Managing Energy Costs in Laboratories

Laboratories

Laboratories in the U.S. are energy-intensive facilities that use anywhere from 30 to 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 75,000 to 800,000 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually. Actual use varies with such factors as the age of the facility, the type of research done there, and the climate zone in which the lab is located. In a typical laboratory, lighting and space heating account for approximately 74 percent of total energy use (Figure 1), making these systems the best targets for energy savings. Because laboratories consume so much energy, the potential for energy and dollar savings through energy-efficiency improvements and energy conservation is impressive—some studies estimate that implementing such measures can result in savings as high as 50 percent for laboratories and clean-room facilities.

Average energy use data

Figure 1: Energy consumption by end use
In laboratories, the main electricity consumers are cooling and refrigeration, but space heating is far and away the most significant use for natural gas.
Pie chart showing electricity end uses: Miscellaneous, 27%; Cooling 20%; Refrigeration, 17%; Lighting, 15%; Computers, 15%; and Ventilation, 6%.
Pie chart showing natural gas end uses: Heating, 70%; Miscellaneous, 27%; Water heating, 2%; and Cooking, 1%.
Top technology uses

Although detailed benchmarking data on energy usage in laboratory facilities have historically been hard to come by, researchers working with the Labs21 program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy, are currently collecting data measured by others on lab facilities in a variety of climate zones. They created a Tool Kit that you can use to benchmark your facility against others like it—always an effective first step toward reducing energy use.

Benchmarking is particularly important because of the wide variation in laboratory energy use. It shows you how your facility is using energy, can help you identify the most cost-effective areas for improvement, and provides a baseline against which improvements can be measured. Programs like Labs21 help laboratory owners and managers to benchmark, monitor, and report annually on building energy performance. More-comprehensive tools are available from rating programs like the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Labs program or the Labs21 Environmental Performance Criteria. These programs can assist you in benchmarking your facility, identifying areas for improvement, and ultimately getting recognition for your efforts.

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Content last reviewed: 
04/18/2017