By Anne Kirby
The 6th Annual Clean Energy & Sustainability Extravaganza was conducted by Leaders in Energy and the Association of Energy Engineers-National Capital Chapter (AEE NCC) at the University of Maryland-College Park on February 28, 2020. The informative Business Showcase Panel discussed a variety of energy and sustainability solutions being applied by universities, hospitals, governments, commercial and industrial organizations, and other stakeholders.
The panel was moderated by Cara Martin, the Chief Operating Officer of Optimized Thermal Systems (OTS). Cara received her degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland and works at OTS which was founded as a start-up in 2002 by the Extravaganza keynote speaker, Dr. Reinhard Radermacher, Director for the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering (CEEE) at the University of Maryland. He founded OTS to transfer his research on heat transfer and refrigerants into real-world solutions for energy savings.
In addition to the businesses represented by the panel speakers, a number of other companies and organizations participated in the event as exhibitors, showcasing their clean energy and sustainability solutions. You can find these listed at the end of the article.
The first panelist was Sean Casey, an Energy Engineer with AECOM. Sean explained that he helps organizations meet very difficult carbon neutrality and energy resiliency goals. He stepped us through the framework of their energy planning approach with the University of Colorado-Boulder which starts with an evaluation of modeling and assessing “where are you” by collecting energy data for current energy systems, then assessing and defining “where do you want to go” with your sustainability, resiliency and energy goals, followed by exploring “what are your opportunities” by evaluating strategies such as lighting, energy efficiency & conservation, decentralized systems, resiliency, energy generation such as CHP & renewables, switching from steam to hot water, energy storage, and energy management applications. And finally defining how you can scale up those opportunities by answering “how do you get there” by identifying an action plan with strategies for funding and engagement. AECOM develops solutions for the institutional changes that have to happen in order to make goals achievable and hold people accountable. Sean explained how they build on success stories from other clients. He completed his presentation by highlighting an innovative strategy involving a pilot program for smart electrified mobility which is the ability for electric vehicle inductive charging while in operation on the road. He explained this type of solution can be a groundbreaker for transportation electrification.
Our next speaker was Tom Horner, the VP and Co-Founder of Water Management, Inc. Tom discussed the water energy nexus and the need for quality water. He started by telling a story from his college days at The George Washington University in 1975 where a professor told students, the only thing they needed to know to be a successful waste water engineer was “The solution to pollution is dilution. Mother Nature has an unlimited capacity of getting rid of our problem components”. But he went on to describe a more impactful part of his education occurred while rowing on the Potomac River where he witnessed disturbing “floaters” after rainfall. Tom spoke about how we evolved from that thinking of early engineers due to Lady Bird Johnson and President Richard Nixon pressuring for changes. Slowly and steadily rivers stopped being the solution to pollution. Riverfront property became valuable instead of an industrial dumping ground. But the multi-year reengineering of our wastewater and water systems cost a lot of money. Water and sewer costs transformed from a miscellaneous line item to an expense more in line with what it was worth. EPA consent decrees and upgrades to water and sewer facilities had to be paid for by the ratepayers. They have increased at 2-3 times the inflation rate since the late 80’s while other utility expenses have barely kept up with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). He explained how water and sewer costs will continue to increase as our infrastructure was built in the early 1900’s and needs to be rebuilt. Regarding individual projects, Tom shared an example of year over year water use and costs of a university and went on to give us two water management insights: first that we all live downstream and second, the bottom line of green is black – you cannot have a sustainability program without an internal rate of return that is acceptable to the administrators. Students demand sustainability and administrators demand return on investment. Tom pointed out in order to manage water savings it has to be properly metered. Well-designed programs that achieved initial savings but then later were higher than the baseline are a result of a lack of metering and managing the data on an ongoing basis. He left us with the thought that universities have large endowments that have “firewalls” with strict definitions of how it must be invested and is not allowed to cross over and be put back into long term investments in the university. Tom implored we have to find a way to break down these university endowments so the money can be invested back into the campus with quantifiable energy, water, and sustainability measures. His company, Water Management, has conducted programs at approximately 20 universities including a number in the greater Washington DC region including George Mason University and The George Washington University.
