Cost cutting energy audits to go mainstream?

There are a couple of ways to create wealth: cut costs or make more.

The faltering economy has boosted cost cutting in corporate energy use, leading a growing number of companies to install efficiency retrofits in their commercial and industrial facilities.

Makes sense to save on utility bills. Not every CEO has the money-generating potential of a Jay Z or Warren Buffett.

Colin Davis is watching the trend closely. The founder and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based kWhOURS Inc. just released a new product he hopes will take off. kW-Field is a software-based management platform that enables energy auditors to handle the huge and diverse amounts data collected when they scan big buildings for retrofit opportunities.

Davis said the commercial market has been growing consistently over the past several years. Green, he said, doesn't have to be sexy to make financial sense. The sector has been led by sustainability-minded Walmart.

"You can make great money on efficiency," Davis said.

Investments can pay off in a matter of a few years and cut energy bills from anywhere to 10 percent to 30 percent or more. Energy is a huge cost for many companies.

The energy auditing process is tough. I've done it. Counting thousands of lights is not fun or interesting and remembering whether Room 222 has T12 34 watt 4-lamp fluorescent or already has several 28 watt T8s with digital ballasts is near impossible with a messy notebook.

Davis' product loads all an auditor's information on a laptop, including photos and even audio files. It also stores thermal images, utility bills and "reams of notes on operating conditions, schedules, light levels, air and power quality readings." The software then manipulates the data in whatever format is required.

Davis said in the couple weeks since his product has launched, "a ton of people" have signed up for the two-week trial and bigger players have shown interest.

Other companies venturing into the energy efficiency market offer verification of its big potential.

Eric Wesoff of gave an indication when he wrote of a conversation with Solar City executives at the Solar Power International Show this week in Los Angeles.

Wesoff said Solar City officials told him their company's going big into the audit market, "offering a home tune-up free with every solar lease or solar purchase in California," for a limited time.

And the movement is likely coming to a house near you. In California, for instance, the state is set to adopt rules expanding the scope of the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS. HERS inspectors check the building "envelope," looking for anything that wastes energy.

Davis isn't convinced homeowners will pony up the willpower and cash necessary to make energy audits the next big thing in the residential market.

But who knows? Other players like Recurve and Energy Doctors are betting on the residential sector.

If my experience is any indication, energy upgrades make sense. My new air conditioner coupled with new doors, added attic insulation, improved ductwork and new double-pane treated windows generated low utility bills. I had some envious friends.

But my house is small, 1,278 square feet. I had an evaporative, or "swamp," cooler until this year. It's good for making the house bayou-like when the outside temp heats up past 95 degrees. My neighbor Juan convinced me a new AC wouldn't cost too much more in monthly electricity bills, explaining that he keeps his at 68 degrees and pays less than $300 per month. Juan lays asphalt and says he needs it cold after working on 130-degree blacktop all day. His house is about 200 square feet smaller than mine, however, and has lower ceilings.

The key to lower energy payments is looking at the whole building. One energy-saving element benefits another. Insulated floors, for instance, are a worthy upgrade, said John White, an Internet savvy AC contractor in North Carolina.

"Floor insulation is perhaps the most overlooked yet unbelievably best energy saving investments to be made," White wrote on his site, "An uninsulated 1500 Sq. Ft. floor over a crawl space located in an average climate ... will return about $300 per year savings when insulated to R-19."

It's all about the return. And these days any savings is a very good thing.

Photo: kW-Field software screen grab.