QMC’s Earth Hour Challenge – Practicing What We Preach

At QMC, we pride ourselves on deploying intelligent submetering systems which are able to produce meaningful data for our clients to make informed decisions about their energy usage.  With the 2017 Earth Hour Challenge as a motivator, we decided to practice what we preach and dig into our own energy consumption habits to see what kind of reduction we could achieve in our Toronto office.

When we moved into the Toronto location in summer 2016, we had a lot of freedom to install a range of electrical, water and gas metering equipment, not only as a showcase of some of the products that we offer but also to gain a better awareness of own energy usage patterns.

The Toronto Earth Hour Challenge:

A key component of any energy conservation program is having solid baseline data so any improvements can be benchmarked.  For 2017, BOMA Toronto in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund ran an energy conservation contest for commercial buildings and tenants in the Toronto region. Rather than basing results on a single hour, the consumption change was recorded for the entire Earth Hour weekend. Tenants were ranked by their total percentage reduction versus a benchmark taken from the previous three weeks.

For most offices, consumption can be broken down into two components: variable (lights, computers, thermostats and any other occupancy-based usage), and non-variable, which is often referred to as the “base load”.

Our Toronto office:

Size: 6,500 sq. foot industrial unit with a 40/60 office/warehouse split

Staff: 16 FTE’s (and growing).

Hours: 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday

QMC base load provides a starting point:

To start our analysis, we looked at the base load, which includes anything that’s left on overnight: computers, servers, HVAC system, the refrigerator, etc.  To our surprise, we found that the base load on our office was about 5.5 kW. To put that into perspective – at current rates, if our office was completely unoccupied, our annual electricity bill would be about $7200/year. Clearly, we had some work to do.

if QMC’s office was completely unoccupied, our annual electricity bill would be about $7200/year.

After looking at the individual loads that contributed to our 5.5 kW base load, the obvious low hanging fruit was our rooftop HVAC unit, using a constant 2.2 kW.  It turns out that regardless of our thermostat’s temperature settings, our HVAC system’s circulation fan was running constantly and contributing to our high base load.  While it is important for circulation to be running for employee health and wellbeing, of the 168 hours in a week, our office is typically only occupied for 50 hours.  Assuming that the circulation fan only needs to run 20% of the time to maintain acceptable air quality, switching to a good quality programmable thermostat to optimize HVAC scheduling would save 11,000 to 15,000 kWh/year and reduce our total electricity bill by up to 30%. In our case, the return on investment for purchasing a new thermostat would be less than two months.

“ for us, the return on investment for purchasing a new programmable thermostat would be less than two months. “

Most other big savings opportunities within our office were variable and often dependent on human behaviour. For example, shutting off computers, printers and photocopiers at night when not in use. While this is often frustrating and inconvenient to employees, it takes merely few minutes a day and could save approximately 13,000 kWh/year. As is the case with most businesses, our server room needs to be running 24/7, and that accounts for about 1.2 kW of our base load demand.

“engaging our  employees to shut down equipment at night can save approximately 13,000 kWh/year”

Habits are hard to break, so automating procedures, even if at a cost, is often the best way to see consistent results.  For example, though we did not have meters specifically isolating our conference room, we calculated that the lighting in the room was consuming around 430 kWh/year. Our conference room is often only utilized for an hour a day, and when used, we typically forget to turn the lights off until the end of the day. The payback period on installing a motion sensor in our conference room would be about one year.

“automating procedures, like turning off lights, is an easy way to save energy”

QMC Earth Hour Load Profile Graph
QMC Demand over Earth Hour time period

Our efforts were rewarded, and we were able to reduce our base load consumption to around 1.9 kW for the Earth Hour Weekend. After making continual improvements, we have further reduced that number to around 1.6 kW. With some automation and a few behavioural changes, we estimate that we will be able to cut our energy expenditures in half this year – and these results are not atypical of an office of QMC’s size.

“with automation and behavioral changes, we expect to cut energy expenditures by 50%”

The knowledge gained from a well-designed metering system is critical in analyzing consumption and making proactive decisions to save energy and money. Even without a metering system, simple changes can go a long way to reducing energy costs. Energy Star believes that US consumers lose over $3 billion a year in costs associated with “vampire power”.

“Whether it’s installing a new thermostat, turning off computers at night, or simply unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use, we can all do our part to reduce energy consumption.”

According to Alectra Utilities, which serves 15 communities outside Toronto, an overall reduction of 112 megawatts in peak demand, enough to power 3,404 homes for 24 hours, was seen in their service area during Earth Hour this year.

QMC wishes to congratulate all Earth Hour 2017 participants and encourages everyone to continue to practice energy conservation.

More about the Earth Hour Challenge:

BOMA Toronto Earth Hour Challenge serves to highlight what is possible year round as well as stress the importance of tools like metering and submetering to measure and monitor performance. BOMA Toronto and, and partner, WWF-Canada – Living Planet @ Work thank the record number of buildings and tenants – 445, an 8% increase over last year — who participated in this year’s challenge.

The QMC team is proud to be an Earth Hour Challenge Advisor. Utility submetering is an important component of encouraging conservation behavior’s for building owners, managers and tenants. QMC’s Vision: Sustainability through Accountability.

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