Climate Corps: The Power (Savings) of Focusing Fresh Eyes on Efficiency

[Editor's note: This blog is part of a series from the 2009 Climate Corps fellows. The program, from partners Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Net Impact, pairs MBA students with companies to identify energy efficiency opportunities and develop actionable strategies that help host companies reduce costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.]

I spent my summer with TXU Energy (TXUE) in Dallas, Texas, identifying ways to improve the energy efficiency of the company's two main office buildings.

TXUE is an electricity provider in Texas with over 2 million customers. It plans to invest $100 million to develop innovative energy efficiency products and services to help its customers save energy.

With so much in-house experience and expertise, I originally felt as if I were bringing coals to Newcastle. However, I was able to identify some great opportunities with the help of the TXUE team.

During a detailed energy audit of one of the buildings, we discovered there's one room in the building that is in use 24/7. However, the rest of the building is only occupied during normal daytime business hours. As a result, the chiller, condenser water pumps, cooling tower and air handling units (which use tons of electricity) are never turned off, even though a majority of the building is unoccupied most of the time.

We then discovered a small air conditioning unit that was installed to cool the small room in the event of electricity loss to the building and realized that we could use it on nights and weekends as the primary source of cooling, rather than as a backup. This allows TXUE to turn off all the HVAC equipment (except for the small unit) on nights and weekends. This one project does not require an investment and is expected to save nearly $100,000 dollars annually in energy costs and reduce energy in this one building nearly 20 percent.

I believe this idea had been overlooked simply because people tend to think of materials solely in the context for which they were designed. The small air conditioning unit was installed for backup purposes, so no one really thought of it as something that could be used as a part of daily operations. If we all get into the habit of looking at resources and thinking about ways that we can use them outside of the original design intent, we might find more opportunities for efficiency like this one.

Patricia Kenlon, a 2009 Climate Corps fellow and a Net Impact member, is pursuing a Master's of Business Administration degree at New York University.

Image by xenxen.