Across the nation, business owners, manufacturers and large public sector institutions face a challenging question: Are extreme weather events, such as this summer's record-setting heat waves, the new normal?
Meteorologists and scientists can't say for sure. What is certain is that volatile storms and extreme heat can send energy costs skyrocketing, putting a strain on one of the largest budget items for manufacturers, office building owners, government facilities, colleges and universities.
"If there's a silver lining to the extreme heat we've seen of late it's that it often prompts the private and public sector to look anew at the benefits of energy efficiency as a key part of their energy strategy," said Bruce Stewart, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Constellation, an energy supplier and energy-efficiency service provider. "Customers recognize they can't control the weather but can manage energy supply and usage. They're often surprised to learn how much they can save with relatively simple efficiency upgrades, such as new lighting."
Efficient lighting is among the lowest-cost efficiency upgrades and typically pays for itself in fewer than four years. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 25 to 30 percent of a building's energy bill is for lighting. Lighting upgrades are an important part of a comprehensive energy efficiency upgrade Baltimore's Convention Center recently undertook.
In Maryland, Stevenson University took advantage of this bundling strategy, combining the school's energy supply contract with efficiency upgrades.
"There's considerable value in managing both the price of power and the amount of power consumed," said Stewart. "A comprehensive energy strategy that includes an energy efficiency program can lead to long-term savings with little or no upfront spending, and in this economy, that's a critical factor for customers.
"An added benefit is that energy efficiency upgrades can help commercial and public sector users achieve sustainability goals and, in some cases, address critical state and federal compliance objectives," said Stewart, whose recent blog post describes an innovative program adopted by the Chicago Bears football team.
A third energy savings approach for public sector customers is energy performance contracting, which enables public entities to fund energy conservation measures based on the amount of utility savings they provide. Under these programs, a qualified energy services company audits a customer's energy usage, identifies potential savings and guarantees those savings through a long-term agreement.
One Constellation customer, the Trenton, N.J. Housing Authority, expects to save approximately $31 million over 15 years by installing energy efficient lighting, windows, HVAC systems and other conservation measures. The savings are guaranteed and tenant housing is upgraded, all at no upfront capital cost to state or federal taxpayers.
"Energy efficiency makes sense at any time, but it's particularly important during challenging economic times when budgets are tight and upfront capital is limited," said Stewart. "There are numerous ways to reduce usage and lock in long-term savings without significant upfront costs."