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Energy Efficiency: Solutions That Go Beyond Weatherization

<p>Recently I predicted that 2010 would be a year of action when it comes to making buildings in the U.S. more energy efficient. What will it take to turn that great idea into action? First we need to clear up a few misconceptions ...</p>

Recently I predicted that 2010 would be a year of action when it comes to making buildings in the U.S. more energy efficient. (After all, buildings today consume 40 percent of the total energy used in the U.S. every year, and reducing that percentage would have tremendously positive impact for the country.)

I believe it's a sentiment shared by many people in the U.S., not at the least President Obama, who mentioned the need for "more incentives for clean energy and energy efficiency" during his State of the Union address last week.

But what will it take to turn that great idea into action?

{related_content}We first need to clear up a few misconceptions -- this can go a long way to changing people's frame of mind about energy efficiency: It encompasses a broad range of energy efficiency solutions that go beyond weatherization.

That's not to say weatherization isn't important, because it is. I use the term "efficiency solution" deliberately because I believe applying new technologies to mature industries such as this one is the next frontier for innovation -- the innovation we need to push this country to the forefront of the international market.

Today we have the chance to use software to operate buildings in ways we've never considered before. For instance, Google PowerMeter is available to homeowners for free. The theory is that by having information about how much energy your home is consuming, you'll be motivated to find ways to reduce it.

On the commercial side, similar (albeit more sophisticated) solutions are also available today. If you want to take the leap from monitoring to actively managing building operations to reduce energy consumption, you can find solutions for that, as well.

Imagine a building that turns the power in your office on as you enter the building, and turns it off when you leave?

How about reducing the amount of power a building's heating and cooling (HVAC) system consumes by up to 60 percent by using a different control methodology?

Together lighting and HVAC make up more than 70 percent of a typical building's energy use, so finding savings in these two areas can lead to substantial savings.

Energy efficiency by its very nature is about saving money -- you're not paying for the kW/h of electricity that you're not using. And if efficiency is done right, the savings continue year after year so that after the initial efficiency investment is paid for, the savings go right back into your pocket.

That built-in savings opens the door to a whole range of financing options, such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bond programs enacted in more than a dozen states in the past year. Programs such as this cost taxpayers little or no money, but they provide the financial backing a building owner may need to take the first critical step.

Think about it: No upfront costs for the energy efficiency upgrade; the provider/supplier/ contractor of the equipment upgrade gets paid from the savings; and after fully paid, the savings flow to the building owner, increasing the value of the building. That's a win-win for all concerned.

While the idea of energy efficiency has been around for a long time, it's understandable why it seems to take a backseat to exciting new clean energy technologies or climate controversies. But the energy efficiency industry is also innovating rapidly and solutions are available now that are saving building owners money, creating jobs at every stage in the building lifecycle, and driving economic growth.

For those paying attention, there are opportunities to not only implement efficiency technologies and realize long-term cost savings, but to build new businesses or grow existing ones. With or without incentives, efficiency is here to stay, and it pays.

Nathan Rothman, B.E.P., CSDP, is the founder and CEO of Optimum Energy LLC.

Image courtesy of Mineta San José International Airport - SJC.
Inset, dashboard example, courtesy of Optimum Energy

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