Energy Efficiency and Quality: Synergy in the Energy Treasure Hunt

February 26th, 2010 by PZDlesk Leave a reply »

Before I entered the energy services markets, I spent over ten years in corporate Quality Assurance and Total Quality Management. So, when I ran across the EPA’s Lean Energy Tool Kit, I was immediately interested.

Applying continuous improvement strategies to improving energy efficiency is a great way to approach reducing usage and costs. Like traditional quality improvement methods focused on reducing

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wasted energy in your operations. Similar to process improvement teams (or quality problem-solving teams), the Energy Treasure Hunt is a structured and collaborative event – driven by the employees that work in the facility. Energy Treasure Hunts were developed by Toyota in keeping with their Kaizen (continuous improvement) process. Toyota invited GE representatives to participate, and GE has subsequently adopted the process throughout

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their organization.

Rooted in team-based problem-solving, this multi-day project draws upon the experience of a cross-functional team to find and eliminate wasted energy in facility operations, as well as identifying upgrade opportunities to push efficiency performance even further.

This is how it works:

Several weeks before the Treasure Hunt, a cross-functional team is assembled. This team includes:

  • Building management
  • Facilities engineering
  • Energy management
  • Maintenance
  • Operations
  • Process owners (those who know what work is done – how each space is really used)

The team leaders thoroughly

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review and summarize energy usage and cost data, as well as consumption patterns and load profiles. Lastly, the facility engineering staff conducts a brief facility audit to define the building spaces and systems, and jump start the list of improvement ideas.

Tip: In forming your team – and getting by-in for participation and the Energy Treasure Hunt process – set the stage for the positive results that will emerge from the event. The shared goal is reducing energy waste and improving efficiency. Stress that every finding is an improvement opportunity. You are challenging the team to think about how the actions of their business unit impact energy use. There is no blame for the current situation, only the goal of proactively managing controllable costs.

Day 1:

The Treasure Hunt typically starts on a Sunday – or a day in which the facility is not operating. This is the kick-off day, to brief members on how the ETH process works and observe the facility off-hours, when energy usage is expected to be low. The team is brought up to date on energy consumption, current costs, possible future costs and energy drivers. Checklists of the facility areas, with systems identified and typical sources of energy waste, are distributed to guide the hunt and capture team observations.


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In large facilities, the Treasure Hunt participants may be split into sub-teams. These sub-teams are generally systems-based; HVAC, electrical, envelope, etc. One individual in the core team

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is assigned as the collection point for all notes taken by the team(s).

Then, the work begins. All interior and exterior spaces are surveyed and the team observes what is operating:

  • What is ON?
  • Should it be?
  • Can it be better-controlled?
  • What modifications could/should be made?
  • Where applicable, measure or estimate consumption of equipment and systems.

Typical areas surveyed are:

  • Building Envelope (roof, doors, and windows, paying particular attention to cracks, worn weather seals, infiltration, etc.)
  • Work Spaces
  • Process Areas (the range here is too great to even begin a list … and that’s why it’s important to have those folks along who understand the processes)
  • Office Areas (office equipment, PCs left on, portable electric heaters, task lighting, etc.)
  • Food Preparation Areas (vent hood fans, ovens, gas pilots, etc)
  • Food Services (food warmers, display lighting, hot plates, etc.)
  • Vending (lighting, temperature resets)
  • Data Centers (which is a subject all to itself)

And looking at these typical loads:

  • Lighting Systems
  • Mechanical Systems
  • Motors, Belts and Drives
  • Fans and Pumps
  • Compressed Air Systems
  • Refrigeration Systems
  • Material Handling
  • PCs/Office Equipment

At the end of the day, the team holds a debriefing session to discuss what was found and begin brainstorming improvement opportunities.

Day 2:

Monday is focused on observing energy use in normal facility operation, covering the complete building “day” – startup, shifts and shut-down.

  • Is energy usage in sync with the needs of the building?
  • Are building management systems scheduled to match the operating needs of the business unit?

Day 3:

Tuesday is the final day of completing the assessment, summarizing findings, estimating cost savings and implementation costs, prioritizing recommendations and presenting a draft of the Treasure Hunt results to the facility management team.

Here are several typical Treasure Hunt findings – and corrective actions to save energy:

  • Turn off lighting, equipment and devices left running and develop strategies to insure future control
  • Tune system schedules and sequences
  • Upgrade to energy efficient devices: motors, drives
  • Add variable frequency drives (VFD) to pumps/fans that do not require constant flow
  • Fix compressed air leaks
  • Optimize HVAC heating and cooling settings and schedules
  • Replace over-sized equipment
  • Align lighting schedules with occupancy schedules and daylight hours; installing occupancy sensors and high-efficiency lighting


At the completion of the hunt, the team must determine how they will continue the work – implementing the approved ideas and monitoring energy usage and savings. Using the synergy with quality methods, the TQM tools of the PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) or DMAIC process (Define- Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control) works well here to continue driving awareness and change.

A colleague with Treasure Hunt experience shared their approach and the results from a specific facility exercise. What surprised me the most was the selection of the facility to target: a fairly new building (less than 5 years old) and LEED certified. You can guess what’s coming, right? The team found over $75K in annual energy savings. In EVERY building, systems need to be monitored, occupant behavior needs to be managed and wasted energy needs be PREVENTED. Despite how well we plan to be energy efficient, things in facility operation WILL change. We need to look for these changes and be ready to respond to opportunities to improve.

The GE and Toyota Treasure Hunt methodology and success stories are well-documented – and kudos well-deserved. But this is something ANY organization can do with minimal investment. And one short-term project can energize your facility to keep going – growing a culture of energy efficiency.

We can all be committed to energy efficiency where we live and

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work. Here’s one structured, proven, team-driven approach to try – The Energy Treasure Hunt. Can you pull a good team together? Can you find three days? You can do this!

I’ve listed some links below that present more details on the Treasure Hunt process, along with some success stories:

GE Treasure Hunt Program

Toyota Treasure Hunting Process

Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies Launches Treasure Hunt Process

And Energy Auditing is well-documented, but here are a few tools to use as a starting point

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for a Treasure Hunt:

Washington State University Energy Program Energy Audit Workbook

Washington State University Energy Auditor Checklist

Energy Star Best Practices to Improve Energy Performance

If this process interests you and you’d like to know more about Energy Treasure Hunts, contact us here.


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