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Sexy Or Not, Here Comes Energy Efficiency For Buildings (#CleanTechnica Interview Part 1)

Until Elon Musk starts pitching insulator machines, energy efficiency won’t be sexy — but it will be the key to the low carbon economy of the future.

Maybe they’re not building wind turbines and solar panels fast enough to put the brakes on global warming, but climate activists have a secret weapon at hand…wait for it…keep waiting — oh wait, you slept right through it! Yes, the superhero of climate action is that exciting. If you guessed energy efficiency, run right out and buy yourself a cigar.

ZZZZZZZZZEnergy Efficiency

As you can probably tell by scrolling the headlines right here at CleanTechnica, energy efficiency is not quite as exciting as Tesla, or Tesla, or even Tesla.

Don’t be fooled. Energy efficiency technology may not provide the visceral thrill of a smooth zero emission ride in a next-generation personal mobility device, but if decarbonization is to proceed at a rapid clip then the low hanging fruit of the low carbon economy of the future will be plucked from millions of humdrum, vintage-era buildings and other structures that exist right now.

Energy Efficiency!

Here in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has been tasked with pushing for more efficiency in buildings, with an assist from the Department of Energy. Sometimes the fallout can be quite exciting. Anyone remember the lightbulb wars that erupted during the transition from electricity-sucking incandescent light bulbs to energy efficient LEDs? No?

Oh well, that’s water under the bridge. Energy efficiency is not a priority of the Trump* Administration, to say the least.

The good news is that major US businesses have picked up the efficiency upgrade mantle for obvious reasons: the payback justifies the investment.

The bad news: many companies are not making the investment, because they can’t or won’t deal with the up-front cost.

The better news: new financing mechanisms can enable companies to get energy efficiency upgrades without an up-front investment. Like the now familiar power purchase agreement, an efficiency-as-a-service contract allows for companies to pay for the upgrade through a savings on their utility bills, month by month.

Making A Free Lunch Even Freer

Efficiency-as-a-service seems like a free lunch, but many companies are still reluctant to take the leap. Last week, CleanTechnica sat down on the phone with Arvin Vohra, co-CEO of the efficiency-as-a-service company Redaptive, for some insights into the obstacles and opportunities for turbo-boosting decarbonization (following edited for flow and clarity):

CleanTechnica: What are the barriers to investing in energy efficiency?

Vohra: A common misconception is that capital is the only barrier. But, a lot of these Fortune 500 companies are understaffed. Their core business is not real estate and energy.

So, we complement the current staff with management resources to make a large impact on utility expenses.

CleanTechnica: What makes efficiency-as-a-service different from solar PPAs?

Vohra: Energy efficiency doesn’t have the same luxury as a solar system. Solar is relatively easy to meter. Energy efficiency has more variables, including core operations, how people use energy, and weather impacts.

That makes it difficult to measure what the impact will be.

We provide the financing, but we also provide people and data to prove that this is working.

We provide transparency of results, to the point that our customers can take a report, show it to their clients, and say look at what an impact we’re making internally.

What Can Make The Energy Efficiency Wallflower Bloom?

The US Department of Defense has also taken up the energy efficiency banner, and Redapative has been involved in that effort. Its work on the Naval Flight Academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola neatly sums up the importance of data collection.

In just two weeks, the company completed a lighting retrofit at the 102,000 ft2 facility that achieved a 54% drop in energy used for lighting. The cost savings kicked off a potential cascade of additional savings:

…In addition to the 54 percent savings generated from an LED lighting retrofit our customer gained an unparalleled perspective into their energy use, allowing them to identify and capitalize on new savings opportunities.

Consumption monitoring allows us to measure and verify the savings that result from our projects, but also provides valuable data to our customers, allowing for predictive maintenance, fault detection, and a detailed perspective on energy use.

CleanTechnica: You’ve done a project with the US Navy. Where do you see growth opportunities in the energy efficiency market?

Vohra: We did one project with the Naval Flight Academy, which is technically a non-profit located at the base. At that time we were exploring business with government entities.

Now our typical projects are large portfolios, much larger customers. We have found that commercial and industrial customers are moving faster to market.

There is a bit slower uptake in government and schools, where the procurement cycles are longer, but we are getting more traction in hospital arena, some of which is related to municipal government.

CleanTechnica: How does your work with AT&T fit in? Is there anything unusual about the project?

Vohra: The work with AT&T is definitely within our bread and butter range.

AT&T always had the ability to get five to ten sites done but they have thousands, so scaling up has always been the real issue. The problem is not capital. It’s how to leverage a team of 20-30 people to work across the whole portfolio of buildings and structures.

They have been working with us since we started, and the relationship has evolved to share information with existing and potentially new clients in terms of connectivity.

CleanTechnica: Why is it so hard for energy efficiency to catch the public eye?

Vohra: EVs and solar systems are visual, they grab headlines. You can see them from airplanes. Our mission is to make energy efficiency just as sexy as the rest of them.

These technologies exist now, but nobody is attracted to articles about going from fluorescent bulbs to LEDs, or upgrading HVAC, People are like yeah whatever.

That’s the issue when it comes to marketing. When it comes to sustainable impact, energy efficiency can outmaneuver all of those other solutions. It’s not about being just as sexy as solar and wind — we are better. We have better economics, and better payback.

The Sparkling Green Sexy Low Carbon Economy Of The Future

Arguably there is one sure way to make energy efficiency sexy. Get Elon Musk to pitch an insulator machine — you know, kind of like The Boring CompanyNot a Flamethrower” flamethrower, only for saving energy.

In the meantime, Redaptive’s work with AT&T is a really big deal so stay tuned for Part 2, in which CleanTechnica speaks with John Schulz, AT&T’s AVP for sustainability operations.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Image: Sustainability reporting, AT&T via YouTube.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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