Navigant Research Blog

Reimagining Energy Efficiency as a Pillar in the Climate Action Strategy

Casey Talon — December 5, 2017

A recent Wall Street Journal blog post by Sam Ori from the University of Chicago, “Why Government Energy-Efficiency Programs Sound Great–But Often Don’t Work” starkly criticizes energy efficiency programs and ideas on how to revisit residential program design. The author’s conclusion is sound, but there is more to be said on how energy efficiency can become a sturdier pillar in the strategy to combat climate change. Ori points out, “there is an opportunity for policymakers to rethink the ways they choose, design, implement, and evaluate energy-efficiency programs.” Based on ongoing Navigant Research analysis, policymakers play a role, but the challenge requires a balanced two-pronged approach.

Utilities Are Only Part of the Equation

The reality is that a transformation of the energy industry is underway. A more dynamic, digital infrastructure of renewable, distributed, and non-traditional resources is being applied in the commercial buildings context. Navigant Research characterizes this new energy ecosystem as the Energy Cloud. In the buildings sector, rapid adoption of behind-the-meter energy management technologies, alongside onsite power generation and storage and ongoing investments in information technologies on the utility side of the meter, are redefining the relationship between electricity supply and demand.

This means federal and state policy and electric utilities will no longer be the gatekeepers of energy supply or the rule makers for how to orchestrate shifts in energy demand. Energy efficiency improvements are crucial for building optimization, which is made possible by intelligent technologies—notably the uptake of Internet of Things infrastructure and analytics. Navigant Research’s recent Building-to-Grid Integration report outlines how the intelligent building represents a conceptual paradigm shift for businesses through the integration of facilities management and IT. The intelligent building unifies strategy, investment, and decision-making. The door is open to market influencers, utilities, and many others that can introduce creative ways to utilize existing technology infrastructure, deploy new solutions, and analyze increasing data streams to optimize facility operations that meet broad business demands with energy efficiency savings as a byproduct.

Do Not Undervalue Energy Efficiency for Commercial and Industrial Customers

The Wall Street Journal blog outlined some significant challenges to realizing greater carbon emissions savings from energy efficiency in the residential sector, but missed one important part of the climate change big picture: tackling commercial and industrial (C&I) building energy use. C&I facilities are important because they not only consume more energy, but are also more energy-intensive per SF of floor space compared to residential customers.

Furthermore, C&I customers can be effective partners in tackling energy efficiency improvements because the scale of their effectiveness (and business perspectives) can help accelerate change. First, the energy savings potential of a single large building, single customer with multiple buildings, or a campus simply delivers a greater volume reduction in energy use and therefore carbon savings. In order to meet the magnitude of savings to combat climate change in a significant way (as outlined in the Wall Street Journal blog), business customers need to participate. Second, business customers understand the risks that climate change presents to their bottom lines and the mounting environmental, social, and economic challenges tied to unfettered energy consumption. This sector deserves credit for showing leadership through sustainability initiatives. Read more about how C&I customers invest in sustainability and combat climate change in Navigant Research’s report Intelligent Building Technologies for Sustainability.

As Ori summed up, “Energy efficiency offers significant potential as part of a portfolio of climate policies. But that potential will only be realized if we crack the code to get programs structured to deliver results. If we don’t, dealing with climate change will be much more expensive than we realize.” Want to hear more about Navigant Research’s perspective on the importance of energy efficiency? Register for our upcoming webinar, Monetizing Energy Efficiency, with Tom Machinchick.

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