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How to Manage Building Energy While Working Remote

With recent shelter in place and work from home mandates, energy and facility managers are adapting to rapid changes within their companies. Some are investigating how to monitor their buildings while working remote, while others are working to identify the best energy reduction programs in anticipation of potential budget cuts. As our team began helping customers respond to these changes, we found many had similar questions:

1. What are the changes I should make to my building schedules?

2. How can I make the best energy decisions while my buildings are empty?

3. How do I ensure a smooth transition once our team returns to the office?

To help answer these questions and more, we asked two of our colleagues to share their advice and best practices.

Chelsea Davis, Building Insights project manager. Chelsea supports new customers through the onboarding process and provides training for customers to maximize their value from the platform. She is using Building Insights to monitor our Oakland, CA office’s energy use (part of Acuity’s larger ESG initiative) while our office is closed.

Dylan Reedy, Building Insights account manager: Dylan is helping his customers audit and verify that their buildings are performing as they expect during periods of downtime. He’s also guiding customers on how to use this time to run performance checks and plan for workers returning to the office.

What are some of the first things facilities managers should do as their buildings become empty?

Dylan: “Regardless if a company has one building or several, it’s important to be able to quickly pinpoint the areas of a building portfolio that are driving up costs. To do this, many Building Insights customers want to quickly verify that their buildings’ energy performance is reflecting a decrease in usage.

One of the first things I suggest is to take a quick look at building performance through the Building Insights Heat Maps. In this example, Building A is using the same amount of energy throughout the day, even though the building was confirmed empty on March 16th. This same customer had another building schedule (Building B) that did reflect intended energy reductions , using minimal electricity since the building closed as seen from the nice dark green pattern towards the bottom of the Heat Map.

Building A's Heat Map and cost consumption for 30 days
Building A's Heat Map and cost consumption for 30 days
Building B's Heat Map and cost consumption for 30 days
Building B's Heat Map and cost consumption for 30 days

Building B is saving over 50% in energy costs over the same period last month, while Building A is not performing well, saving only 14%. This particular organization has over 25 buildings, so being able to quickly see which building needed attention saved the team a lot of valuable time and money. “

What are some Building Insights tools teams can use to monitor energy remotely?

Chelsea: “Dylan talked a little bit about them, but I personally love the Heat Maps. They’re a great way to leverage interval data to visualize building schedule changes hour by hour, day by day. That’s the type of granularity teams need in order to really optimize their energy consumption and prevent unwanted usage.

Trends Cards is another great tool in remote monitoring. We have cards that can display trended data for a specific building, or across an entire portfolio. Both versions display building performance from a selected period of time compared to a previous period. It’s a great way to quickly verify your overall consumption is trending in the right direction. Looking at a period of time, when your buildings are closed for example, you’d expect to see a decrease in energy consumption.”

This graph shows us that overall electricity use in the building is down almost 14%.
This graph shows us that overall electricity use in the building is down almost 14%.

What steps did you take to prepare our building when we were told to work from home?

Chelsea: “During the first week of remote monitoring, I established a baseline to show how our building was consuming electricity knowing it was essentially empty. Interestingly, our Building Trends Card showed that we were using MORE energy that first week than we were the previous week. Since we had data from all 40 submeters feeding directly into Building Insights, I was able to figure out that our HVAC schedule needed adjusting to help bring down our electricity use.

Because our office is empty most of the day, it didn’t make sense to have our HVAC running like on a normal work day, so we decided to shut it off completely in some areas, and leave it running in other areas, like the server room. This change allows us to continue to keep the building heated and cooled where necessary and reduce energy where it’s not needed.”

Our HVAC, main room plus, and lighting are all using less electricity compared to the previous period!
Our HVAC, main room plus, and lighting are all using less electricity compared to the previous period!

Dylan: “Building Insights customers have also begun using this time to establish their own baselines. With the Building Insights Load Profile Analysis, facility teams can easily identify the lowest point at which their building consumes energy. This is important in order to understand your average electricity use, and by how much you can reduce consumption.”

What advice do you have for facility and energy teams as they prepare for employees to eventually make their way back into the office?

Dylan: “Use this time when buildings are empty to reset schedules and establish a baseline. Then, as employees begin coming back to the office, use this data to create a new schedule and baseline based on occupancy use. During non-working hours, you’ll be able to use the baselines you set now to understand how low you can get your energy use when no one is in the building.

To help establish your occupancy dependent building schedule, you need to know:

1. What time are people coming into the office?

2. When are they leaving?

3. What areas of the building get the most use?"

Chelsea: “Looking back, I think we’ll be able to tell an interesting story about how our buildings performed during this time away. Just the other day, I heard from one of our customers that they are seeing their solar array produce more electricity than the building is consuming, and as a result they are sending that electricity back to the grid. This is utility money the customer can instead Invest in capital projects across their campus.