By Chuck Hurchalla
The post-pandemic work environment will be challenged by many “new-normals” that will impact our daily lives. Making up for revenue that was lost or differed due to the impact of COVID-19 will be top of mind for many organizations. What opportunities are out there? How can an organization save critical capital while decreasing operating costs? What equipment may be necessary to provide safe environments for returning workers?
As part of our “Navigating the New Normal” Series, we will explore energy-saving opportunities as well as specialized cleaning methods that can help your organization safety follow the rapidly changing health guidelines.
Opportunities for Savings
Low Energy Prices
Evolution Energy Partners understands that today’s economic climate may bring uncertainty for many organizations. Finding savings is critical, especially when the future is unknown. With current energy prices coming off extreme lows, now is the time to lock in long-term contracts and renegotiate existing contracts. Our team is seeing savings of up to 20 percent on electric and natural gas. These low prices are a result of a combination of historically warm winter months and the coronavirus reducing both commercial and industrial demand for energy products. If your organization is currently in a supply agreement that expires in 2020, 2021, or even 2022, we highly suggest scheduling a review to find new opportunities to extend contracts or to renegotiate existing supply prices.
Energy Efficiency Projects; No Capital Outlay Required
In difficult economic times, many companies choose to halt projects to preserve critical capital. While this makes sense in some cases, it is not always the best path for weathering the storm. With event cancellations, closures, and limits on corporate travel occurring across the country, we fully understand the impact this will have on top-line revenue and profitability for our clients across various industries.
An excellent way to immediately improve P&L is to decrease operating expenses and increase cash flows without using capital by implementing fast payback energy efficiency projects paid for via off-balance-sheet funding or lease financing. Energy efficiency projects produce great ROI, reduce operating costs, and increase a property’s value. On average, a site-wide project can reduce your organization’s utility spend by up to 30 percent a year.
Operating a Safe Indoor Space
In reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, building owners and operators must now make certain they are doing everything they can to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and suppress the potential spread of the virus.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided guidance for employers to help them meet the new requirements in place due COVID-19. Before employees return to the office, employers should take the following steps to reduce the chances of exposure to COVID-19:
- Conduct a hazard and risk assessment.
- Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that includes where, how, and what sources of COVID-19 your workers could be exposed to, workers’ individual risk factors, and the controls necessary to address those risks.
- Develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick individuals.
- Develop, implement, and communicate new work flexibility and protections.
- Implement workplace controls.
- Follow standard OHSA guidelines.
Click here for more information on the guidelines.
In addition to the guidelines laid out by OHSA, building owners and operators should consider changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems to reduce airborne exposure to airborne bacteria and viruses.
Recommendations to Reduce the Spread
HVAC systems are critical components in suppressing the spread of the coronavirus from one building occupant to another. The following recommendations to your HVAC operations as well as supplemental technologies designed to disinfect the air and surfaces can significantly increase the air quality in your building.
Operational Changes: Dilution
Maintaining minimum recommended air exchanges (exhausting inside air and replacing it with fresh outside air) per hour is critical to maintaining proper indoor air quality. However, the more outside air brought into a building means the more air that needs to be conditioned (heated or cooled) and the more money spent on electricity, gas, steam, maintenance, etc. Traditionally, building operators ensure adequate IAQ (indoor air quality) by mixing indoor and outdoor air before recirculating it through the building. With higher IAQ needed to suppress the virus, operators can dilute the indoor air with more outdoor air to decrease recirculation. Dilution is the process of decreasing the concentrations of indoor contaminants by diluting interior spaces with outside air. ASHRAE released the following recommendations regarding dilution ventilation and COVID-19.
Increase Outdoor Air Ventilation:
- Open outdoor air dampers to 100 percent (as indoor and outdoor conditions permit)
- Disable demand control ventilation and energy recovering systems
- Enable outside air economizer mode and increase minimum outside air settings
- Maintain relative humidity between 40 percent and 60 percent
- Check airflow to larger areas such as large office areas, conference rooms, lobbies
- Maintain proper pressurization (both building pressure and toilet exhaust)
- Air flush the building two hours before and post-occupancy every day. This includes operating the exhaust fans as well as opening the outside air dampers.
Disinfecting the Air with Ultraviolet Light
Germicidal UV (GUV) refers to using short-wave ultraviolet radiant energy to inactivate viral, bacterial, and fungal organisms so they are unable to replicate and potentially cause disease. When the process is applied in a given location, it is generally referred to as ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). There are three main types of UVGI; At the Air Handling Unit (AHU) Coil Cleaning, Upper Room UVGI, and Portable UVGI. Each method can be implemented in various parts of a building, or only in high-risk rooms. UGVI is a proven and effective inactivation method for mold, bacteria, and viruses in the air, while maintaining system efficiency and airflow, saving energy and money. When using UVGI, operators must strictly follow protocols to reduce exposure to UVGI light, as it can cause serious harm to eyes and skin.
Bipolar ionization (BPI) technology releases negatively and positively charged atoms that attach to and deactivate harmful substances like viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). BPI has both economic and health benefits. By reducing the intake of outside air and improving heat transfer, utilizing BPI technology can lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption and costs. BPI has been laboratory tested to be effective at killing or deactivating a myriad of viruses and bacteria and is presumed highly effective against SARS-CoV-2. BPI has no health risk as long as ozone is not created in the ionization process and reduces GHG emissions.
With building owners and operators facing many challenges as they look to reopen in the future, the recommendations above provide added savings and ensure a safer indoor environment. For more information on the methods discussed in this article, contact Evolution Energy Partners at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck Hurchalla has more than 30 years of experience in the deregulated energy markets, including natural gas, electricity, and petroleum products. He is considered a subject matter expert on hedging strategies and the fundamental and technical drivers of movements in the energy markets, including renewable products. He has also been instrumental in helping clients develop comprehensive energy management solutions that meet or exceed energy efficiency and sustainability goals.