One of the single greatest barriers to executing large-scale infrastructure improvement projects can be justifying the investment to taxpayers. When it comes to energy efficiency projects that are not as visible as roads or parks, that barrier can be even greater.

In talking about energy efficiency projects, there are a variety of ways in which cities, counties, and school districts can increase efficiency and reduce expense. From LED light retrofits, to solar projects, to HVAC retrofits, there are many options, coupled with updated building controls, these projects are becoming more and more attractive to budget and energy conscious local governments.

Even with the increased efficiency and convenience associated with executing comprehensive retrofits, elected officials and high-level staff can sometimes receive pushback on spending public funds to upgrade a system that appears to be functioning “just fine.” Fortunately, the technology now exists to provide real-time accountability and transparency on energy efficiency projects.

In the State of Arizona, performance based contracts on energy efficiency projects are required by law to have an annual audit for a minimum of three years. Some Energy Service Companies (ESCO’s) provide more frequent monitoring through in-house resources. One tool for providing visual, user-friendly performance data on a building or series of buildings is called an energy Dashboard. The energy Dashboard compiles multiple types of data into one central reporting system to help users understand exactly how a building or series of buildings is performing. That data can then be made available to any designated individuals, from building operators to the general public. Dashboards are common on large-scale projects and report on energy consumption, sustainability components, energy production from solar panels, and even waste output.

Additional capabilities of dashboards and energy monitoring software include reporting functionality for management purposes. There are numerous reports available to show system performance, year over year efficiencies gained, sustainability goals achievement, and building portfolio performance compared to benchmarks of similar facilities nationwide.

Building controls allow an operator (a school district, county, or city) to adjust thermostat and light settings across multiple locations using one, centralized energy management system. Installation of this technology is often accompanied by system upgrades to increase efficiency, such as LED lighting retrofits and HVAC updates. The end result is increased energy efficiency coupled with reduced personnel expenses for maintenance. These resources can then be reassigned for other tasks. Imagine, as the days grow longer each spring, adjusting the thermostats in an entire building from one single control panel, rather than having a maintenance worker visit every thermostat in the system. System adjustments to accommodate evening assemblies can be scheduled centrally from a computer rather than dispatching personnel directly to the site.

Dashboards provide one inclusive picture of efficiency and allow for operators to make adjustments as needed. Consider the following scenario in which an energy Dashboard increases transparency while at the same time allowing a municipality to complete an important energy retrofit project:

A city engages an ESCO to perform a large-scale energy retrofit project that includes lighting and HVAC controls as well as solar panel installation on multiple city facilities. During the approval process, several residents attend city council meetings to voice opposition to the project because it is expensive and perceived as unnecessary for a system that isn’t broken.

An energy Dashboard is established to provide real-time data to show system performance. The Dashboard gives the city’s public works department and city management instant data on performance of the entire system. In addition, a public Dashboard kiosk is set up inside City Hall and data is pushed out to the city’s website for residents to see the actual performance of the system improvements. The end result is transparency and accountability coupled with greatly increased efficiency. It’s a win-win situation.

Considering that every project is different, ESCO’s should take a custom approach with each client to find the best method for monitoring and verifying savings. Not everyone needs a Dashboard, but many clients require more than an annual audit.