In the Future, Energy Will Be Managed, Not Wasted.
The United States is a vast, diverse, and distinct country. I always knew this, but it became personally apparent on a recent cross-country road trip from Atlanta to Portland. The long days driving through the flat lands of Oklahoma and Texas, and the barren deserts of New Mexico and Arizona taught me a great deal about our country. Millions of dollars of commerce traverse the desert by train; countless cattle are arranged for market in Texas, and an unbelievable amount of wind and solar farms generating energy in California. America is a nation of many landscapes, people, and opinions. Our political preferences, income sources, and highly contested opinions about pineapple pizza may divide us, but one thing applies to all of us humans on earth. Energy.
What is energy?
Energy is much more than the thing that charges your phone battery from the 5% desperation zone back to a juiced up 38%. By definition, it is the ability to do work on a system. It is a conserved quantity, has quality, and is omnipresent. Energy is the great unifier, the common denominator of all living and non-living things within the known universe. It is my Tao, and drives my worldview that “anything outside of the laws of thermodynamics is negotiable.”
This invisible quantitative entity has driven human development, and consistent access to energy is the key to societal advancement. Through significant feats of engineering and centuries of thermodynamic experimentation, we can now produce and transmit high quality energy across thousands of miles in the form of electricity. While technological advancements in energy production have dramatically improved human quality of life, the advice from Peter Parker’s late Uncle Ben perfectly applies our modern relationship to energy: “with great power comes great responsibility”.
How does energy affect us?
Electricity generation is one of the leading contributors to carbon emissions in the world and is proven to be a significant driver of climate change. In the United States, for example, 33% of all carbon emissions come from power generation, with coal and natural gas power plants being major contributors. Despite being a developed and prosperous nation, the US is guilty of wasting massive amounts of energy and unnecessarily emitting large quantities of carbon dioxide. 18% of the entire amount power generated in the US is used in commercial buildings, and 30% of it is wasted! That means around 6% of all the energy produced in the United States is being wasted away; in other words, we’re willingly throwing billions of dollars out the open, air-conditioned window.
How can you manage energy?
Energy conservation within buildings is at the forefront of every climate action policy around the country and around the world. My hometown, Atlanta, announced their sustainability goals in 2015, focusing heavily on commercial building efficiency. The city set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 40 percent below 2009 levels by 2050. As part of the local environmental ordinance, commercial buildings in Atlanta are now required to benchmark their energy usage. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City also revealed a new, stringent building efficiency plan for his city. While these proposed energy reduction targets seem daunting at first, each and every plan for energy reduction starts with the same first step: Energy Management.
Energy management is the process of identifying, monitoring, and reducing the energy consumption of a building or organization. The logic behind energy management is simple: the less energy electricity an operation uses, the less energy needs to be produced at the power plant. When combined, the reduction each building’s individual usage leads to massive reductions in overall generation and, consequently, carbon emissions.
What is the incentive?
The many benefits of energy management can be simplified into three categories: cost reduction, risk reduction, and environmental stewardship. By investing in strategies that manage and control energy consumption, organizations will reduce their yearly costs and only pay for the energy they use. With accurate data from energy management, organizations can more accurately forecast yearly costs and dramatically lower the risk of variability between billing periods. Finally, as the cherry on top: every kilowatt-hour saved means less carbon is emitted into our atmosphere.
My drive across the country was an eye-opening experience for me as an energy professional. I realized how people, cities and companies within each state and between different climates relate to energy differently. The transition of energy generation visible to us from the highway as we headed west was a symbolic representation of the energy generation transition that the world is currently experiencing. From coal in the southeast to oil in Oklahoma, to windmills in Texas and solar in California, we saw the transition of energy! Energy management is vital to these cleaner production technologies, especially within commercial buildings. Lower energy demand makes these cleaner generation methods more accessible, viable, and affordable for everyone.