The First Step Toward Sustainability– Energy Audits and Master Planning Enhance Laboratory Sustainability

The following is based on an article authored by Zach Platsis, a Technical Specialist with SSOE’s Sustainable and Renewable Solutions Group.

It appeared as the cover story in Laboratory Design magazine in July 2009. To read the original article, go to

More than ever, companies are trying to reduce operating costs while minimizing the amount of capital needed to do so. In many laboratories, one key cost cutting tactic is to develop more sustainable and energy-efficient facilities and processes. Since implementing these programs has the potential to save 25% or more in operating and maintenance expenses, it should be a high priority initiative.

State and federal incentive programs can offset some of the capital cost of these projects and should be one factor in your cost equation. But to really stretch your dollars in the area of lab infrastructure, you need to take a holistic approach. A basic energy audit and improvement plan will help you reduce energy costs by identifying the “low hanging fruit.” However, if you only go that far, you run the risk of missing significant opportunities to maximize your investment. The solution is to develop a complete energy master plan.

What an energy master plan includes
Energy master plans can be structured for existing lab facilities or as part of the planning process for a new building. When properly developed, an energy master plan will do the following:

  • Set both short- and long- term goals to minimize the facility’s energy footprint
  • Identify specific steps to achieving these goals
  • Estimate capital needed for related facility projects, both large and small
  • Define milestones based on data gathered during an energy review
  • Include a way to measure the results of the actions taken

Considering the needs of users
Even the best conceived plans will generate disappointing results if they fail to consider the actual users of the facility. Many measures geared to reducing energy require their active participation. It is important that those involved in the conservation plan consider the fact that world-class researchers may have needs and goals that aren’t consistent with owners and facilities managers. In the end, effective solutions are not imposed; they consider the requirements of all project stakeholders.

Involving multiple disciplines in planning
The scope of your project will dictate what disciplines need to be part of the project team. Typically, it will include architects and mechanical and electrical engineers. Depending on the lab type and size, you may want chemical and process engineers to participate as well. The team should work closely with their facility counterparts, and representative users to evaluate existing conditions and identify solutions.

To assure you’ll end up with an effective plan, make certain that the resources you engage are current in all the relevant energy saving technologies and know how to integrate these successfully into client facilities.
As part of data gathering the team will interview owners, managers, and laboratory users about their processes, goals, and needs and also review facilities’ systems audits, as-built drawings, and utility bills to determine baseline consumption.

Studying current energy usage
In some cases the team will want to meter individual spaces or use another means of localized data collection to study usage patterns. The team will analyze all aspects of the processes in the laboratory and how they interact and affect energy use. This avoids short-sighted solutions: for example, reducing lighting levels in ways that negatively affect a user’s ability to carry out a process.

Analyzing the data.
Finalizing the plan.

With this data in hand, the team is ready for an in-depth analysis that will reveal specific design and financing opportunities. These may include:

  • Improvements in the lab layout
  • Modifying or upgrading electrical and mechanical systems
  • More favorable arrangements with utility providers: for example, improving utility contracts or taking steps to reduce power factor penalties or peak usage charges
  • The availability of financing, tax incentives, and energy-efficiency grants that can reduce capital costs

The team then drafts a plan with optional approaches and timelines for the owner to review. This draft becomes a final energy master plan with the selected approach, schedule for implementation, and other relevant

SSOE is experienced in all phases of energy master planning. We have provided comprehensive engineering, architecture, and construction management services to carryout sustainability and energy conservation measures and maximize the savings to our clients. For more information, contact Zach Platsis at