Achieving New Heights in Energy Efficiency in 2010

Opinion

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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