Energy Efficiency is Only as Good as its Parts

Thinking at the Systems Level- An Audit Alone Won’t Determine The New Winners of Energy Efficiency

With Scott Tew, 

With several utilities claiming that electricity prices will increase dramatically as a result of recently proposed regulations, many companies and consumers have started to look at energy efficiency as a way to cut costs. All too often, however, that means an energy audit is conducted, a few pieces of equipment might be upgraded, and that’s the end. That's much like being vigilant about fuel economy by ensuring that your car's tires are properly inflated, but ignoring other components, the way the car is used and the data that creates an understanding of efficiencies.

Car Efficiencies


  • Tune up engine
  • Clean air and engine filters
  • Right size and width tires

People and Process

  • Accelerate smoothly
  • Turn off AC on short trips
  • Reduce idling
  • Stop looking forever for the 'perfect parking space' in shopping malls


  • Use mileage between car fill ups to check overall auto efficiency
  • Use fuel gauge and tachometer to find fuel efficiency 'sweet spot' for long trips

Auto fuel efficiencies can be thought of as parallel to how energy is used at industrial facilities: optimizing at the system level will derive the best energy efficiency performance overall. However, it’s safe to say that most executives are not experts on how much energy industrial facilities consume or how. Following the analogy, while car owners often turn to their car dealers for system service, executives can turn to manufacturers.


Scott Tew, executive director for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand said, 

"The key to making strides in energy efficiency is to focus on system-level efficiency. As manufacturers, it is up to us to educate and provide reliable systems and services that can help organizations proactively increase energy efficiency. More importantly, system-level efficiency coupled with employee engagement will help the U.S. reach their Energy 2030 goal of doubling U.S. energy productivity."

Mr. Tew went on to add that dollars invested in energy efficiency are returning less and less in energy savings. This is because energy efficiency is still thought about the way it has been for the last 40 years. However, technology has advanced, becoming more complex and interactive, while transforming the way we think about energy. Yet we still measure and regulate the energy use of each component of a system separately. It may have made sense to do it that way in 1975, but it no longer applies today.

Creating policy change to focus on system-level efficiency

In the same way that one car will not suit the needs of all car owners, building requirements differ. But even car owners change, and when those needs change, the current car may become the wrong one. For buildings, this means recommissioning vital components, often within an existing system. In the same way that a great Jaguar motor will not improve a Toyota Prius, understanding the system is critical to making good use of corporate resources. As Mr. Tew said:

"Most industrial efficiency policies focus heavily on product efficiency, ignoring the reality that in a complex chain, one mismatched component can cause a dramatic reduction in expected results."

There are several potential reasons for the discrepancy between the results advertised and what a building may experience. Building engineers and owners can work with equipment manufacturers to reduce the gap between expectations and reality, by reviewing each buildings' unique requirements. Such a collaboration ensures both the best purchase of equipment and the appropriate components to support it.

Imagine two buildings: the first, a modern, highly ventilated, well insulated, five-story building running a large system in South Florida that keeps the temperature at 78 degrees for six months out of the year; the second, and unventilated, uninsulated, small, one-story building running the same machine that keeps the temperature at 68 degrees in Alaska for one month during the summer every year. It’s entirely possible that the two machines pull the same amount of electricity, yet current regulations don’t distinguish between the two in terms of energy efficiency. 

  • Regulations set energy requirements for units, such as air conditioners, based on each component’s performance while operating within fixed conditions using a load profile that cannot reflect the reality in all situations.
    An accurate picture of energy efficiency in a building requires an analysis and understanding of many other factors in the environment, including local climate, total building energy load, oversized equipment, how and when the building is used and the role of non-system components. 
  • Accurate analysis requires that the entire building be taken into consideration.
    Factors such as building size, the level of sunlight and wind exposure in and around the building, the purpose of the building, and the climate within which the building is located have a dramatic effect on efficiency. 
  • Recommissioning requires maintance. 
    For upgrades to existing buildings, new procedures are needed to ensure ongoing efficiency. A plan that outlines maintenance from facility staff and contractors that is regularly reviewed will keep equipment running at optimal levels.

Steps to Energy Efficiency

Creating energy efficiency gains at the system-level.

  • Start with an holistic approach that views the technical solution as an investment designed to achieve organizational objectives.
    Goals such as reducing costs are a place to start, but other targets include retaining and recruiting employees, maximizing customer loyalty, extending brand recognition, or engaging a local community. These values can impact the design and development of an efficiency project.

  • Gain the support of top level executives and others, so that there is a broad based buy-in before implementation. 
    The plan should follow the same disciplined framework as any other investment opportunity under consideration, including a mission statement, vision, objectives and key performance indicators.

  • View high performance building technologies through the same lens as any other state-of-the-art investment. 
    Use the same kind of processes set up for purchases in manufacturing, service-delivery, product quality, environment, health & safety (EH&S) or customer satisfaction processes. All of these impact the bottom line and deserve equal attention.

  • Develop an optimization strategy for utility managers that is universally supported and rigorously implemented and maintained.
    This is the common denominator in virtually all enterprise-wide energy efficiency initiatives. 

  • Use energy disclosures and more transparent reporting for stakeholders.
    Such information can motivate supply chain managers to increase efficiency, thereby reducing costs. Increasingly, cities like New York and Los Angeles are viewing such disclosures when making policy decisions, as are Boards of Directors.

Energy costs are rising and are not likely to drop. While new technologies and renewable energy sources are gaining in popularity, energy efficiency remains the easiest — and single most cost-effective — way to cut energy use. Thinking at a system-level energy efficiency approach allows organizations to benefit from reduced costs, streamlined technology operations, and less waste. An energy audit can highlight areas of need and waste, but the solution requires a system approach.

About W. Scott Tew

W. Scott Tew is the founder and leader of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand (CEES), which supports all of the company’s strategic brands – Club Car, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and Thermo King – and is responsible for forward-looking sustainability initiatives. Since the CEES was formed in 2010, Ingersoll Rand has successfully exceeded its long-term goals in energy use and waste reduction, while embedding sustainability in all parts of the product development process. Tew's recent efforts have led to the development of world-class initiatives including the creation of a green product portfolio (EcoWise), personalized employee engagement programs, and unique research on unmet needs in the green space. Tew manages all sustainability-related public transparency, advocacy, reporting and goal setting initiatives for the company. Ingersoll Rand has garnered recognition for these successful sustainability practices in Andy Savitz’ book The Triple Bottom Line, among others.