Are energy treasure hunts still reaping rewards for utility customers?
In 2019, ENERGY STAR® launched a new “Find the Treasure” campaign to further promote energy treasure hunts at large facilities and campuses, including manufacturing facilities, healthcare campuses, office buildings, and colleges and universities. The campaign focuses on providing recognition to companies and organizations for completing energy treasure hunts and sharing identified energy-saving opportunities with ENERGY STAR. While energy treasure hunts have been utilized for many years in varying capacities, their popularity as a specific offering within energy efficiency portfolios – including virtual treasure hunt options – has increased over the past 3-4 years due to their effectiveness in identifying energy savings and operational improvements. But do they still provide enough value to large commercial and industrial customers who have other competing organizational priorities?
What is an energy treasure hunt?
First, it’s important to know what an energy treasure hunt entails. It is more than a basic energy audit or assessment that is often used within an energy efficiency program to detail equipment conditions and potential capital improvements. An energy treasure hunt is a two- to three-day event that engages employees and other project stakeholders (e.g., energy advisors, utility staff, and contractors) in identifying low- or no-cost energy-saving opportunities during facility walkthroughs. Rather than focusing on capital improvements, the hunt concentrates on savings that can be achieved through behavioral, operational, and maintenance-related actions. These actions may focus on areas such as shutting down equipment during non-operational hours, adjusting equipment control settings, and increasing the frequency of maintenance schedules to proactively address system issues.
Over the past several years, utilities across the country have integrated energy treasure hunts within their energy efficiency portfolios to help customers identify operational enhancements and facilitate a focus on continuous energy improvement. Utilities have even carved out specific energy treasure hunt programs that connect project opportunities with other prescriptive and custom energy efficiency programs to deliver more comprehensive savings to the portfolio. As treasure hunt programs have evolved, key considerations and best practices have emerged to maximize savings impact and customer engagement.
Five key considerations for energy treasure hunt offerings
- Target customers in a strategic yet flexible manner. Not every large customer will be an ideal target for an energy treasure hunt, even if they consume a significant amount of energy. When targeting customers, utilities should consider energy use data points, past program participation habits, and available staff resources within the customer’s organization. In addition, utilities may need to modify their treasure hunt process to account for schedule or resource constraints with the customer.
- Utilize virtual platforms to conduct certain elements of the treasure hunt process. While treasure hunts are most impactful when conducted in person, there are areas of the process that can be conducted virtually – such as initial presentations, regular team meetings, and a wrap-up meeting summarizing the key findings. The use of virtual platforms will provide a more cost-effective way of maintaining customer engagement and provide more flexibility for employees and project stakeholders who may be remote.
- Include a broad spectrum of project stakeholders. It is important for the treasure hunt process to gain insight from a variety of project stakeholders – both internal and external to the organization. Stakeholders should include facility management and leadership from the customer’s organization as well as utility account managers, program energy advisors, contractors, and equipment manufacturers and distributors. By incorporating diverse perspectives, the treasure hunt process will be more wide-ranging and encounter fewer hurdles when the customer focus shifts to project implementation.
- Assess potential capital improvements during the hunt. While energy treasure hunts are primarily focused on operational, behavioral, and maintenance-related improvements, they should still aim to identify potential capital upgrades at the facility. In-person touchpoints with customers and key project stakeholders are often difficult to schedule, so utilities should try to maximize the impacts of these customer meetings. By using the treasure hunt process to also identify capital projects, utilities will be able to develop project roadmaps with the customer and generate both short- and long-term energy savings through a more comprehensive project implementation approach.
- Leverage treasure hunt summary reports for company leadership. Given that energy treasure hunts are two- to three-day events, the reports that detail the hunt findings and key energy-saving opportunities are often lengthy. In addition to providing the full treasure hunt report, utilities should outline key takeaways, actions, and expected impacts in a summary report. This summary report can be instrumental in securing company leadership buy-in for future capital improvements and dedicating staff resources for project implementation.
Case Study at OSF HealthCare
In 2017, OSF HealthCare’s Saint Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, IL, became the first hospital in the country to participate in an energy treasure hunt through ENERGY STAR – nearly two years before the “Find the Treasure” campaign launched. Over the course of two days, the hunt teams performed an onsite energy audit – engaging employees in identifying low- and no-cost energy-saving opportunities from behavioral, operational, and maintenance actions. In addition to hospital leadership and facility staff, the treasure hunt involved representatives from local utility Ameren Illinois, energy efficiency program implementer Leidos, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), and several preferred contractors and equipment vendors.
The OSF HealthCare treasure hunt team was divided into two groups who competed to identify the most energy-saving opportunities with less than a one-year payback period. The groups searched more than 500,000 sq. ft. of facility space and identified nearly 30 opportunities, including LED lighting upgrades, high efficiency motor upgrades, exhaust fan shutoffs, fan control setbacks, and high efficiency boiler upgrades. In particular, the energy team identified nine quantifiable, quick-payback projects estimated to save more than $200,000 in annual energy costs. With these results at St. Joseph, OSF HealthCare quickly launched energy treasure hunts at their other facilities across the region.
Impacts of Energy Treasure Hunts
Since ENERGY STAR launched their “Find the Treasure” campaign in 2019, nearly 60 organizations have participated and received recognition for their achievements. Participants have included large companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Boeing, Nissan, General Motors, Wyndham Hotels, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Toyota, Nestle Beverages, and Stellantis, as well as several healthcare operations, wastewater treatment facilities, and school districts. In total, these organizations’ treasure hunts have uncovered more than $44 million in potential energy savings and over 443,000 metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions.
Overall, energy treasure hunts continue to be an effective tool in delivering energy savings, engaging a wide range of stakeholders, and helping the customer to develop better energy management practices within their organization. Treasure hunts have also been used in specific regions to implement natural gas-saving projects and help local utilities address gas demand issues. Moreover, the integration of virtual treasure hunt components have helped to maintain engagement with customers while reducing program implementation costs.
Want to learn more?
Leidos integrates and implements energy treasure hunt offerings for utilities across the country. Our commercial and industrial customer expertise and approach to identifying more complex project opportunities delivers significant energy savings and exceptional customer satisfaction on behalf of our utility clients. For more information on Leidos and energy treasure hunt programs, contact our team.