Energy Inefficiency in the Shoulder Seasons—How Utilities Can Help

With colder days looming, so too are the heating and cooling wars that plague offices and households alike. Particularly prevalent in the fall and spring when temperatures can range from 45 to 75 degrees, businesses may require both heating and cooling systems. When done improperly this can cause inefficient energy use.

Simultaneous heating and cooling occurs when heating and cooling systems battle it out to condition the same space at the same time. Sometimes simultaneous heating and cooling is used on purpose for humidity control – for example, to defog car windows. But more often, simultaneous heating and cooling happens unintentionally and wastefully. In these cases, it’s like driving your car with the accelerator fully depressed while using the brake to control your speed.

What businesses may not know is that, in their utility, they have a trusted partner that understands their energy use-and may be able to provide invaluable cost-saving advice. As the energy industry evolves and utilities devise ways to offer more than just monthly bills to their business customers, utilities are increasingly lending their expertise to help improve energy inefficiencies like simultaneous heating and cooling. By leveraging streams of historic customer data, utilities can provide more customized recommendations based on the specific needs and known preferences of each customer.

Utilities can provide businesses with insights that indicate if and when there is an efficiency issue. In the case of heating and cooling, utilities can do this by analyzing:

·         Previous monthly energy usage. For example, simultaneous heating and cooling may be an issue if building occupancy has been the same all year and energy consumption is higher in the spring and fall.

·         Heating and cooling operations. Determine if systems are operating at the same time in the same zones of the building by offering incentives for a building “check-up” including a manual inspection of heating and cooling operations.

·         HVAC system performance. Analyze usage data and perform a physical evaluation for more complex HVAC systems to ensure everything is up to snuff, and identify any needs for repairs or replacement.

Take, for example, an office building in Connecticut that has electric heat and air conditioning. We would expect the building’s electric consumption would be lowest in the relatively mild days of the shoulder seasons, when both heating and cooling needs are minimal. Instead, the graph of its consumption below shows that during most of the shoulder season days (the blue line), energy consumption is actually higher than in summer or winter days.

Assuming that the building occupancy was the same all year, it’s very possible that simultaneous heating and cooling is driving this high shoulder season consumption. As a result, a utility would recommend investigating whether this was an issue for this building.

If unnecessary simultaneous heating and cooling is suspected, utilities may recommend several measures to help mitigate the problem:

·         Adjust heating system settings. Disable heating systems that serve the perimeter areas anytime the outdoor temperature is above 60°F (15°C) during occupied days, and 50°F (10°C) at night will help reduce the instances of heating and cooling systems operating at the same time.

·         Look for portable space heater use. Check whether tenants may be using portable space heaters, particularly in areas that are overcooled by central systems.

·         Evaluate equipment operating schedules. Assessing operating schedules for the existing zones of a building is the first step in eliminating running HVAC when floors or areas are unoccupied. In addition, implementing an overtime occupancy system enables ventilation in any areas that may need to be occupied on an occasional basis.

·         Correct thermostat settings. Ensure that heating and cooling setpoints are spread by at least 4°F (2°C), and check that the night setback is operational. If thermostats that control perimeter heat are independent of those controlling central air handling units, they should have setpoints that are several degrees lower than that of the air handling unit thermostat.

By providing such proactive and personalized recommendations, curated and prioritized above the hundreds of other possible opportunities in a building, utilities develop deeper relationships with business customers. Through valuable interactions, utilities are able to spur a positive dialogue about the appropriate energy services for them. And with software-based analytics, utilities are able to perform the analysis and make many of the needed recommendations to thousands of their customers instantly, no longer constrained by account managers’ time or area of expertise. The utilities that take steps to proactively engage with business customers in this way will secure their spot in the value chain of the ever-evolving energy landscape. 

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