Why Energy Efficiency Has More Traction than Green Energy Sourcing

By Heather Clancy

Pretty much every week I receive close to a half-dozen press release in my inbox that that are specifically related to energy services partnerships being inked with an eye toward improving the energy efficiency of some commercial office, campus or municipal government buildings. Which is why I wasn’t really all that surprised about the emergence last week of the Obama Administration’s “Better Building Initiative,” which calls for commercial building to become 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade. For me, this program stands a much higher change of success within the existing political climate than do calls for more renewable energy sources. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of the latter which you can criticize me for all you like, but it looks like we need to take things one step at a time right now.

The program seeks to catalyze private sector investment in building improvements, for the simple fact that commercial buildings use roughly 20 percent of all the energy used within the U.S. economy. Much more, in fact, than those data centers and computers that we spend a lot of time worrying about. By focusing on retrofits and improvements, the White House proposes to help companies and building owners save up to $40 billion per year in energy bills.

The president is hoping for the following support for the plan:

  • Tax incentives that encourage building energy efficiency upgrades, transforming the current deduction into a more generous credit.
  • The creation of financing program. The Small Business Administration is being asked to help lenders develop options, while the President is proposing that the Department of Energy be used in some way to help guarantee loans for upgrades at places such as schools and hospitals.
  • A “Race to Green” streamlining of outdated municipal regulations that make this stuff much harder than it should be. Fix your regulations quickly, and your state might receive a grant.
  • The Better Buildings Challenge focused on universities, many of which have shown a great deal of leadership on energy efficiency matters.
  • Training for next generation building technology workers, so that this stuff is just routine in the future.

Here are just two examples of what energy efficiency initiatives like the ones being suggested by the White House could mean to your business. These were plucked from my aforementioned inbox, and were undertaken by organizations paying attention to this long before the Obama mandate:

  • Under a deal with energy services company Ameresco that has been in place since 2002, the 392-bed Children’s Hospital Boston has made improvements that are now saving an estimated $950,000 in annual utility costs and $76,000 in annual maintenance costs. Those improvements include green lighting upgrades and the installation of lighting controls, water conservation measures that are made possible through new technologies, installation of variable speed fans in the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems, and a host of other technology-enabled upgrades. Says Paul Williams, director of engineering for the hospital: “Our ongoing energy efficiency work with Ameresco has resulted in an important reinvestment in our facility, with substantial operational and maintenance improvements. The changes were implemented in a cost-effective manner, without disruption to normal hospital operations. This project has benefits beyond financial as these improvements have enhanced the hospital environment for our patients and staff alike.”
  • The second project I’ll mention is one at Bentley University, which has reduced campus-wide electricity consumption by 10 percent over the past 11 months by using software from Info (the EAM Asset Sustainability Edition) in order to integrate its energy management concerns into its “traditional” asset management activities. That’s the equivalent of turning all of the electricity on the campus off for 30 days. Think about that for a second. The university seeks to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent by 2015 and by 100 percent by 2030.

What will make energy efficiency in buildings work, of course, is a marriage of traditional facilities and information technology technologies — from software to sensors — which is why the likes of Cisco, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others are all worked up by this topic. The administration’s new program will only shed more light on this whole issues, which is why IT managers should get more familiar with role they could play in better building management.

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist with a passion for green technology and corporate sustainability issues.


Ameresco: CarolAnn Hibbard, 508-661-2264, news@ameresco.com