What Is Energy Master Planning?


The term "master plan" is typically associated with large-scale new construction projects or renovations that consist of multiple buildings in a campus or urban setting. However, in terms of operational costs and sustainability, an energy master plan is a critical component of design and planning that is often overlooked. Energy master plans can be created for large projects consisting of multiple buildings, as well as for an individual building; and can be created for both new construction as well as existing buildings. 

An energy master plan provides a comprehensive approach to planning for a facility’s current and/or future energy needs, instead of a fragmented approach to repairing or replacing broken systems. An effective energy master plan identifies and evaluates a facility’s energy use, consumption and needs. It identifies opportunities for improvement and provides solutions to help building owners achieve greater value based on a feasible and realistic return on investment for identified projects. In order to develop an Energy Master Plan, Studio St.Germain follows a six-step process:

1. Assessment of Conditions and Needs
The first step is accomplished by reviewing and analyzing documents such as building plans, energy audits or energy models, and utility data. Additionally, the project team may perform a visual inspection of the building(s), as well as interview and/or survey facility stakeholders to understand space requirements, day-to-day workflow, and how well the building is currently meeting the needs of its users.

2. Goal Setting
Establishing and confirming an overall vision is essential to launching the master plan. During this phase, we compare the building performance data against energy benchmarks of similar buildings, and use this information to help set energy reduction goals. These goals identify and articulate the core issues to be addressed in the planning process. They act as a scorecard that can be used to comparatively evaluate alternate master plan options developed in the subsequent phases. The goals may address issues such as improved operations, improved indoor air quality and occupant comfort, improved functionality and flexibility of space, reduction of energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and achieving sustainable certifications.

3. Options for Improvement
In this phase a comprehensive list of potential optimization measures will be created for consideration. The list may include measures that address site, architecture, building systems and operations. Once all options are identified, each will be tested against the scorecard of goals created in the previous phase. Energy modeling software will aid in making informed choices to meet the project goals for improved energy efficiency, while careful not to undermine functionality of spaces or aesthetics. Financial modeling is used to evaluate how various options may impact factors such as utility costs, a property’s real estate value, occupant productivity, or greenhouse gas emissions. For all possible measures, the advantages and disadvantages are evaluated and discussed in meetings with project stakeholders.

4. Presenting a Comprehensive Plan
The purpose of an energy master plan is to avoid fragmented, haphazard efforts in order to better understand, continually monitor and improve the building performance and energy strategy for a facility. Building on the concepts developed in the previous phases, the focus in this phase shifts to a detailed set of initiatives as part of a single approach to fulfill the master plan goals. The final master plan identifies future projects, including commentary on aesthetic considerations, cost estimates, payback analysis, constructibility, schedule, as well as connections with other initiatives. Additionally, the final master plan and accompanying reports may act as key documents for capital planning, fundraising and advocacy. The master plan also becomes a tool for future building operators, planners and architects.

5. Implementation
The master plan includes an implementation strategy to identify how, when, and by whom the recommendations of the plan are to be implemented. It provides information for both near-term and long-term projects. This is to ensure that short term projects do not compromise longer term opportunities, as well as to allow long-term flexibility. The project team assists the client in preparing requests for proposals (RFPs) for anticipated projects, and establish project delivery methods. In order to assure successful implementation, Studio St.Germain acts as the Architect of Record for recommended projects proposed within the master plan.

6. Measurement and Verification
Measurement and Verification creates a record of the building’s past and a blueprint for the future. Upon completion of each project, Post-Occupancy Evaluations are performed to evaluate how design, construction and operations impacted the original goals. The design team assesses what elements exceeded expectations and should be repeated on future projects, as well as those elements that may have fallen short and require modification in future phases. The energy model and collected data are also used to verify that construction has achieved the goals set for that project. This information continues to be applied in future planning. Monitoring-based Commissioning using building sensors, monitors and an "energy dashboard" ensures that energy efficiency goals are maintained over time.

A successful energy master plan addresses utility consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, renewable and alternate energy sources, spatial requirements, as well as occupant comfort and productivity. Studio St.Germain takes a methodical, step-by-step approach to navigating this complex process to achieve maximum return on investment.