By Brandolon Barnett  

Discussing the history and importance of the energy audit, the biggest drains on our power, and energy education.

While attending the 2011 Sustainability Showcase in Dallas last week I had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture by Jim Phillips, Executive Vice President of Aledo, TX. based Independent Energy Alternatives, Inc. A quick perusal of the staff biographies found on the website reveal that the person responsible for introducing Jim weren't joking as they scrolled through his many accomplishments. He's a registered professional engineer with a degree from A&M, Certified Green Building Engineer, Certified Energy Manager, and Certified Energy Auditor. To top it all off he's also got a degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary and a great sense of humor. The topic of the discussion was the conduct of an energy audit (you can read a short summary of this and some other lectures in our coverage of the showcase) and it quickly became clear that there are few people more qualified to answer questions regarding our energy usage.

There's some debate as to the impact that new technologies will have on energy patterns and availability in the next few decades. For the moment, however, as all our electric bills take huge bites out of our wallets in celebration of the Texas summer, more efficient use of the energy sources we currently have is arguably vital not just for the future but for today. Into the picture steps the energy audit, an ever more popular practice with the potential to reshape our energy use. In this Green Source conversation I corresponded with Jim about the history of the energy audit, recourse for apartment dwellers, the biggest drains on home energy bills, and more.

How old is the practice of the "energy audit" of commercial and residential spaces? 

Until the energy crisis of the 70's no one cared about energy usage; it was cheap.  The Association of Energy Engineers began in 1977, so I would guess that audits began in that time period.  Audits today not only track energy usage, but make recommendation on how to conserve (use less) energy, obtain the lowest energy costs, and eliminate utility billing penalties. 

How important is it to the future of energy use in North Texas specifically?

If Texas is to grow economically, energy supply needs to be available which means new generation and usage conservation.  Energy audits cover the second part.  More people (who are arriving daily) and more business (we hope there will be more companies and existing companies will grow) means more energy will be required.  Energy audits are a way to measure the usage and if you cannot measure it, you cannot control it.

We discussed this after your lecture on Friday, but briefly what might be your top recommendation to apartment dwellers regarding lowering their bills and ensuring their spaces are energy efficient?

Since apartment dwellers do not own the AC units or the building, they can only affect what they purchase (lights, appliances, blinds/drapery).  Lights and appliances should be Energy Star rated as high efficient.  Blinds/drapes should be heat conductive resistant (cloth or wood, not metal or plastic).Best, TURN OFF appliance when not in use. 

In schools we often discuss teaching a variety of "life skills" (some argue less than in times before) from managing finances to negotiating media. Given how much there is to learn, and how simple and necessary much it this knowledge is, do you see the energy audit as a "life skill" that should be included on a list of practical skills we should be teaching in schools?

Wouldn't that be nice.  I have found (two grown children) that until kids pay the bills, they do not apply what they are told or been taught about saving anything.  Teach it, YES.  Don't expect it to be applied with consistency until it cost them directly.  Actually, having a science project (an energy audit of the school or their own home) will motivate students to conserve energy.  It becomes a fun way to learn and they become the teachers for their parents and teachers.

You mentioned at the conference the massive drain of energy of the electric clothes dryers. Just out of curiosity, what are the 3 or 4 biggest drains on home energy use in our area?

#1 clothes dryers#2 air conditioning#3 dish washers (the electric heating elements)#4 lightsIn addition to these electric using devices, energy is lost and has to be replaced by poor insulation in the attic, window, and door areas.

Finally, what are some good resources for home owners seeking to conduct their own energy audit?

There are quite a few utility and government web sites.

Brandolon Barnett is Assistant Editor & Interactive Communications Manager for Green Source DFW. For story ideas, questions, or comments regarding this or other articles email - brandolon@greensourcedfw.org