Navigant Research Blog

Energy Efficiency Is an Imperative for Climate Change Adaptation

— August 1, 2016

HVAC Roof

There are two common ways climate change enters the public discourse in the United States: heated political rhetoric or targeted campaigns for increased investment in renewable energy. The problem is that while shifting away from fossil fuels is critical, energy efficiency—a significant opportunity to combat greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—is often overlooked. Redefining the relationship between commercial buildings and energy is fundamental for tackling climate change because these facilities are not only contributing about 40% of the GHG emissions in the United States, but also are strikingly inefficient. Here are two reasons energy efficiency can move the needle on the fight against climate change and circumvent the political boondoggle.

Energy Efficiency Makes Economic Sense

The bottom line is that customers adopt technology and behavior changes that reduce costs or generate new revenue. Energy efficiency is straightforward. Take a simple scenario for a commercial building owner—the improvement in equipment performance (say a more efficient air conditioning unit) results in lower utility bills. The benefits are magnified when you start to consider the effects on the climate associated with energy efficient technologies.

In July 2016, a Navigant report was published for the U.S. Department of Energy. It provides a deep dive into the specifics of how the economic benefits of energy efficiency could be a revenue stream for deeper climate mitigation strategies. The report states that, “Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to hydrofluorocarbon alternatives (refrigerants with lower global warming potential).” 

Energy Efficiency Provides a Robust Sustainability Strategy

Corporations are facing significant demand from shareholders and customers to address climate change. In fact, in late July, major corporate shareholders sent a collective letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) demanding clarity on the material risks of climate change: “Based on our experience with these issues, we (45 investors representing $1.1 trillion in assets under management) believe it is critical for the SEC to improve reporting of material sustainability risks in issuers’ SEC filings, both because such disclosure is mandated by current law and because we need it to make informed investment and proxy voting decisions.”

There are two sides to the relationship between energy and climate change. The transformation of supply with renewables is important and will help shift the economy away from the fossil-fuel based generation people have relied on for hundreds of years. Let’s not forget the demand side of the equation. Changes in the way people operate equipment, utilize innovative technologies (such as automation and software), and direct behavioral modification can reduce carbon emissions while benefiting the economy. Navigant Research captures this dynamic relationship between energy supply and demand with ongoing thought leadership on the concept of the Energy Cloud—this is the transition from one-way power flow to a dynamic network of networks supporting two-way energy flows at the periphery of the grid. Buildings have a huge role to play in this new reality, as commercial buildings represent new business opportunities, tackle climate risk, and see broad business results. Energy efficiency can be the foundation of this new reality.

 

Resilience Movement Hits the West Coast

— August 1, 2016

GeneratorThe focus of state programs designed to boost resilience have been microgrid and nanogrid projects on the East Coast launched in response to extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Since 2011, a parade of states have launched state-funded programs: Connecticut; Maryland, Massachusetts; New Jersey; New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C., among others. A quick glance at some statistics underscores why governments see value in public investments to improve the resilience of regional power grids.

Since 1980, the United States has sustained more than 144 weather disasters with damages reaching or exceeding $1 billion each. The total cost of these 144 events exceeds $1 trillion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to the president’s U.S. Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), severe weather-related electricity outages cost the U.S. economy more than $336 billion dollars between 2003 and 2012.

Resilience in San Francisco

The perception that this resilience movement is an East Coast phenomenon is being challenged by a program launched in San Francisco. Rather than being focused on threats that can be anticipated via new weather forecasting techniques, the program is focused on a threat somewhat confined to the West Coast: earthquakes.

What would happen to the electricity and natural gas infrastructure of San Francisco if an earthquake equivalent to the 1906 event occurred today? A project developed by the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment looked into that question. Entitled the Solar+Storage for Resiliency project, the early results of modeling are quite sobering. While 96% of the city’s consumers could expect their electricity to be back online within 1 week, it would take as long as 6 months for the natural gas infrastructure to be fully operational. (To get back to full-scale provision of electricity would take 1 month.)

Reports from Connecticut showed that natural gas continued to flow through extreme weather, hence its focus on fuel cells and fossil fuel generation as the cornerstone of its efforts toward resilience. San Francisco is taking a different approach, focusing instead on distributed solar PV linked to advanced batteries while incorporating existing diesel generators into the solution mix.

After an extensive and interactive mapping exercise located critical facilities throughout San Francisco, sites were analyzed for available rooftop space for solar PV and the logistics of installing batteries. Projects that could be installed under existing regulatory restrictions were also prioritized. The end result is roughly a dozen projects scattered throughout the city that would offer resilience in the most sustainable manner possible using current technology. So far, funding for initial groundwork for this microgrid portfolio has come from a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. DOE’s SunShot initiative.

Emergency Response Programs Lead to Economic Opportunity

Though a common perception is that diesel generation is the most reliable backup power supply, reports from the field beg to differ, as failure rates can be extremely high. The vulnerability of San Francisco’s natural gas infrastructure also required a different approach. Given recent advances in smart inverters capable of safe islanding and the declining costs of energy storage, it appears that the San Francisco approach is not only uniquely qualified to address the unpredictability of earthquakes—but also represents a more sustainable and climate-friendly approach to community resilience.

So far, vendors such as SMA, Tesla, and Saft have been involved in the modeling of these systems to be installed in the coming years. While a program with the noble goal of emergency response, the community resilience microgrid market also represents an economic opportunity. Under a base scenario, the market is projected to reach $1.4 billion globally by 2024.

 

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