Taming the Wild West of Energy Audits

I’m very excited that we’ve released proposed ASHRAE Standard 211 – Commercial Building Energy Audits – for public review. As chair of the committee that wrote the draft, here’s why I’m psyched about it – your input can help shape how energy audits are done worldwide.

ASHRAE just released Standard 211 for Advisory Public Review-meaning that anyone can read an advanced copy, and comment on its content, intent, usefulness, direction…anything really. You can a download a copy, and provide your feedback. You have until January 4th, 2016 to provide input.

The Standard has the potential to make a huge impact on completing energy saving projects in existing buildings. Currently there is no consistent standard that defines what constitutes an energy audit. Most practitioners in our industry try to do the right thing for their clients by finding projects and quantifying energy and cost savings in energy audits. However without a consistent standard, we have seen the quality and approach to energy auditing vary widely throughout the industry. Without a standard it’s the ‘wild west’ out there – anyone carrying a clipboard and a camera can call themselves an energy auditor, and their report an energy audit. We hope the Standard will set appropriate minimum criteria for the expected approach to analysis, audit content, and delivery format.

In 2004, ASHRAE (TC 7.6 specifically) first addressed this ‘wild west’ issue through the publication of Procedures for Commercial Building Energy Audits (1st Ed). In that short book, we introduced the concept of ASHRAE Energy Audit Levels 1, 2 and 3 as a shorthand for designating the depth of an energy audit. That concept became very popular, and is now commonly used (and often misused) in the commercial building sector. In 2011, we updated those definitions in a 2nd editionand added guidelines for energy audit best practices. These books are now widely adopted, cited by entities such as USGBC in LEED documentation, and cities like New York and San Francisco whose local ordinances require energy audits for certain buildings. However, the books were written as guides, and not in code-enforceable, standard language. The new Standard will hone the clarity of those audit level definitions and make enforcement clearer, and potentially broaden the adoption of the ASHRAE audit levels.

One new area that excites me about the Standard is the adoption of a common electronic energy audit delivery and data exchange format. This idea has several benefits to the energy world. First, standard reporting enables energy auditors to streamline their delivery process. Currently, many customers require different reporting formats causing time lost on report customization. If agencies adopted the Standard, having a consistent common core potentially saves us this time. Secondly, standard reports allow us to convert audit results to common data formats (such as BuildingSync) making the data inter-operable between different electronic platforms and databases. Establishing common data formats speed data upload and removes the auditor’s requirement to manually enter results in each agencies’ reporting platform. In the Standard, we specified reporting formats consistent with new tools, such as BuildingSync that make it easy to transmit results to municipal agencies, and to the DOE Building Energy Asset Score, which generates a rating of potential for energy efficiency in your building. With a common data sharing format, we can still use our favorite tools and templates by adapting them to push energy audit data that is cross-platform compatible. Audit data standardization allows us to spend our time identifying energy savings instead of data entry.

As the energy audit industry evolves, it’s vital for us to lead the charge and tame the current ‘wild west’ of energy audits to ensure quality analysis, qualified energy auditors, and streamlined audit processes. ASHRAE’s Standard 211 defines code-enforceable audit requirements and supports a common reporting standard that will ensure every building receives an energy audit report that meets minimum requirements. I encourage you to support this effort and supply your comments before January 4th, 2016.

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