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Strategies for Reducing Plug and Process Load Energy Use in the Retail Sector

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Aug 24, 2020

Plug and Process Loads (PPLs) are building electrical loads used by plug-in equipment and appliances as well as processes for cooking, computing, and internal transportation. PPLs consume more than 45% of commercial building energy use, and this number is expected to increase to more than 50% by 2029 as buildings become more efficient and occupants plug in additional electronic devices. Furthermore, during unoccupied times, PPLs can use substantial energy, a challenge that has impacted many retail partners as commercial buildings sat empty or adjusted operating hours in 2020. In response to increased interest, the Plug and Process Load Technology Research Team, part of DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative, updated the Assessing and Reducing Plug and Process Loads in Retail Buildings guide for retailers to curtail energy use from PPLs in their buildings.

DOE’s guide was recently updated to reflect the current state of commercial energy usage and the PPL control market, as well as to detail necessary steps for planning and executing an effective PPL control strategy. It includes guidance based on research and findings from plug load management field studies, and features current plug load management technologies such as wireless meter and control devices like smart outlets, automatically controlled receptacles, and advanced power strips.

The Plug Load Efficiency Utility Incentives database has also been updated. This companion resource to the Retail Guide identifies over 300 financial incentives that can aid in adopting PPL controls. This resource helps to identify available PPL incentives, which can be a challenging task as there are fewer incentives available compared to other areas such as lighting. Some best practices from these resources are highlighted in the infographic below.

Looking ahead, there are promising developments for further energy reduction through PPL controls. The 2019 Landscaping Study from the PPL Team described how the future of plug load strategies will include PPL integration with lighting controls and the Energy Management Information System (EMIS) to manage whole-building energy usage, improve grid interactivity, and optimize energy. In a similar vein, the PPL Team has supported the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Integrated Lighting Campaign, which is focused on developing a building management system to integrate lighting, HVAC, and PPL controls to maximize building coordination and energy savings.

These future PPL solutions will still require many of the same preparations needed with the commercially available options today, so incorporating the control strategies discussed in the Retail Guide will not only be effective now but also provide a solid foundation for the future.

To learn more about plug and process loads, visit the PPL Technology Research Team on the Better Buildings Solution Center.