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Researchers in library answering customer questions

Energy FAQs: Helping Utilities Answer Customer Questions

The Questline team often fields customer questions on behalf of our energy utility partners. From lighting to HVAC systems and everything in between, we don’t think an energy topic exists that we haven’t been asked about. Questline’s resident energy expert, Mike Carter, recaps a few of the most frequently asked questions below.

Does this black box really reduce energy consumption 30% by cleaning up dirty electricity?

No way. Those boxes contain capacitors and harmonic filters that will improve your power factor (decreased kVAR) and waveform distortion (reduced harmonics), but they will not significantly affect power consumption in kilowatts (kW).

What is the energy consumption of my HVAC system?

You will need to known your system capacity in tons of cooling (12,000 Btu per ton), your system efficiency and your cooling load hours to estimate energy (kWh) consumption. Your system efficiency may be SEER, EER or COP. SEER and EER measure Btu of cooling per watt-hour of energy consumption. COP measures the ratio (in percent) of cooling output over electric input, both in units of Btu per hour. These efficiency ratings can be converted into kW draw per ton of cooling (full load value) using simple conversion formulas. Use the following formula:

  • Energy consumption (kWh) = Full load value (kW/ton) x Capacity (tons) x Run time (hrs)

How much will I save if I upgrade to LED lighting?

It depends on what you are replacing. LED lamps draw 75% less power than incandescent bulbs, about 50% less than linear fluorescent lamps and about 40% less than compact fluorescent lamps. LED fixtures draw two-thirds (66%) less power than mercury vapor high-intensity discharge lighting fixtures.

How do I find someone qualified to conduct an energy audit of my facility?

There are a couple of energy auditor certification organizations that provide a searchable list of professionals who have achieved this certification. Some auditors are strictly in-house but many provide this service as a business. The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) Certified Professionals Directory lists over 1,200 people in different regions of the U.S. who have attained a Certified Energy Auditor (CEA) certification. ASHRAE lists over 200 people who have achieved its Building Energy Assessment Professionals (BEAP) certification.

Is a 3-phase motor more efficient than a single-phase motor?

Yes, but only a little — maybe 3% more efficient at the most.

Is there a formula for calculating potential energy savings resulting from the installation of variable frequency drives?

With VFD control, the horsepower draw required is proportional to the cube of speed. So, use the following formula to estimate the reduced power draw at any given speed.

  • HP%draw = HPFull speed x (%draw)3

For example, if you can run your pump or fan at 80% speed, the horsepower draw would be reduced to only about 50%.

  • HP0.8 = HP1.0 x (0.8)3
  • = HP1 x 0.512

You would save 50% during the hours the speed is reduced to 80%!

These questions lead to a larger question: Is your utility proactively answering customer concerns?

In a world where news changes by the second, it’s critical for your energy utility to stay on top of industry trends. By doing so, you’ll show customers that you are focused on their needs. A few simple ways to accomplish this include:

  • Subscribe to industry newsletters. Your utility might send out newsletters itself, so you know the importance of such a tactic. Practice what you preach by keeping an eye on other utility newsletters or resources. Non-utility sites may even prove valuable by showing you trending cultural topics that could affect our industry.
  • Leverage social media. Social media is a valuable resource when it comes to trending topics. Hashtags make it to the top on Twitter for a reason! These constantly updating platforms are key sources of information for you. Lean into them. Specifically, social listening can help you see how customers feel about your utility and what they are looking for from you.
  • Talk to your team. Your team often has eyes and ears on things you may not even be aware of. Make sure there are resources in place to best communicate their ideas or findings.  
  • Network. LinkedIn, conferences and training events all serve as valuable resources to talk to others in the industry. More times than not, if your utility has a challenge with something, another utility does as well. Share these challenges with one another and work together to find solutions that will lead your utilities to achieve successful customer engagement.
  • Survey your customers. No one knows better what your customer is thinking than customers themselves. Send out a survey or implement a program promotion to encourage customers to share their thoughts and expectations with your utility.

By staying on top of industry trends, your utility can be a step ahead when it comes to answering customer questions. Be a resource for your customers before they need you.

Learn how to answer customers’ energy questions and build engagement with an eNewsletter solution from Questline.