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The ABCs of Energy Efficiency 

Written by: Alex Kampf  

A is for Action 

Action = results 

The driving force behind progress in energy use reduction is action. It is the bridge between development of efficient technologies and realized savings on a utility bill. Inaction can often be more costly over time than present upgrades. There are many resources available to assist with the adoption of new technology all the way from the federal tax credits to local utility incentives.  

B is for Boilers 

Boiler technology varies greatly 

Boilers have been used for space and process heating for decades with multiple fuel sources. This makes them a great candidate for upgrades or replacement. Retrofitting controls, valves, flues, and burners can significantly reduce wasted energy. Modern heating boilers can achieve combustion efficiencies as high as 98.5%. In some applications, boilers can even be replaced with heat pumps.  

C is for Climate Change 

Climate change will impact everything 

Increasing temperatures, rapid weather swings, and unstable atmospheric conditions will impact building systems. Some locales not previously experiencing high humidity may have additional load requirements on refrigeration systems. Other regions will experience significant changes to heating/cooling season length. Adding flexibility and demand responsive technology to building systems will help equalize adverse effects of abnormal weather.  

D is for Demand 

Energy should be demand-controlled 

It is a core principle of energy efficiency to recognize that which can be measured, can then be controlled. Implementing demand-controls for energy usage will reign in unnecessary loss. Smart thermostats can automatically adjust setpoints based on building occupancy and outdoor air temperature. Advanced lighting sensors will control lights based on human traffic and ambient brightness. The ability to observe operating parameters is fundamental in taking the next step to control energy systems. 

E is for Education 

Education is a tool for keeping up with technology 

There is a perpetual gap between implementation and development of new technologies; education is a tether between the two. Informing users about the purpose and function of energy efficiency helps promote action. Utility efficiency programs such as Strategic Energy Management (SEM) and residential outreach are primarily focused on creating long-lasting behavioral changes to energy usage. The US Department of Energy hosts a wealth of online resources for consumers about energy efficiency.  

F is for Food 

Consumers can (and should) choose more efficient foods 

The energy requirements of food and beverage production can vary significantly. Locally grown potatoes at the farmer’s market and a bag of chips from a grocery store represent opposite ends of the food energy intensity spectrum. Consider the thermal processes involved in manufacturing, fuel for transportation, and storage requirements of different foods. Many products, especially meat, are processed to a higher degree simply for consumer convenience. Wise consumer choices are critical to energy efficiency. 

G is for Grocery 

Grocery refrigeration is a massive end-use of energy 

There is a large opportunity for efficiency improvements in refrigeration systems. Retrofit evaporator defrost and fan controls can significantly reduce heat loads and compressor run times. Capturing rejected heat from refrigeration into heat pumps during the cold season takes advantage of a valuable, otherwise wasted, resource. For existing systems, the addition of cooler doors and swapping out fan motors can provide instant savings with short payback periods.  

H is for Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) 

HRVs capture energy from already-conditioned air 

To the benefit of health and safety, enclosed spaces have make-up air requirements to control pollutant and CO2 levels. As air exchanges are made to satisfy those requirements, conditioned air is replaced with outdoor air. HRVs utilize energy exchange media to pull heat from outgoing air and deliver it to the incoming air. This action is reversed depending on the season. It is a simple and effective technology which can scale from a tiny home up to large industrial spaces. Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) technology captures latent heat from humidity as well.   

I is for Insulation 

Insulation keeps the heat where it needs to be 

Perhaps the oldest means of energy management, insulation persists in importance. Many older homes have little to no insulation in their walls and the same is true for older commercial building roofs. The science of insulation is straightforward, the application is only slightly more complex. Anywhere that can be retrofitted with more insulation up to or beyond code requirements represents a valuable opportunity for savings. The savings can be more effective when air loss gaps are sealed along with insulating.  

J is for June 

Summer starts with June (in the northern hemisphere) 

June sees the onset of high temperatures as the summer months heat up. It is a great time to verify the working condition of cooling equipment, fans, and filtration. Ensuring windows and doors between conditioned and outdoor spaces are adequately sealed and operating properly in June can save time and energy during the hottest upcoming months.  

K is for Kilowatts 

Kilowatts (kW) are demand, Kilowatt-hours (kWh) are usage 

Understanding electricity usage is important for identifying opportunities. The amount of continuous power equipment required to run is the demand; the total consumed while it runs is the usage. Some equipment has a high initial power demand. By controlling the equipment's start time, overall demand can be lowered. Demand-response programs deployed by utilities focus on grid-wide control to help curb peak power usage.  

L is for Leaks 

There are no good leaks 

Leaks can occur in many places such as ductwork, water lines, compressors, door jambs, window frames, and roof sealing. The loss through leaky equipment will impact usage at, generally, a constant rate. This is an easy opportunity for energy (or water) conservation. Addressing air infiltration and keeping ductwork sealed can improve comfort and reduce excess energy usage. Leaks can put undue stress on equipment and should be maintained as they are discovered.  

M is for Maintenance  

Maintenance saves money 

For most complex building systems, maintenance is less costly than replacement. To repair and keep existing equipment in good working condition is important for energy efficiency. Maintenance tasks can be reactive, such as changing a valve or fixing a leak, or they can be preventative, like replacing a squeaky belt before it fails. Small mishaps can build up to large expenses if not addressed on a continual basis.  

