Can a Single Business Battle the Effects of Climate Change?

Is it possible for just one person or one business to battle the effects of climate change? Perhaps a more appropriate way to evaluate that question is to simply ask if you and your business could. It seems like an unrealistic expectation; the idea that a single company can impact a global crisis. Such a goal may not be as out of reach as you may think.

Earth

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appropriately set the stage. Recently, a peer reviewed article outlining the critical effects of climate change began receiving some notable attention from outlets such as CNN and USA Today. The research article painted a grim and distributing image of what Earth’s future may look like in the absence of necessary change in global human behavior.

Originally appearing in Science Advances, the premise of the article argues that Earth is possibly facing the 6th mass extinction event in the planets history. Since 1900, nearly 500 species have gone extinct. During that period, historical data indicates that number should have been just 9.

Arguably, the most alarming conclusion is that the loss of biodiversity would lead to a mass extinction event in as little as three generations. According to the CNN article, the data shows it is possible for humans to wipe out nearly 75% of species on Earth if drastic and needed changes aren’t made. That window to effect change is rapidly closing.

Scientists are not the only ones advocating for considerable change in human behavior. In June, the Pope published a manifesto regarding climate change. In his writings, the Pope argued the reckless behavior of humanity is adversely affecting our planet; a common good that we all must take care of.

Whether advocated by science or the Pope, the steps we all can take amount to the same. It boils down to reducing your carbon footprint. This simple concept is the impetus for energy efficiency, and the foundation for all that I do with my clients. Regardless of your motivations for energy efficient behavior, we each can do our part.

Let’s revisit our original premise. It is difficult still to imagine that a single person or company can effect change on a global scale. But what happens when millions of people and thousands of companies work in concert.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t simply one business, government, or entity that created this problem. It was countless participants, spanning decades, within countries around the globe. Each has played a singular role in what is quickly developing into a global catastrophe.  It stands to reason that we can reverse this trend in much the same way; one business and one person at a time, doing their part.

The one remaining question is what role you will play moving forward…

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Energy Efficiency: Transaction vs. Consultative Approach

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been tasked with managing the energy portfolio for a building. Your company may be a manufacturer, hospital, school or commercial real estate property. Regardless of your specific operation, the common thread is that you likely have a very small operating budget, minimal staff, and host of ongoing issues that land on your desk.

You want to be proactive; planning for future issues before they arise, but the resources you are given forces you to be reactive.

As I meet with clients in varying industries, I continually hear this same narrative. To add insult to injury, many of these managers express the challenge of juggling additional responsibilities outside their defined position. Obviously, this further strains their budget, time, and personnel.

Building Construction

This struggle sets the stage for two opposed energy management methods, transaction versus consultative.

A transaction sale can be categorized by solutions that are specific to equipment failure or end of life. You would see this for example with an old boiler or HVAC unit. After decades of operation, they simply stop working. This requires the consumer to engage in a point of sale transaction.

Usually, the replacement comes with a premium cost because of the urgency. In many cases, this could easily erase whatever capital budget you had planned to use for energy efficient upgrades.

Contrary to a reactive transaction is a more proactive consultative approach. We can simplify this with two specific examples.

In the first example, your energy advisor can help you address the unique pain points your facility must deal with. A common one I often come across are issues with facility lighting. It may surprise you to learn that with older lighting technology, you will experience over time lumen degradation. This is a fancy way to say your fixtures aren’t emitting as brightly today as they did when first installed.

(A simple solution for this is to install an LED fixture. Prices for LED solutions have come down dramatically and have become more economical. The life of an LED fixtures last substantively longer than outmoded CFL solutions.)

The second example is the purest form of energy consultation. In this instance, your energy advisor would work alongside you to draft a comprehensive energy management plan. This includes identifying all existing pain points, categorizing remaining equipment life, and producing an analysis on potential retrofit costs and payback periods. This latter portion should factor available incentives and rebates as well as creative or alternative financing mechanisms.

This enables you to prepare, well into the future, for all contingencies and eventualities. You can include capital improvement projects in annual budgets, factor in the energy savings, and ultimately avoid untimely failures that can dramatically disrupt production.

For many dealing with complex energy issues, transaction selling has become the norm. Emerging resources in the market can help you better plan, prepare and manage energy portfolios. Leveraging an advisor can enable you to develop a more structured approach and avoid the roller coaster that has been your energy management strategy to date.

