Upkeep Energy saves money through efficiency

BOULDER — As owner and senior energy engineer of startup Upkeep Energy LLC, Jessica Lorentz believes that energy-efficiency solutions can reduce a company’s energy costs by 5 percent to 20 percent annually.

One of the easiest ways to make a company more financially efficient is to make it more energy efficient, she said.

Upkeep Energy provides energy-efficiency services for buildings, including energy studies, retro-commissioning, ongoing commissioning, measurement and verification, staff training and a range of other energy solutions that can save businesses money while decreasing environmental impact and increasing employee comfort.

Lorentz founded Upkeep Energy in July, but her interest in saving energy began 15 years ago during a chance stop on a road trip through Colorado.

“I was driving through Boulder and decided I wanted to pull over and go for a hike,´ said Lorentz, who is originally from Minnesota. “I ended up at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory visitors’ center, and I realized, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ “

After her epiphany, Lorentz enrolled in the University of Colorado’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, where she earned a master’s degree in building systems engineering. During and after her graduate studies, Lorentz interned at NREL. She went on to work for Architectural Energy Corp. as part of its sustainable-design group and for EMC Engineers Inc. (now part of Eaton Corp.).

This year, Lorentz opened her own energy-efficiency business. The company has two employees and two offices: one on 38th Street in Boulder and one in Apple Valley, Minnesota, which is headed by Gary Nickal, an energy-solutions specialist.

It’s a big change, but Lorentz said the smaller operation also has its advantages.

“I started Upkeep Energy because I wanted to base a business on building personal relationships with clients and helping them maintain energy efficiency over time,” Lorentz said.

That’s why one of her primary focuses is ongoing commissioning, which provides sustained energy savings through long-term energy tracking and services. It also involves training and educating a building’s staff on how to look for and address energy issues.

“Say you’re getting complaints from employees that one part of the building is too cold,” Lorentz said. “Normally, the facilities staff would just bump up the temperature in that area. But I want to teach them how to diagnose and fix the real problem — maybe airflow or a leaky valve — as well as help them understand new strategies for saving energy.”

Lorentz said working for herself also allows her to scale projects to fit her clients’ needs and budgets.

“There’s no structured set of services that everyone gets.” Lorentz said. “I listen to what’s driving a particular client’s interest — whether it’s cost savings or employee comfort or getting a certain certification — and then tailor my plan to fit their goals.”

That means that if a client only has $10,000 to spend on a project, Lorentz can help it prioritize to get the biggest energy savings possible with that budget.

For bigger projects, Lorentz calls on her network of strategic partners, including Kevin Mueller of Independent Energy Solutions and others in the sustainable-engineering industry. These strategic partners offer different areas of expertise for complex projects and quick turnarounds.

Lorentz often starts projects with a retro-commissioning study, or RCx, which reviews a building’s systems and operation to identify energy-efficiency issues related to building design flaws or problems that have developed over time. It also provides an economic analysis and potential implementation strategies. Lorentz calls this a “building tune-up.”

An RCx can cost from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the building’s size and equipment. However, Lorentz can help clients apply for energy rebates through companies such as Xcel Energy, which will reimburse up to 75 percent of study fees and offers cash incentives for implementation, and The Platte River Power Authority in Fort Collins, which covers the cost of the study if the client agrees to spend at least $4,000 (or more, depending on building size) on implementation.

Although the initial price for an energy study and implementation can be steep, Lorentz said, most clients make back those costs in energy savings within the first six months to two years. That’s why Lorentz urges anyone considering taking measures to increase energy efficiency to start sooner rather than later.

“I call it the cost of doing nothing,” Lorentz said. “You can pay for the study now, or you can keep paying for that lost energy over a period of months or years.”

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