July 25, 2002
Reducing energy costs, post crisis
By ASH AWAD
We pulled together, held meetings, turned lights off, convened forums and discussion sessions, sacrificed comfort, sent people home, and closed companies to avoid the inevitable results of our low conservation efforts over the past 10 years. Ideas were flying fast and furious, nearly as fast as the companies that were starting their own local diesel generators to use and sell power. And although more generating capacity was helpful, the key was conservation of all resources.
Every organization pushed to save at least 10 percent of their energy usage, and at home many of us did the same. The utilities were running out of money, yet could not pay companies enough to conserve energy. For eight months, utility rates increased dramatically (doubled in some cases), and the summer of 2001 was projected to be the start of a major national ENERGY CRISIS!
We were told to batten down the generators and turn off those lights. We were in for it. And then, as if someone discovered a mathematical error in the energy supply-and-demand equation, it was over.
Or so we thought.
For those of us in our industry, comprised of energy services companies (ESCOs) and myriad vendors focusing on providing cost-effective solutions to reducing energy costs for clients in both public and private building sectors, business was booming.
What more could we ask for — every night for months, the local and national news media reminded us that water reservoirs were at 30-year lows, that California was the culprit, the federal government was unwilling to help, and if we need others to blame, in hind sight, the crisis must have been attributed to Enron and its practices. And most importantly, conservation was, is and would continue to be the key to maintaining rates and avoiding blackouts.
“Contact your local energy conservation dealer,” was a battle call, not a paid advertisement. But the results were the same.
With that type of broadcasting and dramatic increases in rates, many organizations developed their own plans and put them into action, some reducing their energy consumption by over 10 percent.
The challenge was that some of those plans and measures impacted occupant comfort and relied primarily on behavioral changes and therefore many organizations reported that their projected reductions in energy usage slipped back to post “crisis level,” and at the higher utility rates!
Even though the “crisis” seemed to be over for the time being, nearly all of the increased utility rates never rolled back and are still on the rise in some cases.
So, what sustainable actions are organizations taking to reduce energy costs? Here is a collection of thoughts regarding energy conservation:
Conserving our resources is critical, and we should all work on being daily environmental stewards. Most local and regional utilities are continuing to focus on long-term support (technical and financial) of conservation. Pre-energy crisis conservation was left to those that had high energy bills because their facilities had failing equipment and major needs for infrastructure upgrades. Post energy crisis, we all have high energy bills and the need to upgrade aging and failing infrastructure.
With that being said, our challenge will be to implement conservation measures that are sustainable and not only reliant on that one individual and their personal diligence to turn down the thermostat or shut off that light. To implement longer-term sustainable conservation measures we must continue to place pressure and support of utility conservation programs. We must also appreciate that energy-only return on investments do not occur in months they occur in years — typically in excess of five years.
No capital, no problem — there are alternative ways to secure financing for infrastructure upgrades that lead to reduced energy costs and guaranteed returns on investment.
And finally, every day that goes by with no plan and no action is wasted money that could be leveraged into tangible physical improvements and real conservation efforts.
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