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Friday June 11th, 2008

With increasing utility costs becoming a fact of life for businesses, smart energy management has become a necessity. Ed Mayberry reports.


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symbol of LEED agencyA change in the mindset of commercial building operators is causing an increased demand for so-called “green” buildings. Suez Energy Demand Response Director Ritchie Priddy says companies are investigating ways to reduce energy consumption, as well as their carbon footprints.

“The facilities managers will call us up and say ‘look, you know last night corporate passed a sustainability policy, which means we have to go out and buy green power’ and things like that. And they also want to be LEED certified, which is a green building program. And then they always tell us ‘by the way, 30 percent of our salary is based on our success in this!’ Most of them are doing it right now because of peer pressure, and not because they are mandated to.”

Some solutions are simple.

“Shifting the load, sometimes, a lot of times, like this building we’re in right now, when you come in at 6 a.m., they’ll turn the air conditioning on–the chillers, and everything. And they’ll turn it off at 6 p.m. You don’t have to take so much drastic actions. One of them, instead of cycling all your power on for your chillers at 6 a.m., why don’t you turn it on at 4 a.m., you know, in the off-peak hours the prices of power are cheaper.”

Priddy says part of his task is to change the way building managers approach energy efficiency.

“In periods of high prices, it’s not so hard. Behavior is the most difficult thing to change, and whenever the prices go back down, people are going to lose interest. Really, when you think about it, you’re selling a disruptive concept. Energy efficiency is so foreign to most people. But it’s the low-hanging fruit. It’s cheap. You know, if you want to get us out of the mess we’re in environmentally, in energy, grid congestion, peak periods where it’s 110 degrees and power demands going way up, you know, there’s a lot of things you can do to alleviate that, and everybody wins.”

Some states have legislated the production of a certain amount of renewable energy.

“In a mandated market, for states like Texas, we have renewable portfolio standards, so the big utilities have to buy so much of their power, they have to be renewable energy. And that could be wind, solar, or biomass. There’s a number of different technologies. That’s one deal. The voluntary market’s actually going to be a whole lot bigger. Let’s say this building will buy, they have a mandate, an internal mandate on their own, to buy 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Okay, my company, you know, will generate them through the wind farms, through the biomass plants. We have some wood plants, you know, things like that. But we’ll buy them from whatever’s on the market, at the best price. And then we’ll turn around and sell those as part of the portfolio to the customer.”

Priddy says investors have incentives to see that their building portfolio is green.

“Carbon is potentially the largest commodity market in the world. I mean, they’re talking $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion annual market by 2025. That’s incredible! You see a lot of environmental guys teaming up with investment. They may not be die-hard believers one way or the other, but they have a common mission, if you will. You also see a lot peer pressure being applied to banks. A lot of big banks will not loan money to have a coal-fired plant built now.”

National legislation is expected by 2009 for a carbon tax or for cap-and-trade schemes.

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.