Achieving New Heights in Energy Efficiency in 2010

1/13/10

If 2009 was the year that energy efficiency was elevated from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have,” then 2010 will be the year that we go from talking about energy efficiency to actually doing something about it.

In 2009, everyone was talking about efficiency and the impact it can have on the green economy. Remember President Obama joking with David Letterman about the efficiency of the sets’ air conditioning this fall? How about U.S. Energy Secretary Chu calling himself “an energy conservation nut?” Every one of the climate bills debated in Congress this year cite energy efficiency as being critical to our nation’s energy security and job growth. And don’t forget climate change, the topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, estimates that energy efficiency improvements could provide 40 percent of the pollution reduction needed to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Like the slew of clean energy initiatives that are under way in the U.S. today, energy efficiency is being held responsible for a lot of lofty goals including job growth, energy security and improving the environment. But the concept of energy efficiency stands alone in a very important way: it’s relatively cheap. If you think about it, the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt of energy is the one never used. So even if there is an upfront cost to put efficiency measures into place, the return is never-ending. That means within a few months or years, you’re putting money back into your pocket.

There are three key factors that get people to take action: incentives, funding, and solutions that are proven to work. Incentives come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from local or federal legislation that mandates better efficiency, to taking advantage of the marketing benefits being LEED and ENERGY STAR certification. Whether or not a climate bill is passed in 2010, there are already 26 states and nearly a thousand U.S. cities that have environmental standards for new construction and retrofitting existing buildings. I believe that as awareness grows about the levels of energy buildings in the U.S. consume, it’s a trend that we’ll continue to see in the coming years.

Funding, whether it comes from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants, creative financial programs such as the one recently enacted in New York, or tax credits and utility rebates, is no longer the barrier it once was. I think that because of the savings efficiency provides, we’ll continue to see new financing options in the years ahead that will accelerate the adoption of efficiency programs.

What’s most exciting to me, however, is how new technologies are elevating the possibilities when it comes to efficiency. This year we saw more examples than ever of information technology being applied to operating the physical environment, such as buildings. This convergence—sometimes called operations technology—is transforming the way buildings are managed, and it’s leading to unprecedented improvements in energy performance. Another important benefit of using technology to manage building systems is the ability to ‘see’ what’s happening, and use that information for maintenance and to ensure savings persist over time.

I believe there will be an increase in the rate at which new technologies are introduced, and as these technologies are proven to work, acceptance will grow, spurring faster adoption by the industry—and opening up new business opportunities. We’re already seeing this within the controls contracting industry where they’re building new revenue streams by expanding their energy services offerings to existing clients, helping those clients achieve real returns on their capital investments.

Efficiency achieved by applying new technologies equals job growth, energy security and money savings. That’s a winning combination that I believe will grow exponentially in 2010 and the decade that follows.

Nathan Rothman is the founder and CEO of Seattle-based Optimum Energy Follow @

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  • Mitchell Stein

    Nathan,
    I agree with you, but here’s one example where our government rejects teaching energy efficiency. In New York City, where there is a large number of low-income housing, sub-metering has been installed to show & bill tenants for their actual energy usage. Many people became very upset to receive electricity bills higher than their actual rent. Why, because they were never concerned, and always kept their lights and A/C on. Well, a fight insued and the NY PSC stopped sub-metering as unfair to these tenants. Sure, it’s unfair for these low-income tenants, but if we all learned to conserve, we would all be better for it.

    It’s just that the PSC put a halt to this and who knows how long it may be for NY (no matter what their income is) not to learn to conserve.

  • http://www.optimumenergyhvac.com Gary Gigot, Optimum Energy

    Mitchell, you make a good point about conservation and how metering can give consumers the ability to monitor and change their behavior to conserve energy. But what if you could provide the same level of comfort a building tenant is accustomed to, but use less power to provide it? That’s what efficiency is all about, and we see that as the ultimate goal. Today that goal is becoming a reality with technology innovations such as the ones offered by Optimum Energy. We’re seeing signs that Federal, State and City governments are becoming more aware of this, and that is why they are adopting new efficiency standards and offering incentives and new financing options. As you mentioned, education is key, and organizations such as ENERGY STAR, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the Alliance to Save Energy are among many that are working every day to get the word out about energy efficiency and its importance to our country’s future.