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Some have suggested that COVID-19 destroyed the foundation of traditional measurement and verification (M&V) methodologies as codified in the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP). This simplistic but oddly compelling marketing claim is misleading.
When governments around the globe issued stay-home orders in 2020, energy use patterns shifted dramatically in buildings. As people started working from home and kids followed their classes from their living rooms, residential energy use increased.
The situation in non-residential buildings was not that clear-cut. Facility energy use patterns shifted up and down depending on the type of buildings. In many cases, the relation between operating hours, the number of occupants, and even weather, versus energy use diverged from historical patterns.
Where energy efficiency measures were implemented, this created and still creates today fundamental issues for measurement and verification (M&V) efforts. In M&V language, COVID generated a major non-routine event (NRE) that requires a non-routine adjustment (NRA). In context, the primary M&V-related concern due to these unexpected changes is substantially over- or under-estimating savings from the targeted energy efficiency measures (EEMs).
There is a popular saying that no two snowflakes are the same. Every winter, nature drops on us one septillion snowflakes. A septillion looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.1 That's a lot of zeros and snowflakes. With such numbers, a probability exists that two snowflakes may eventually look alike. However, most scientists agree they don't.2
Residential buildings are more like snowbanks than snowflakes. Their energy use patterns are relatively similar given specific climate conditions and average family size. Consequently, the impact of energy efficiency measures in a house will likely resemble applying the same measures to another house. This is why the outcome of energy efficiency measures in homes is often deducted from group analysis and deemed values attributed to various energy-consuming equipment rather than individual home analysis.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to non-residential buildings. Like snowflakes, these buildings tend to behave in a unique manner.
Take two buildings built with the same architectural plan and equipped with the same HVAC equipment. In building A, you install a bunch of servers performing cryptocurrency mining. In the other, building B, you have accountants crunching numbers.
Now hit the two buildings with a pandemic. The energy use of building A will likely not be affected, while the energy use of building B will probably go down. Assuming that similar energy efficiency measures were implemented in the two buildings, adjusting M&V for this NRE will require more than just reading an electric meter at a distance and conclude that consumption goes up or down.
Or buildings can also react differently to the same events or external conditions simply because their equipment is different. Although they may look alike from a distance, the chances are that commercial buildings have their own “fingerprint” as far as energy consumption is concerned. The same is true for industrial and manufacturing facilities.
Averages or even aggregated weighted figures is somewhat irrelevant for those interested in understanding the return on their investments, or interested in managing their building’s energy performance. To use a corollary example, consider inflation.
Looking at the general consumer inflation rate to assess the impact of individual product prices on families does not tell you much. The 2 % inflation rate may well hide a 10 % price increase in essential goods and a decrease of 8 % in less essential products. You will never know the impact on families if you do not take a deeper look at each general price index individual components.
Households are thus generally better off considering microinflation, that is the cost increases that have a noticeable effect on their spending but get watered down in the national inflation rate.
When a utility is providing financial incentives for the implementation of energy efficiency measures in individual buildings, it needs a structured site-specific approach in measuring the impacts of an NRE on individual energy efficiency projects. In this case, the utility cannot rely on guesstimated deemed values.
Call it fluke or prescience, months before being hit with this pandemic, Efficiency Valuation Organization (EVO) put together a group of industry experts to take a deeper look at NREs and NRAs.
This led to the release of a White Paper on Advanced Measurement & Verification in January 2020 and the publication of the IPMVP Application Guide on Non-Routine Events and Adjustments (NRE/A Guide) in October 2020. This guide provides a road map and details various solutions that are effective and allow energy savings to be accurately determined despite the impacts from NREs such as those caused by COVID.
When it comes to undertaking M&V in the context of COVID-19, site-based engineering approaches are up to the task. The NREs detection approaches and methods to make NRAs proposed in the IPMVP NRE/A Guide have already been successfully used and applied in many jurisdictions for program-based M&V and for individual energy performance contracts.
Obviously, traditional M&V is not obsolete. It is more relevant than ever!