Energy efficiency 101: 26 MBAs learn strategies for cutting energy and costs

Last week (from May 18th-20th) we gathered our 2009 class of Climate Corps Fellows for a three-day training in our San Francisco office. The 26 Fellows arrived from across the country, and were joined by EDF staff, representatives from some of the 23 Climate Corps host companies, and a few media observers (SF Chronicle, Grist.org) for a crash course in energy efficiency approaches for office buildings and data centers.

The textbook for training was the Climate Corps Handbook, a reference manual on energy efficiency investment opportunities that we wrote for the Climate Corps Fellows to consult throughout their fellowships. The Handbook outlines EDF’s recommended steps for identifying and prioritizing building energy efficiency measures, and explains how to benchmark the energy efficiency of one building against others in the region. It also provides an introduction to the types of efficiency options that exist in commercial buildings— in lighting, office equipment, HVAC and water heating—and in commercial data centers.

The Climate Corps Fellows will be spending the next ten weeks working with staff at their host companies to identify and analyze promising options for cutting energy use in various building systems and the equipment contained in those buildings. The Fellows are all MBA students, so they’re coming in with a strong background in financial analysis and business strategy, but we wanted to make sure they had a basic grounding in the types of systems (lighting, commercial HVAC, etc.) and equipment (servers, PCs, etc.) that they would have to analyze over the summer, and some typical strategies for improving efficiency in those areas. We teamed up with efficiency experts from Rocky Mountain Institute to develop training modules that would give each Fellow the background to have informed discussions with facilities staff at their companies about energy efficiency opportunities in buildings.

All-in-all, it was a jam-packed three days. One highlight of the first day was our trip to PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center for an afternoon class on lighting efficiency in a classroom rigged up with all the lighting technology you’d be likely to find in a commercial space—from old T12 linear fluorescents (the energy-wasting dinosaurs of office lighting) to state-of-the-art LED fixtures.

On Day 2, we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the building systems at One California Street, led by the Chief Engineer there. One California was one of the first high rises built in San Francisco (in the late 1960s) and over the years the building’s engineering staff has worked hard to retrofit systems to improve performance and reduce energy use (and keep up with California’s stringent energy efficiency codes). The Chief Engineer took us to the building’s mechanical rooms, and up to the roof to see the upgraded cooling tours and the cables controlling the buildings new high efficiency elevator system.

Day 3 was spent discussing practical on-the-ground tools and strategies for the Fellows’ summer work. Jeff Crystal, our very first Climate Corps participant (who analyzed energy efficiency improvements for EDF’s New York City headquarters in summer 2007), trained the Fellows in the Excel-based Climate Corps Financial Analysis Tool, which he helped build during his internship. Emily Reyna, a 2008 Climate Corps alum, who we’ve hired to help run the program this year, was on hand to discuss the strategies she used to overcome hurdles during her summer at Cisco Systems (where she helped identify an opportunity for $8 million in annual energy savings).

By the end of the last day, I was tired, and I’m sure the Fellows were as well. But the mood in the room felt energized—everyone seemed excited to head to their host companies and get started. We’re all looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Stay tuned to this space for updates from our staff and the Fellows themselves as the summer progresses!