Energy Audits for Municipalities
A municipal government is similar to a business or a household to the extent that it uses energy in its routine activities: its buildings, vehicles and equipment use electricity, natural gas, propane, oil, and gasoline. This energy use translates into expenses that must be met by the taxpayer. A municipal energy audit that inventories energy usage and identifies means of reducing consumption can help reduce costs by measuring how a municipality is using energy and identifying areas where energy can be conserved.
A municipal energy audit provides the following advantages:
- Conserves energy and reduces municipal budget increases;
- Ensures the optimum operation of municipal facilities;
- Identifies maintenance issues before they escalate into system failures;
- Provides a basis for scheduling and budgeting for periodic maintenance; and
- Creates a benchmark to determine how a municipal facility compares to similar facilities.
A municipal energy audit may have the following limitations:
- Initial funding for the municipal energy audit may not be available;
- Recommendations from a municipal energy audit may require behavioral changes from staff.
How to Use This Tool
Energy audits can be conducted by experts who have specific training and experience, or they can be completed by individuals using on-line and "do-it-yourself" resources. Municipal governments typically operate a number of buildings and facilities, and a professional energy audit consultant may be able to provide the best analysis.
An energy audit consultant will conduct an analysis of the municipality's facilities, which can include the municipal building, fire and police facilities, water and sewer treatment facilities, libraries, recreational facilities, vehicles, etc., as well as a review of utility bills. The consultant will review the facility as an entire system with the aim at understanding how all of its elements use energy, such as the lighting, heating and cooling systems, the windows and doors, the insulation, stormwater drainage, efficiency levels of the appliances, etc. The structure will be inspected from the attic to the basement for obvious problems such a mold and mildew, with the goal of identifying the underlying causes.
Blower door test for home energy auditSome energy audits of smaller buildings can include a "blower door test", which use a large fan in the main entrance to create negative air pressure to find any areas of air leakage. Some auditors use sophisticated devices such as infra-red-detectors to find areas where inside air may be leaking. The consultant will assess how windows and doors have been installed and how well they operate (some small cracks and gaps around windows and doors can amount to the equivalent of leaving a window or door open all year).
Upon completion, a report will include several options for improvements, complete with the return on investment for various improvements. Very often, improvements such as upgrading windows and doors and sealing gaps can significantly reduce energy use. Some energy-savings actions will require the initial purchase of new products such as more efficient heating, lighting and air-cooling facilities. Other actions require no funding at all, such as learning how to properly use an automatic thermostat. The energy consultant can also provide a "benchmarking analysis" to gauge the facility's energy consumption against similar facilities.
For municipalities that want to conduct an energy audit using its own staff and resources, energy audits can be completed with the assistance of on-line resources. The U.S. Department of Energy offers recommendations for "do-it-yourself" energy audits.
ENERGY STAR, which is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices, also provides an on-line energy audit that can be completed without an energy consultant.
- The West Chester Area School District evaluated the energy use in its 16 schools and reduced its energy use and carbon emissions.
- West Chester Borough achieved a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging buildings to be designed to Energy Star standards, by buying energy from renewable sources, and by encouraging other energy-saving programs.
- The U.S. Department of Energy offers information on increasing energy efficiency.
- A related concept is a Municipal Sustainability Audit, which was prepared by Warwick Township in Lancaster County.
- PECO provides online energy reduction tools for businesses, and municipal governments can take advantage of these opportunities.
This tool is consistent with the policies in Landscapes2, the Chester County Comprehensive Plan, because a municipal energy audit can reduce energy use, improve efficiency and lower pollution.