It had run since the place was built,” Jago said. “No one knew why the fan was on, but no one wanted to turn the switch off. . . . One guy went there and he turned off the switch, and the plant kept running.”

Government efficiency

For the federal government itself, Jago said one-third of its facilities have seen retrofits for better efficiency since 1991. To do this, it leveraged $300 million from the private sector and achieved $43 million a year in savings.

He was later asked what’s holding back such improvements in the other two-thirds of federal buildings.

“We don’t necessarily know what we use,” he answered. “We don’t know how to aggregate it all together. And I’ll be quite honest with you about that; we’re challenged like other large organizations are challenged to say, ‘Can anyone add it all up.’”

Jago went on to say: “Our facilities people (are) so busy sometimes with the immediate, they haven’t got the chance to step back and put that business case together that says this is where this can go.”

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