The mission of a laboratory is to conduct research, but as with any enterprise, energy efficiency affects the bottom line. Faced with the double imperative of reducing energy waste while adhering to strict regulatory requirements, lab managers carry a unique burden.
Why is energy efficiency important?
Compared to an office building, the average lab uses 10 times more energy per square foot. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that reducing lab energy use by 30% would lower national energy consumption by 84 trillion Btus. That’s an energy savings equivalent to removing 1.3 million cars from the highways.
Lab managers recognize the need for energy efficiency, but struggle to initiate change, in part because most labs lack a standard method for reducing energy use and costs.
The successful energy management life-cycle approach
Whether a lab’s work involves potentially dangerous biological agents or animal research, energy efficiency is a common challenge. By launching an energy management program, a lab can accrue energy savings without compromising compliance or safety standards.
- 1. Audit and measure energy use: First, data can be collected by monitoring and measuring energy use of all utility types: gas, electricity, steam, hot and chilled water, and compressed air. Then, establish a metering strategy for tracking energy use and gathering operational information. The data will determine the “how, where and when” of a lab’s energy footprint.
- 2. Fix the basics: Collected data and ongoing monitoring allow a lab to deploy low cost, high-yield fixes to stop blatant energy waste. For example, upgrading to low-energy lighting, low-loss transformers, and high efficiency motors is a fast way to reduce energy use. Beyond the mechanics, human behavior plays a role. Enlisting the cooperation of staff – through training, procedures, or incentives – will improve the effectiveness of an energy management program.
- 3. Optimize through automation and regulation: Maintaining the proper environment in a lab is critical to safety, compliance, and research success, which makes reducing energy more of a challenge. But it’s possible to use automated technologies to correct controls for heating, cooling, and humidity that operate outside efficiency tolerances. In addition, integrating lab systems with building automation systems will deliver significant efficiency and savings.
- 4. Monitor and maintain for continuous improvement: A successful energy management system can deliver as much as 30% in energy savings; however, it’s possible to lose 8% of those savings each year without appropriate maintenance. Building automation systems monitor and report errors, but analyzing complex problems and energy waste requires expertise. Lab managers may rely on in-house experts or outsource to a remote bureau; either way, it’s important to perform ongoing maintenance to maximize results.
Initial efficiency gains can be undermined without proper monitoring and maintenance
Proof is in the numbers
Most exhaust systems in labs are programmed to operate constantly at high speeds, using conservative set points to accommodate “worst-case” scenarios for outside wind conditions and internal air contaminants. With proper monitoring to ensure safe air quality, more energy-efficient set points can be established and systems can be engineered to operate in a flexible manner that cuts excessive energy consumption when it’s not needed.
For example, one lab was able to reduce exhaust-related energy use to 10% of previous levels by using a staged variable air volume (VAV) system with anemometer control. The result? Annual savings of $81,000 – and a bonus of a $90,000 utility company rebate.
Energy management is not an easy process; it requires time and effort. But laboratories that adopt the energy management life-cycle approach realize payback in reduced energy costs, improved efficiency and long-term sustainability – without compromising employee safety.