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Delivering Energy Savings to Taxpayers

Commissioning is one innovative idea for creating jobs and saving taxpayer dollars by reducing energy use in Federal buildings.

It is no secret Americans everywhere are looking for more ways to save. From electricity bills to gas pumps, families and businesses are turning over more stones to save on their energy use. 

The Federal Government is no different. As the nation’s top energy consumer, there is great potential to deliver energy savings to taxpayers. Thankfully, there is a giant opportunity right in front of us: Commissioning.

As with ships, commissioning for new buildings is meant to assure that systems are properly installed and operate within specifications. Commissioning identifies and corrects such errors as fans installed backwards or wired to stay “always-on,” faulty equipment, and improperly programmed building energy systems. Properly done, commissioning includes training so building staff can provide high performance operation.

However, over time, building performance tends to drift. Building use can change, equipment can be altered, and new staff are not always fully trained.  Equipment may no longer operate within specifications; leaks may go unrepaired.  The result is that energy performance suffers, along with occupant comfort.  This can drive up energy costs and our bills. Without a quality-assurance process, problems may go unfixed for years and even decades.

Recommissioning (or retrocommissioning for a building not previously commissioned) can be thought of as a “tune-up” to restore and enhance building performance. Commissioning agents work with building operators to do this. Good recommissioning includes training so operators can keep buildings operating optimally long after the process.

And the savings offered are impressive. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study of 643 buildings across 26 states found that commissioning led to median energy savings of 16 percent in existing buildings and 13 percent in new construction.

Most of this vast potential remains untapped – but change is coming. California and New York City both recently began including commissioning as part of their strategies to advance building efficiency, and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established commissioning as part of its Federal energy management goals and requirements.                                                                                                                                         

As the operator of more than 500,000 buildings covering 3.1 billion square feet, the Federal Government is leading by example here. But they cannot do it alone. Add in 5 million commercial buildings totaling 72 billion square feet and commissioning becomes a prime opportunity for business and government to come together to help Americans save money and power the economy forward.

Commissioning and other innovative ideas will be discussed at the upcoming 2012 GreenGov Symposium, which will focus on sharing ways to create jobs and save taxpayers money by making the Federal Government more sustainable and energy efficient.   

Kateri Callahan is President of the Alliance to Save Energy