Even well supported energy management programs can fail to meet goals or miss opportunities without sufficient dedication of resources and effective communication. Dedicated staff, closing the loop on energy savings, and effective communication amongst departments are interrelated strategies that help ensure efficient efforts are responsive, coordinated, and lasting.
A dedicated energy management position can uncover savings opportunities that offset or cover their salary and bridge the communication barriers in an organization. Yet relatively few local governments in Texas employ a dedicated energy manager. Budget limited local governments may struggle to justify a full time or even part time staff position to manage energy and other utilities. Instead the array of responsibilities that may be consolidated under an energy manager are parsed out amongst facility management, public works, finance, and even sustainability departments. This decentralized approach may create gaps in energy management and lead to missed savings opportunities. A recent survey of local government energy managers revealed the most common responsibilities of an energy manager:
- Collecting energy and/or water consumption data from utility bills for city-owned facilities.
- Reviewing energy and/or water utility bills for accuracy.
- Consolidating energy and/or water data into a spreadsheet, database, or energy management software.
- Evaluating energy and/or water data to identify cost savings opportunities.
- Completion of mandated energy data reporting.
- Benchmarking facilities using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager or another tool.
- Developing and managing energy policies or goals.
Given this range of responsibilities, it is clear a dedicated staff offer a wide array of benefits.
- Save money: A primary goal of an energy manager is to reduce utility and operating costs. An in-house energy manager’s regular access and familiarity with facilities means they can anticipate large capital improvement projects and also identify and implement incremental process improvement and behavioral savings. By tracking and managing utility data they can also achieve cost savings from identifying a more beneficial supplier or rate structure, inaccuracies in billing, or anomalies in usage.
- More Efficient Efficiency: Energy managers save time and streamline project implementation. In a decentralized energy management program the tasks of an energy manager become a small portion of various other staffs’ jobs and some tasks may not happen at all. An energy manager can focus on their consolidated tasks, reducing barriers to flow of information and competing priorities. They can also easily manage detailed processes such as utility rebate applications that may not fall into a specific person’s scope otherwise.
- Championship and Innovation: A dedicated energy manager is able to become familiar with city facilities and processes, develop relationships with outside partners, and research emerging opportunities. They can help communicate the value of energy efficiency internally and to external stakeholders.
A dedicated energy manager can be an essential asset in addressing two other strategies of effective energy management programs: Closing the loop on energy savings and effective communication.
Close the Loop on Energy Savings
One common breakdown in an energy management program is not linking the cost of an energy efficiency project to its benefits. In these cases, an energy manager or facilities department will implement a project resulting in lowered utility bills as well as other auxiliary benefits of retrofits. In the next budget season, that department’s operating expense allowance is reduced acknowledging the decrease in utility spend. If the project is financed the city’s finance department will receive a bill for the work for potentially 20 years after the project is implemented. Over time, the debt service becomes disassociated with project savings and benefits. Even if a project is funded by facility department budget, the savings are rarely recaptured to support future energy savings projects. Closing the loop on energy savings by better communicating with finance departments and facilitating savings recapture for future energy efficiency helps ensure a self-sustaining energy management program. (Figure 1)
Figure 1: Closing the loop on energy efficiency savings and communication can help ensure a self-sustaining energy management program.
As discussed above, a dedicated energy manager is a clear champion and collaborator with finance. In lieu of that position, lessons from the business community can be helpful in bridging the communication barrier between finance and facilities.
- Kohl’s Department Stores embedded a member of their finance team in their energy team. The analyst’s finance skill set enabled them to communicate project in financial terms, develop financial analysis and budgeting, and ultimately decreased approval time and increased credibility of energy efficiency projects. Similarly, city staff responsible for paying utility bills and servicing financed debt could maintain a standing relationship with facilities, with regular meeting to discuss facility need and utility budget.
- Wendell Brase Vice Chancellor of the University of California, Irvine and Chair of the UC Climate Solutions Steering Group advises speaking the CFO’s language including:
- Propose projects with a track record of consistent, assured savings in comparable climates, organizations, and facilities.
- Cite, but not over-emphasize or overstate, secondary benefits (beyond utility savings).
- Take a portfolio, rather than project-by-project, approach.
The City of San Antonio offers an exceptional example of energy savings recapture to fund future energy-saving projects. In 2011, San Antonio established a revolving energy efficiency fund with $4.6 Million of ARRA seed funding. The fund pays for low-cost high impact improvements as well as the marginal cost of higher efficiency equipment in capital projects. The fund is self-sustaining because realized energy savings are returned to the fund rather than being subsumed by other portions of the city budget. Further, utility incentive payments received from CPS Energy are captured in the fund. In its first 5 years the fund resulted in $4.2 Million in savings (Figure 2). Read the full San Antonio Revolving Fund case study.
Figure 2: San Antonio Revolving Fund performance in its first five years.
Ultimately, in order to initiate new energy-savings projects and maintain support for existing initiatives, local governments must be able to effectively communicate the benefits of energy efficiency to leadership, staff, and citizens.
While each local government is unique, the U.S. Department Energy’s ENERGY STAR program provides a framework for developing an energy program communications plan:
- Define your goal:Understand what you are trying to accomplish with your communication. Are you trying to gain approval from the City Manager or encourage staff to modify behavior? Understanding your goal defines how you communicate with your audience.
- Identify your target audience: Determine who you need to engage in your communication plan based on your defined goal. You may have to engage multiple departments or stakeholders to implement your initiative.
- Tailor your message:Consider what is important to each stakeholder and develop justification for your initiative based on their priorities. Payback and return on investment may resonate more with department heads and finance functions, whereas time saved in operations and maintenance may be more compelling to building services staff.
- Select the best way to reach each audience:Maintenance staff may not check their email regularly or your department’s social media may be the primary way to engage citizens. Understanding the best means to delivering your message will help ensure the target audience absorbs and considers your message. Your city’s communication staff may be helpful is determining the best way to reach your audience.
- Schedule each activity:Coordinate message timing and necessary resources to maximize the likelihood that your target audience will receive your message. By considering timing of your message you can avoid overloading your stakeholders or reaching them at an inopportune time.
The ENERGY STAR website offers more resources on strategies to communicate energy efficiency.