N is for Nature 

Built systems exist within ecosystems 

The philosophical separation of buildings from the “outdoors” is a missed opportunity for understanding the function of nature. Climate is directly responsible for the comfort requirements of buildings and it comes from outside the walls. Being mindful of trees, habitat, and green spaces can improve building and occupant health. Operating a building through a nature-integrated lens can have profound effects on its environment.  

O is for Operations 

Operations and maintenance are closely related 

Building operations includes both the technical and social components of occupancy. Aligning these two with each other is a core tenant of Strategic Energy Management (SEM) programs. SEM can help identify inconsistencies with occupancy, setpoints, and seasonal operating conditions. All energy systems should be commissioned in such a way to focus energy when and where it is necessary. Incentives are often available for O&M improvements via SEM programs.  

P is for Passive 

Energy conservation is a passive activity  

The non-use of energy happens while nothing is happening. Conservation goes hand in hand with efficiency. By relying on passive strategies to reduce energy usage, such as seasonal tree canopy or thermal mass, the burden of active heating/cooling can be significantly reduced. This can allow for more creative solutions to cover the remaining HVAC loads.  

Q is for Questing 

Time to go on an adventure! 

One of the easiest ways to reduce energy usage is to go on a quest. No sorcerers or knights required for this one; a simple stroll through a home or business to identify all sources of energy usage is an great way to look for opportunities. Actively looking and asking, “should this be plugged in?” or “How often does this run?”, is a fun, effective evaluation which can lead to energy savings.  

R is for Rebates 

Upgrades can be costly; rebates are there to help 

Most utilities support energy efficiency projects with incentives and rebates. In short, as energy demand increases, it becomes more expensive to meet the supply needs. Rather than building a new power plant, it is better to invest in energy saving efforts to reduce demand. Utilities and governmental organizations provide incentives, rebates, and tax breaks for qualifying projects. Calling a local utility is a great first step. 


S is for Solar 

The sun is a constant 

Solar impact is an inevitable friend and foe. In the summer, the intense sun will increase cooling requirements. In the winter, any bit of sunlight is welcome to help warm interiors. By understanding the typical solar conditions for a building, a combination of active and passive technology can be a powerful tool to offset energy usage. Solar panels can reduce solar radiation and generate electricity, while large windows can allow sunlight to heat internal thermal mass.  


T is for Timers 

Simple solutions are often very effective 

The end-use of energy is relatively simple,: equipment is either running and consuming energy, or it is not. Controlling when a device runs can often be as simple as a timer. This can be a plug-level control, where a device plugs into a timer, or a more advanced digital controls system. However it is done, ensuring things are on and off when they should be is a very important part of energy conservation.  

U is for Unplug 

Sometimes a timer is too fancy 

Questers aren’t likely to meet a monster on their journey, but should be aware of vampire loads, or standby power. Some appliances, such as a toaster, don’t use any energy while plugged in unless they are running. Many newer electronics, however, consume a small amount of power any time they are plugged in. As more “smart” appliances enter homes, the standby power usage can add up quickly. Simply unplugging, or adding a switched power strip is an effective means to control the vampires.  

V is for VFD 

Variable Frequency Drives improve motor efficiency 

Motors are used in many applications, primarily pumps and fans. The addition of VFDs allows motors to be operated at varying speeds. This means during times of lower demand; motors can be turned down to save energy. VFDs are very common today in HVAC and water systems. There are now many technologies which perform the same function as a VFD such as Electronically Commutated Motors (ECM) and Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motors (PMSM).  

W is for Water 

Water creates, carries, and consumes energy 

Nothing is more prevalent on earth than water. Water is filtered for consumption, heated for home use, chilled for HVAC, and utilized in many different processes. As excess humidity, water can be an indicator of poor system operation or a barrier to optimal performance. Similarly, condensation in unwanted places can indicate lack of insulation. Water usage and behavior should align the expectations of the application, as water can often be a vector for much larger issues.  

X is for Xerothermic 

A fancy word for the desert 

Humans have adapted to thrive in many different climates. Even in a time of changing climate, innovation continues to meet the needs of civilization. More locales are being exposed to extreme weather events such as prolonged periods of little to no rainfall leading to desertification. This can greatly impact the local energy infrastructure. As climate shifts, new strategies should be implemented to help control energy usage and influence design toward a prospective future, rather than past conditions.  

Y is for You 

You, the reader 

Here is where we bust down that fourth wall! Energy usage, efficiency, and conservation doesn’t happen on its own accord. It is important everyone takes the initiative to manage their own energy usage. Use the tips in this alphabet to perform a self-assessment at home, or reach out to your local utility program and find new energy savings opportunities for your home and/or workplace. Energy conservation is extremely important to maintaining a sustainable world.  

Z is for Zero 

Last and certainly least, zero 

While it is impossible to use zero energy, net-zero and near-zero are achievable goals. Using solar power and storage can entirely offset daily, monthly, or annual electricity usage. Practicing smart control strategies can significantly reduce demand for energy and reveal long stretches of non-use. Working towards zero impact, whether related to energy, emissions, or footprint, is a goal society must work towards to protect our natural resources and live sustainably.  


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