Guest Post by Saagar Patel, operations director for the Energy+Eco team at ESD

As a popular Chinese proverb states, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. The same could be said about planting the seeds for energy reduction and improved efficiency in commercial buildings.

While it would be great to be enjoying the benefits of upgrades and improvements to buildings and building systems now, the next best time will be based on actions taken today. A case in point is the price of natural gas.

Did I Miss the Boat on Lower Energy Prices?

In recent years, building owners and operators have enjoyed low natural gas prices as reflected in correlated lower electricity expenses. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), that benefit appears to have ended in 2021. With the hottest summer on record in the Lower 48 states, space cooling demand drove record levels of electrical power generation—and consumption. The point is further driven home in a recent article by Transparent Energy, where Luke Nemes, CEP and Director of Energy Procurement & Market Intelligence answers “What Does $4.00 Natural Gas Mean for Large Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional Buyers Like You?”

Until now, many building owners were seeing lower operating costs with low prices and lower demand as a result of workplace use changes stemming from the global pandemic. Employees working remotely shifted day-to-day operation and maintenance expenses dramatically for many businesses. It was a good time to take advantage of lower energy prices while demand was low.

That was then. This is now. Even if your operation missed locking in long-term energy contracts in the past, now may still be the best time to lay the groundwork for future benefits. Don’t waste any more time riding on the “U.S.S. Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda.” There are still plenty of opportunities to set a course for greater energy savings and operational cost reductions.

Top Signs Now is the Time to Act on Making Buildings More Energy Efficient

To say we live in unprecedented times is an understatement. Political, social, scientific, and environmental factors seem to be in flux to a degree unseen in modern times. While events can be unsettling, opportunities for a better future abound. This is especially true in the built environment world. Here are a couple indicators I believe point to making this a great time to commit to reducing energy consumption and costs by increasing building systems efficiency:

  • Planning for a Post-COVID-19 “Return to Office”: The lasting impact of the global pandemic on how day-to-day business is conducted is still being defined, but there is no question changes will be made. A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the ongoing crisis presents an opportunity to shift to a more efficient energy system with multiple benefits. This is an opportune time for companies to take stock of their current resources and requirements. What will “return to office” mean? Will it be a return to a pre-COVID status quo? Do the efficiencies of remote working translate to a new way of operating going forward? If your organization is considering a hybrid approach to office attendance, this could be the ideal time to evaluate your building system needs. Systems that have been sitting idle or under-used may warrant a careful inspection before being brought back fully online.
  • Greater Environmental Awareness: Addressing employee health and safety concerns is also a great time to improve environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals of your company. Making your building more energy efficient can create ESG benefits beyond the bottom line. Committing to a program of energy reduction and efficiency can pay dividends in positive public awareness, an improved environment, and better work performance. A qualified expert in LEED and other certifications can help you reach goals of net zero carbon emissions.

Next Steps Toward Greater Energy and Operational Efficiency for Buildings

The way we work as a result of COVID-19 and other economic pressures has had a significant impact on commercial real estate. Working with a qualified expert to help identify problems as well as opportunities in building systems is a great first step in finding and creating value for key building stakeholders. Even if your facility is in great shape, now could be the time to implement a plan to keep it that way. Monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx) can be a logical next step to improving tenant comfort, reducing O&M expenses, and improving overall energy efficiency. To stay in one place is to go backwards. The best time to take action to improve operational and energy efficiency in buildings is today.

Saagar Patel is operations director for the Energy+Eco team at ESD