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The perks of auditing energy

Want to help businesses cut costs while simultaneously serving the environment? Earning your certified energy auditor (CEA) designation can help you do just that. This occupation is growing in popularity; as environmental pressures are increasing, more people are becoming energy auditors.

It's one of the key tools in improving the performance of facilities, reducing energy costs, and increasing energy efficiency, says Doug Tripp, president of the Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET) in Rockwood, Ontario. The pressures on energy use are not going to go away. Rather, it's an issue that will become more important because of climate change and increasing energy costs.

Jon Feldman earned his CEA designation and now works as a chemical engineer with the Ontario Power Authority. It's a growing industry, he says. Facilities need to get a good grip on energy use. You can't improve what you don't know is happening.

And it's a broad industry, spanning across the residential sector, commercial sector and industrial buildings. The demand is pretty uniform across all sectors, Tripp says, citing Ontario's Green Energy Act as a reminder of the need for energy efficiency.

This necessity for CEAs isn't limited to Ontario. Building owners and facilities recognize that they're paying for energy, says Kate Butler, manager, commercial sector for Efficiency New Brunswick. They're looking for ways to reduce those costs. Large industrial companies often hire energy managers to manage energy for their facilities. There may not be [one] on-site, but third parties. We're seeing facilities starting to look at energy management plans. It's not just switching light bulbs.

In the past, there would just be an accountant paying the energy bill, she adds. They wouldn't be asking why they're paying so much. Now, there's this real-time monitoring. You can see the spike in your energy.

Students have a number of options to break into the industry, including just about any engineering program. Professionals doing energy audits are mostly in engineering, Tripp notes. The kinds of systems they work with are (usually) mechanical or electrical.

But there are programs, he says, focusing on energy management, which include Durham College's Energy Management and Sustainable Building Technology program, Humber College's Sustainability Energy and Building Technology (SEBT) diploma program and Nova Scotia Community College's Energy Sustainability and Engineering Technology (ESET) program, to name a few.

Cora MacDonald graduated from the ESET program last year and now works as a program coordinator with Efficiency Nova Scotia. In the ESET program, I learned the principles of energy management, teaching us how to do energy audits, energy systems and assessments, including going out in the field and teaching you how to access a property, and measurement controls, she says. I like the fact that I work with small businesses to help decrease their operating costs and increase their bottom line. I'm helping people be aware of their energy costs.

While a CEA designation may not be necessary, it certainly helps. The training itself is really useful in the process of how you do energy auditing, Feldman says.

Feldman notes that one of the benefits of being an energy auditor is the excitement. You're doing something different everyday, he says. You're solving real problems.

Aside from the many benefits, there are also more difficult aspects to the job. One of the challenges is really listening to your clients, Butler says. A good energy auditor will talk to the building owner about their expectations. The goal of the energy audit is for the building owner to be aware of how and why their energy is being used. That's the challenge: getting them to understand their energy. But it's a good challenge.

Butler says that in order to face the challenge, energy auditors must be hands-on and have technical skills. You're doing site visits, you're visiting manufacturing lanes. She also notes the importance of interpersonal skills to able to communicate with clients and customers to serve their needs.

There's great satisfaction (with being a CEA), she adds. You're helping save dollars and helping the environment.