The panel transitioned to a presentation from Aakansha Lam, the Founder and Managing Director of Energy Scalable, Inc., Energy Scalable is a social impact organization serving underserved communities. Aakansha brought to light that 33% of US households struggle to pay their energy bills. Households that spend more than 6% of their income on energy face a higher energy burden. Often low income communities spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy. Energy Scalable wants to make a business case for investing in these communities. The company hasdeveloped a cloud-based platform to achieve this. It embodies data that includes input from various stakeholders including physical assets, behavior outreach, economic mobility, and policy action. Then it is brought together into outputs of green innovation, inclusion, equity, and growth in communities. Outputs include resilience by reaching out to frontline communities facing the most impacts from climate change. Aakansha explained that low-income families are unable to engage in investments in some solutions such as household solar which is not always financially feasible in light of competing priorities with food and medicine bills. She discussed the need to create inclusive policy incentives. Her company is working to deliver measurable social impact through a data driven approach to understand how they can make incentives more inclusive, equitable, and accessible to everyone. The platform is anticipated to launch in beta release later this year. It will be accessible for a fee to investors, developers, energy service companies, universities, and others. Eventually, Energy Scalable aims to expand globally. Aakansha shared her experience growing up without reliable energy access, and explained that experience is what drives her to make an impact in the field of reliable and affordable energy access. . The Energy Scalable platform is an innovative and unique solution for underserved communities.
Mike Makofsky, the Northeast Regional Manager with Shannon Global Energy Solutions, spoke about the benefits of their removable and reusable insulation blankets for fittings, valves, and pipes. Their solution is a new and easier way to reach energy efficiency and sustainability goals. And it is a low-hanging fruit solution. Mike shared pipe surface area empirical data and showed the investment and savings are compelling. There is tremendous heat loss from these systems but they are often not covered because of the necessary access, which is where removable and reusable blankets are viable. Shannon Global Energy Solutions believes this is as valuable as other everyday business tools, bringing an 18-24 month payback before available rebates, with greenhouse gas reductions that are documentable and sustainable because there is no degradation in the product over time. Many utility companies are providing significant rebates on their products – from 30% to 100%.Return on Investment is not normally associated with insulation blankets, but they can demonstrate Net Present Values (NPV), Internal Rate of Return (IRR), and Simple Paybacks over a 15 year cycle. They see actual numbers with 20 month paybacks and IRR’s of >50% that are quantifiable and qualifiable. If designed properly, removable, reusable blanket projects can be cash positive by year 3 . Mike’s philosophy is to not be just another vendor to his clients, but rather a partner, with the objectives to gain trust, build relationships, and create value.
And rounding out the panel we heard from Eric Oliver, the Founder of Earthwide LLC, which is an energy and sustainability master planning company. Eric shared the idea that most global climate scientists agree we are at or near the tipping point for irreversible climate change and that the major governments of the world are not doing enough to mitigate human related impacts, which is leaving the solutions to us. Earthwide is concentrating on reducing absolute carbon dioxide emissions to help save the future of the planet. He is focused on long term Master Planning for both energy and sustainability. Earthwide is developing master plans and carbon tracking tools to help organizations develop a path to get to zero net energy and carbon neutrality. Eric is a firm believer that at least 35% of the energy we use in this country is wasted,providing examples such as leaving lights on when they are not needed, heating and cooling spaces unnecessarily, uninsulated pipes, and leaks in steam distribution systems. He has developed a new model called a Guaranteed Savings Service Contract (GSSC) focused on no cost and low cost ways to save energy. It works by first determining the existing monthly energy expenses, taking 10% of the expense each month for 12 months and using that money to implement no cost and low cost upgrades with a promise of achieving at least 10% energy savings over the course of a year If the solutions do not provide the 10% energy savings, a check is provided for the difference, making it a guaranteed one year payback. Typically projects will provide much more than 10% savings, and after the first year the fees end but the savings continue. His stated goal is to change the way we talk about projects and cash flow, from a large upfront cost model to a series of costs model where savings exceed costs for the entirety of a project.
Panel presentations can be viewed in the Leaders in Energy Event Archives.
Anne Kirby has ten years of experience developing solar projects. She considers much of her role as educator and trusted advisor, helping companies navigate through the complexities of the evaluation of solar. Although she graduated from Widener University with a bachelor of science in Management Information Systems, it was her environmental studies there that drove her passion for creating a more sustainable world. She is the Private Sector Chair of the Delaware Energy Services Coalition, is on the Steering Committee and Outreach Committee Co-Chair with Green Building United, and is President of her Civic Association. Photo credits: Alisha Comecho, Janine Finnell, and Skylar King.