Thinking Bigger About What’s Possible with Energy Auditing

By Herbert Dwyer, MBA

A recent study found that the rate of building retrofits would need to triple to achieve our climate goals1. A colossal increase like this cannot be achieved by making a few tweaks to the existing process. The only way we can begin to address this problem is by igniting a collective vision for a more ambitious approach to energy auditing. Specifically, we must challenge conventional norms, champion the power of creative thinking, and emphasize the pivotal role of technology.

Of course, renewables are vitally important in achieving climate objectives, but when talking about retrofitting buildings we need more than a photo op and the “hoopla” surrounding a new rooftop solar install. Ultimately, the nuts and bolts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in buildings is found in reducing consumption from mechanical and electrical equipment.

The truth is that every one of these building retrofits begins with a time-consuming, in-person energy audit. Drawing on the sobering statistics from State and Federal governments, EMPEQ has calculated that, in order to reach America’s climate goals, we must reach a pace of 7,100 building retrofits daily from now until 20502. Further, when you consider the conversion rates of energy audits to retrofits, this would mean a staggering 35,000 audits need to happen every day. Lastly, exacerbating this issue is the fact that there is a trifecta of challenges within the energy auditing sector’s workforce: limited labor availability, requisite skill shortages, and insufficient audit capacity. It is clear that a paradigm shift is not only necessary but imperative to effectively address both the need to increase the rate of retrofits and the pressing workforce challenges.

Fortunately, there are a number of emerging technologies available to increase capacity of the existing workforce, lower the barrier to entry into the energy auditing workforce, and/or reimagine the way energy audits are conducted. My company, EMPEQ, epitomizes this effort with our innovative Fast Site Survey software—an app that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to instantly identify equipment/parts, digitize specifications, and glean insights like remaining useful life, cost/energy saving alternatives, and many others all from a smartphone picture. The product not only makes existing auditors more efficient, but, because of the app’s embedded intelligence, it expands the candidate pool for site auditors.

However, EMPEQ is not alone. Other technologies can be deployed to overcome some of these challenges listed above. For example, blockchain can be used to create a single record of truth for a building’s service and maintenance history – this is helpful for buyers, sellers, owners, and, of course, energy efficiency contractors. Additionally, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), specifically swarm technologies, can create instant 3D models by sending a large number of miniature drones into a building’s footprint; this can be used to assist with the initial retrofit plan to make buildings more energy efficient. Further, digital toolsets like RETScreen and EnergyStar Portfolio Manager bring automation to many steps in the auditing process.

All of these technologies combined make crowdsourcing energy audits a distinct possibility in the near term. My vision for the future of our industry features community-wide energy audits being achieved in weeks – not months or years, as it takes today. In this vision, entry-level workers, homeowners, and other ratepayers swiftly collect basic building and equipment data processed by AI. EMPEQ’s Fast Site Survey would be the perfect data collection tool, but there is a plethora of energy modeling software platforms also powered by various forms of AI and machine learning that could produce actionable results.

Ultimately, scaling up energy audits is the sole path forward if we are to meet our 2050 climate goals. The pressing need to expedite progress will only occur with an open-minded and curious approach. As such, my call to action is to challenge the status quo and push boundaries to secure a sustainable future. The urgency of the message cannot be overstated, and I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to heed this call and contribute to the transformative change needed for a greener, more sustainable world.

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1 https://www.utilitydive.com/news/building-retrofit-decarbonization-targets-jll-report/654004/; Retrieved February 28, 2024.

2 https://empeq.co/innovation-in-site-surveys-energy-audits-can-help-reach-climate-goals-by-2050/; Retrieved February 28, 2024.