By Calvin Cornish

Uncovering Energy Efficiency Opportunities

Energy efficiency is a hot topic in energy discussions, especially with the current incentives and rebates offered by electric and natural gas utilities. Because energy is a top 3 spend for many facilities and about 30% of energy in commercial buildings goes to waste, it’s not surprising that facility and property managers want to take on an efficiency project to reduce their costs. However, with everyone talking about efficiency and the amount of information available, it can be difficult to know where to start if you’re considering implementing an efficiency project.

The first step in tackling an energy efficiency project is to perform an energy audit. An energy audit identifies how energy is being used in a facility and identifies cost reduction opportunities. Here, we spell out what’s included in each audit level, as well as the utility incentives and rebates available to help cover the cost of the audit.

Energy Audit Levels

All audit levels require a Preliminary Energy Use Analysis. During this analysis, a site visit is necessary to assess the building’s equipment and gather utility bill data. It also includes benchmarking to see how the building’s usage compares to those similar to it in the region.

There are three different levels of audits, each more detailed and involved than the next. The appropriate audit level for your building depends on your building’s needs.

Level 1: Walk-Through Analysis

The most basic audit level available to customers is the Walk-Through Analysis. During this 2-hour process, the auditor identifies major areas of energy efficiency improvements and outlines low- to no-cost measures that you can take immediately. They’ll also highlight potential improvements to capital equipment as well as quick cost and payback period estimates.

A Level 1 audit can show savings in both electricity and natural gas and is typically free for customers. This level of analysis is best for facility and property managers who want to know which efficiency projects are available for their property and want to identify which energy efficiency project should be their first priority.

Level 2: Energy Survey & Analysis

This level of audit includes the information from the Walk-Through Analysis but provides a more detailed examination of energy efficiency improvements. Because of this, a Level 2 audit can take 2-3 days to complete. Due to the amount of time and level of detail required, you should expect to pay between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on the size of the facility and whether you have the audit done for all systems. To reduce costs, larger buildings may consider doing this level of audit for just one system, such as HVAC or domestic water. At the conclusion of the Energy Survey, you will receive an energy usage breakdown as well as savings and cost analyses of all the recommended efficiency measures. The audit also uncovers capital-intensive projects that require a Level 3 audit.

Level 2 audits provide enough detail to implement an energy efficiency project. Customers who are financially prepared to execute their top-priority efficiency project and are looking for a detailed cost breakdown of the project would benefit most from this analysis.

Level 3: Analysis of Capital Intensive Projects

A technical analysis audit is the most detailed audit of the three. It expands on and includes the information gathered in a Level 2 audit. It requires more detailed field data and engineering analyses and uses actual utility data as a baseline for estimating operating costs of a new project. It also examines the situations that impact a building’s load profile and monitors system operating characteristics.

A Level 3 audit can take weeks to complete due to the amount of data required and is best for customers looking to do a large-scale, capital intensive project.

Incentives & Rebates

One of the aspects of an energy efficiency project that causes managers to hesitate is the cost of the project. Detailed energy audits can cost between $0.12 and $0.50 per square foot, depending on the size of your building. Factor in equipment and labor costs, and the entire audit can come with a rather hefty price tag. However, electric and natural gas utilities in Illinois are currently offering incentives and rebates that can help you fund your energy efficiency project.

ComEd’s incentives can help you pay for audit costs as well as other electricity efficiency projects.

  • Its retro-commissioning programs offers performance-based incentives up to $10,000 to uncover some of your basic needs. These incentives can increase to over $25,000 if you are willing to commit to implementing some of the solutions.
  • ComEd’s “Made in IL” incentive bonus gives customers a 10% incentive bonus for installing products that were manufactured or assembled in Illinois.
  • It also offers incentives for upgrading light fixtures and water cooled chillers, as well as for the installation of sensors and variable speed drives.

Nicor Gas and Peoples Gas offer rebates on steam traps, pipes, valve and fitting insulation, boiler reset controls, and demand-controlled ventilation. These rebates can range between $25 and $7,500. Customer rebates are available.

Start developing your energy efficiency strategy.

Energy efficiency projects are an excellent way to reduce your long-term electric, natural gas, and water costs. Regardless of your efficiency experience, sitting down with your Energy Advisor is the best way to start planning your energy efficiency strategy. We’ll help you decide on the right type of analysis for your facility’s needs, make the most of available utility-backed funding opportunities, and appropriately budget for future improvements as part of an overall plan to control usage and costs.

About The Author

Strategic Energy Advisors Calvin Cornish

Calvin has served as a Senior Energy Strategy Advisor at Nania Energy Advisors since 2010. He specializes in preparing property management boards to make informed decisions on energy efficiency through proper industry education. His clients include apartment complexes, condominium associations and senior living facilities. In his free time, Calvin enjoys music and coaching youth sports.

Calvin can be reached via email at or phone at 630-225-4554.