Improving Building Energy Performance with Retro-commissioning and Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC)

Determining why a building’s systems aren’t performing as well as expected or finding the financial resources to implement more capital-intensive efficiency projects can be challenging. That’s why we’re highlighting Better Buildings solutions for two important energy efficiency solutions: retro-commissioning – a process for ensuring that an existing building’s energy-using systems are performing at a high level; and Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) – a budget-neutral financing mechanism that allows today’s upgrades to be paid with tomorrow’s energy savings. First up we have a case study on how Salt Lake City retro-commissioned its Public Safety Building to put it back on track for “net zero” energy use and carbon emissions. Second is an online, interactive guide to support the utilization of ESPC best practices.

Retro-Commissioning Case Study: Salt Lake City Public Safety Building

In 2014, Salt Lake City completed construction of new headquarters for its police and fire departments, emergency operations center, and combined dispatch unit. The Public Safety Building was designed with the goal of achieving “net zero” energy use and carbon emissions.

After a year of operation, the Facilities Department found that the building’s energy systems were operating according to plan, but the actual electrical and natural gas usage were above the estimates of the initial energy model. In order to bring the building back on track for “net zero,” the city conducted retro-commissioning on the building. Specifically, the city utilized fault detection and diagnostics software to continuously analyze the HVAC system and identify operating inefficiencies such as simultaneous heating and cooling, over-ventilation of occupied space, and air handlers operating during unoccupied periods. By making operational improvements – reducing the level of ventilation and optimizing the air handlers and heating and cooling controls – the city was able to cut the building’s annual electricity and gas consumption by almost 300,000 kWh and 4,800 dekatherms (DTH) respectively, saving $68,000 per year. 

The project improved energy performance, reduced utility bills, and improved the comfort of the city’s first responders. The entire project had a financial payback period of just two years, with cost savings accumulating as a net benefit thereafter, and the Public Safety Building has now met its carbon net zero goal. Read more.

ESPC Virtual Technical Assistant

In the face of limited budget and staff, the State of Montana created a virtual tool to support state and local practitioners of ESPC.

The online ESPC Virtual Technical Assistant walks users through the steps of developing and implementing an ESPC project in five phases. The tool includes detailed step-by-step instructions, links to resources needed during the ESPC process, and advice for when users should consult the office responsible for ESPC technical assistance in their jurisdiction (or other experts as needed). By making technical assistance for ESPC available online, the guide addresses both budget and staffing shortages. 

The resource is available in two formats: as an online interactive guide and in a downloadable and fully customizable document. The document version of the Virtual Technical Assistant is intended to be altered to fit the needs of state and local government ESPC programs and hosted on their websites to provide interactive and location-specific assistance for ESPC project owners. Read more.