Amanda Byrne is pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked at ICF International for four years primarily supporting EPA’s ENERGY STAR program after graduating from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science in Energy, Business and Finance.
On December 15, 2011, many leaders in the energy efficiency industry came together in Philadelphia to talk about initiatives they are taking on, and to collaborate via roundtable discussion on how to effectively build on this momentum. Many types of stakeholders were represented including utilities, non-profits, government agencies, and service providers among others from the private sector. Select case studies were presented by Johnson Controls, Metrus Energy, The Reinvestment Fund, the City of Philadelphia’s Green Works program, and Liberty Property Trust. I was lucky enough to help out at the event and listen in to the discussions that developed. As someone who has worked in the energy efficiency industry for several years, I thought this event was particularly eye-opening. In addition to possible approaches, real solutions to making energy efficiency mainstream were discussed. For example, a municipal representative suggested that one approach to selling energy efficiency to elected officials is to present the opportunity in a way that can be used to sell it to constituents.
Other topics covered throughout the event included energy efficiency goals and incentives, building codes, building labeling, behavior change, and risk mitigation. The points that follow include key highlights of the day’s discussion:
- Setting energy efficiency goal levels appropriately is critical to achieving the goals. Incentives for achieving goals, including tying employee bonuses to goal achievement, can help ensure goals are met.
- Building code adoption and implementation have their barriers at the state and municipal levels, but enforcement seems to be the biggest issue. Solutions to enforcement include utility credits towards their Energy Efficiency Resource Standards goals for training code officials; and implementing codes based on building performance outcomes rather than taking an input approach. (If interested in learning about current building codes, visit U.S. DOE’s Status of State Energy Codes.)
- Most attendees agreed that building energy labeling is important. However, it is becoming more and more mainstream to build efficient buildings. So labeling systems need to keep up. It is also important to encourage the public to think about building energy consumption the way they think about vehicle fuel efficiency. (If interested in learning about current building energy rating and disclosure policies, see comparison matrices and maps here.)
- Building design, energy consumption indicators, and gadgets can only go so far – building tenants need to evolve their behavior within the building to ensure maximum energy reductions are realized. Training facility managers and others on this topic can help battle behavior issues. Some attendees commented that color-based energy price indicators have been extremely effective. Marla Thalheimer, Sustainability Manager at Liberty Property Trust, also shared that by simply installing an energy monitoring system in a building, a 4% energy consumption reduction was realized without implementing any retrofits. In other words, the building achieved large energy savings from energy consumption visibility alone.
- Risk mitigation is a key feature of energy efficiency, and should not be forgotten. Energy efficiency mitigates not only energy cost risks, but also operational risks. When a building runs more efficiently, equipment within the building has a reduced chance of encountering problems.
The event’s discussions concluded by addressing the idea of whether or not we have reached a tipping point in energy efficiency efforts. Some did not think so, but others suggested we might be there at the state and city levels, as more and
more localities are setting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption. It was also suggested that we are at least heading in the right direction. Innovation is increasing, and trends including urbanization and reduction of commercial space are pushing us towards more energy-efficient lifestyles.
It is clear that there is plenty of progress to be made towards a more energy-efficient and sustainable society; but forums like these prove that we are in fact moving in the right direction whether or not the tipping point has been reached. During this Ceres event, gaps and solutions were brought to light by diverse leaders in the field. This type of exchange is crucial to making change happen. So keep the key points from this event in mind as you walk through your office building, your home, or attend your next class. The more these ideas are discussed and debated, the better!