Connecting Companies to the Future of the Smart Grid

Just as Schneider Electric has a long history in the electrical market, the company's U.S. president, Jeff Drees, has a long history in connecting to the electrical grid: From building power plants in the Air Force to running energy management projects at Caterpillar and Honeywell, Drees said he's been passionate about energy efficiency and sustainability for 25 years.

Over the course of that time, Drees has experienced some revelations about what it takes to implement energy efficiency within a company. He described one of those to the audience:

State of Green Business

"I had an a-ha moment [during his time at Caterpillar] when I was trying to sell an energy efficiency project as energy and sustainability director," Drees said. "I was trying to sell it to a plant manager who was an executive of the company, running a $5 billion dollar business. It changed my thinking around the idea that this is not just an energy efficiency project; I need to know, how does energy help me a more productive manufacturing environment? How much of my product cost is an energy component?"

What it comes down to, Drees said, is that despite widespread commitment to energy efficiency, there are two key elements to any successful project: Executive buy-in, and breaking down silos within companies.

The latter point especially was driven home last week with the results of a survey commissioned by Schneider Electric, which found that although 90 percent of executives at Fortune 1000 companies said they felt a moral duty to sustainability, nearly two-thirds said the ROI needs to make a compelling case for investing in projects like energy efficiency.

This is true whether you're selling a comprehensive energy management solution to a customer -- in which case you need to ask, Drees said, "Which executive is going to be a sponsor of sustainability?" -- or trying to build momentum for an energy efficiency project in your own company. "How do you connect the CSO to the CFO?" Drees asked.

On the policy front, Drees said he was encouraged by the Obama administration's work on smart grid technologies and smarter buildings, notably the president's building energy efficiency project announced last week. And while the stimulus is still sending significant dollars in the direction of upgrading the grid and connecting it with buildings, vehicles, renewables and people, there is a significant roadblock on the path.

"To me the biggest challenge here with smart grid is people," Drees said. "There is a major clash for people both from design engineering to IT competency. There's also competency coming out of our community colleges; we need folks that are technicians, that want to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, climb on a ladder and commission a building, and we're seeing the void of people now."



Photo CC-licensed by KevinDooley.