Track Your Energy Costs and Consumption Patterns

As tougher environmental regulations lead utilities nationwide to upgrade their infrastructure and build new or retrofitted power plants, their customers -” including organizations of all sizes -” will have to keep track of their energy usage and billing in order to understand how their costs and consumption will consequently change. It comes as no surprise, then, that large organizations are expected to quadruple their 2010 spending on energy management software by 2014. As organizations recognize that energy expenses are one of the most controllable line items in their budget, they will increasingly make a comparatively modest investment in software that helps them keep those costs down.

That’s just one example of why tracking energy costs and consumption patterns should be the foundation of your energy strategy. Managing your energy in this way lays important groundwork and provides the necessary information to understand how you use energy -“ which is necessary before making efforts to reduce costs and usage.

By tracking and analyzing your utility bills and energy consumption, you can identify inefficient facilities, spot billing errors, prepare budgets and generate comprehensive energy and sustainability reports -“ saving energy, time and money. And when it comes to putting energy saving programs in place, tracking energy costs and usage will allow you to make better decisions in maintaining, improving or eliminating these programs by identifying their true effectiveness.

How does tracking your costs and consumption patterns help you be more energy efficient? Let’s say you’re planning to install “more efficient” light bulbs or fixtures throughout your organization’s buildings. At the end of the year, you can look back and see whether your overall energy costs and consumption have increased or decreased -“ but it’s not that simple. Without more detailed information that comes from tracking changes over time, as well as the interaction of external factors, you will not have a complete overview of your energy efficiency, nor a true answer as to whether any energy savings were due to the new bulbs or to something entirely different.

One external factor that can have a major impact on your energy costs and consumption is the weather. By factoring in past weather patterns, temperatures and other meteorological data, you can compare month-to-month and year-to-year energy consumption patterns while taking specific weather conditions into consideration. That means you can compare apples-to-apples by selecting similar months or years -“ instead of comparing this year’s mild winter with last year’s harsh snowfalls -“ and find out whether your short- and long-term energy savings were due to weather differences or to the new energy saving programs you implemented.

To take weather fully into account as an external factor that impacts your overall energy efficiency, you should track your bills and be sure you’re keeping an eye on the “degree days” -“ a measure that indicates when either heating or cooling consumption is at a minimum. This is important because comparing year-to-year can be tricky due to changing weather that can skew your apparent results. You can use resources such as to compare year-to-year degree days.

To accurately track your energy efficiency, you’ll also need to pay attention to the billing process. Because many aspects of utility billing today are antiquated -“ with paper bills, changing formats, and frustrating cancellations and re-bills -“ you could miss billing errors that result in added expenses, especially for large energy consumers. By being aware of your energy costs and usage patterns, you can have better auditing, analytics and reporting, cooperating with your utility providers to eliminate errors and optimize energy usage and cost.

The federal government continues to push not only utilities, but also organizations nationwide to optimize their energy, which makes tracking your energy costs and consumption a requirement. Recent legislation calls for cities -“ such as Austin, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Seattle -“ and states -“ such as California, Washington, Colorado and Connecticut -“ to benchmark the energy performance of their commercial buildings through ENERGY STAR. To meet the benchmarking requirements, you should track your organization’s usage summaries for meters, buildings and all departmental units.

As the federal government moves toward their energy reduction goal of “20 percent by 2020,” your organization can follow suit by implementing energy saving programs. But first, you must accurately track your energy costs and consumption to gain a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s energy activities and to inform your energy strategy. Ultimately, tracking these patterns serves not only as the foundation for effectively implementing, improving and analyzing energy saving programs, but also as an energy saving -“ and money saving -“ program in itself.

Steve Heinz is the founder and CEO of EnergyCAP Inc. (, based in State College, Pa. EnergyCAP is an ENERGY STAR partner of the year. With more than 35 years of professional experience, he has designed and published best selling energy management software for organizations of all sizes. Reach him at [email protected].