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Should Businesses Invest in Wind and Solar?

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Colorado. It was a trip designed to give me some much needed R&R and a chance to hike, run, and just be out in nature; the latter of which I should probably do much more often. Despite being a recreational trip, the energy consultant in me couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of renewable technology… everywhere. It was common to see turbines and solar farms or houses whose rooftops were lined with solar panels. It was an interesting contrast compared to Ohio.

I had asked my friend, a celebrated thought leader in the sustainability industry, how solar, wind, and other renewables became so prevalent around Colorado. The answer was really quite simple. People wanted it. From consumers to legislators, it was a function of demand and political will. There is a burgeoning industry of installers and a fair amount of incentives pushing people in this direction. And it almost seemed like the utilities were going along with it without a fight.

Back home, I am often asked by clients, if installing solar panels or erecting turbines is a good investment to make. The answer of course depends on why they are doing it. If the intent is to be used as a marketing tool, or simply because the company feels it’s the right thing to do, then yes. But if someone in Ohio today is pursuing renewables as a cost savings measure, then no, it is not a recommendation that I would make.

So why would someone who promotes energy efficiency and sustainability not recommend renewables? Let’s look at Ohio’s recent renewable history to better understand.

Colorado Pic

At the beginning of the decade, it appeared as though Ohio was making strides within the renewable sector. This included creating thousands of “Green jobs” along with massive increases in wind and solar production. Despite this, Ohio still ranked near the bottom in renewable electricity and generation capacity compared to the nation.

Over two-thirds of electricity in Ohio is derived from coal, and another twenty percent from natural gas. Only 1.5 percent was from renewable sources in 2010. To make matters worse, the renewable energy industry has shifted dramatically in just the last year. In 2014, the state legislature passed Ohio Senate Bill 310, imposing a two-year moratorium on Ohio’s renewable energy standards.

I am hugely in favor of developing renewable energy sources through improved technology and more cost effective production. The reality though is Ohio is not ready for that. Ohio is still a coal state and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Also, it’s probably going to take a federal effort along with public-private partnerships for investment in renewables to garner the necessary results.

When working with clients, my job is simple. Improve their energy portfolio and identify cost savings with strategies that are effective and efficient. Unfortunately, renewable options today don’t fit into that paradigm. Until they do, I will continue to advocate for smart efficient solutions that meet the unique needs of the businesses I work with.

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Identify Energy Solutions with an Energy Advisor

The energy industry today is more dynamic and complex than ever before. The advent of new technologies, shifting energy costs, and the constant barrage of federal and state legislation, has made it extremely difficult for consumers to stay adequately informed. For these reasons, EPCO is a huge proponent of the idea that every business should have an energy advisor.

The concept of an energy advisor hasn’t fully taken hold throughout the marketplace. Perhaps it is because most businesses don’t clearly understand what an energy advisor is, or, how they would use one. Think of it in these terms. A typical business will utilize a lawyer for legal needs or a CPA for accounting. There are many professionals and firms that can provide the same consultative services for managing your energy consumption.

Advisor Image

For smaller enterprises, you may leverage the expertise of an energy advisor to negotiate better rates for your gas and electric utility. But if you are a larger consumer, like most clients I work with, your energy management needs could be substantial. The right advisor can help identify and craft energy solutions for a myriad of concerns. This may include lighting audits and retrofits, power factor correction studies, or improvement to process cooling / heating performance.

You want to be sure to work with the right advisor, not all are created equal. Each client that EPCO collaborates with receives a unique and customized energy evaluation. No two businesses have the same needs or operate in the same way. Your energy consultant should provide you with a distinctive energy saving solutions that will allow you to make immediate and lasting cuts to your operating budgets.

Working in concert with you, and focusing on your specific needs, a reputable advisor will design a sensible compilation of measures that provide for turnkey energy efficiency solutions. Ultimately, you will want to take a long-term planning approach, leveraging short term savings opportunities that are invested into more capital intensive projects. This diversifies energy portfolios and ensures a cost effective and sustainable path into the future.

There are many more factors to include. You will want to leverage potential financing and rebates as well as develop a structured strategic plan to help guide you. The first step though is to find and work with the right team of professionals. The world of energy procurement and management is virtually the Wild West. Make sure you are coming armed with the right support.

 

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