Office energy protocol to deliver savings through retrofits

Nina Winham

Sometimes, incremental change works well. Other times, it's better to get the whole job done at once, to the best standards possible.

If you're an all-at-once kind of person and you're looking at office energy usage or an upcoming office building retrofit, take note of a new pilot program being supported by BC Hydro. Named Advanced Energy Office (AEO), its goal is to provide recommendations for comprehensive office energy efficiency.

"What we're looking to do is provide a more holistic approach to upgrading an office space," says Irfan Rehmanji, Technology Innovation Manager with BC Hydro. "Rather than just looking at lighting, or adding a variable speed drive to your HVAC [heating and cooling] system, we want to develop a package of advanced measures our customers can undertake so they can determine what their total energy savings could be and how our incentives can help."

Although AEO is primarily aimed at retrofit projects, its principles can be applied to new construction as well.

Currently, efficiency measures tend to be taken in isolation – a lighting retrofit here, a project focusing on plug loads and office equipment at another time. The Advanced Energy Office protocol will give customers a more complete view of their opportunities, so that synergies between efficiency efforts (such as reducing waste heat from inefficient lighting, and therefore saving on air conditioning costs) can be realized.

Savings can be significant

"We're targeting at minimum that the Advanced Energy Office concept will reduce your building electricity consumption by 25% below current code," says Rehmanji. "We've already seen examples where, without much effort, you can easily get 30-35%.

"However, in most cases, the savings are much better. That's because most buildings that are being retrofitted aren't at code – they were built longer ago, and they're less efficient. So realistically what you're seeing is 50-55% savings on electricity consumption in these older buildings when you implement the Advanced Energy Office concept."

The code in most of B.C. is ASHRAE 90.1 2004. In Vancouver, where the ASHRAE 90.1 2007 standard has been adopted, percentage comparisons might vary.

The AEO protocol (also called "Office of the Future") is a project of the New Buildings Institute, a non-profit organization working to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings. A consortium of partners is funding the work, including BC Hydro and various U.S. utility companies.

With the draft protocol in hand, consortium partners are developing projects to test and validate the concept. BC Hydro has applied the standard to a floor in its own office tower, where energy usage was tracked before a full retrofit, and measurement is ongoing.

Planning a retrofit? Consider an AEO pilot project

"We have opportunities for one or two more projects," says Rehmanji. "The ideal site would be a customer who is thinking about overhauling their space and still has active operations in that area. This would be the right time to interface with us, a lighting designer, and an HVAC consultant to look at what measures and products would be appropriate."

Rehmanji says an office space 6,000 square feet or larger would be best. BC Hydro would contribute to the retrofit costs. Commercial customers interested in discussing a project should contact Rehmanji.

Advanced Energy Office – key elements

The AEO protocol creates efficiencies within specific energy usage areas, and through synergies between them. Here are the key elements in the B.C. program:

  • High quality lighting design

"Lighting accounts for 44% of total commercial electricity use, so the opportunity there is significant," says Rehmanji. "This is valuable not only from an energy savings perspective but also from creating a design that's better for occupants and designed for your occupation.

"There's more flexibility in terms of meeting different users' needs, so you can dim, you can put in sensors that consider how bright it is outside, and so on. People are more comfortable and are able to perform their tasks more efficiently."

  • Efficient plug loads and power management

"Lighting and HVAC are the first and second highest absolute users of electricity in offices in terms of absolute numbers," says Rehmanji. "But in terms of rate of growth, plug loads is where it's all happening.

"There are computers, cell phones, portable devices, photocopy machines – opportunities to use more efficient appliances themselves and also technology that helps you minimize waste, such as leaving machines on when not needed."

  • HVAC performance review

"In most cases, this is the area that is least visited in terms of optimization. When a building is built, it's commissioned and everything is deemed to be perfect. But then the operator just makes sure the device is running; they rarely revisit whether anything needs to be fine-tuned, whether the air vents are providing the right volume of air, whether the cooling on the different floors is meeting occupants' needs.

"So this is an opportunity for the building to be recalibrated."

  • Advanced metering

"This is the cornerstone of the program. If you don't measure, you won't know where you are," says Rehmanji. "Advanced metering tells you what you're using so you can monitor your performance. If you're straying from your baseline, you're able to spot that quickly instead of a few months down the line.

"It also ties into your behavioural components; your occupants get real-time feedback on their actions."

For more information about the Advanced Energy Office project, contact Irfan Rehmanji.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and regular contributor to and the Power of Business eNewsletter.