5 Energy Trends Driving Climate Progress in 2015

Tech installing solar panels

John Rae

What a difference a year can make. Even before the last weeks tick away, 2015 stands out as a remarkable and dynamic year for climate and energy in the United States.

Read on for five bold trends that are beginning to reshape our economy – and our national discourse on climate change.

1. Investments in renewables soar

I admit it: For years, I thought renewable energy was more hype than reality. I’m happy to report that recent data proves me wrong.

In just five years, solar panel prices have fallen 80 percent, and solar capacity installed worldwide grew more than six-fold. The overall cost of solar per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, plummeted 50 percent.

For the first time in history, energy from the sun is as cheap as traditional energy in states such as Arizona, California and Texas.

The proof is in the pudding. Apple, for example, recently signed an $848-million power agreement with a solar provider – bypassing the electric grid. A deal of this magnitude shows where solar is today, and where it is headed. Read more

Leadership + Collaboration = Impact: The Equation That Will Lead to Climate Solutions

Hand of a student pointing at green chalk board2015 has been an exciting year for action on climate and energy management. In the EDF Climate Corps network, there is a strong feeling of momentum, as company after company steps up to answer the call on climate action and demonstrates concrete ways that they are greening their energy programs. Looking around at last week’s Energy Solutions Exchange (ESE), which brought together 150 people from top organizations to share stories and insights, I was struck by all of the connections and interactions taking place in the room.

But if I learned anything from this year’s event, it’s that in order to continue this momentum and create lasting impact, we need to form a new equation: leadership + collaboration = impact. Leadership and collaboration are essential as there is a limit to how far we can get by ourselves – to get the big stuff done, we have to work together.

Companies are leading, but they need to talk about it more

I learned from our dynamic speakers that organizations are doing amazing things in energy management: like pioneering microgrid installations, scoping out solar PPA agreements, and scaling LED and VFD retrofits across their operations, yet many more are doing things that we don’t even know about.  To truly lead in this space, we need companies to start talking about their concrete energy solutions. Read more

Want Climate Action? Time to Pick Up Your Megaphones

victoriaExperts are saying 2015 may turn out to be the hottest year on record. But thankfully, as my colleague Tom Murray predicted earlier this year, 2015 is also shaping up to be a year for action – by businesses and governments alike – to bend the curve on the emissions that cause climate change.

This year, the Obama administration introduced important new regulations to cut GHG emissions from the electric power, oil and gas and transportation sectors. And businesses are standing behind them. Investors representing $1.5 trillion in managed assets supported federal limits on methane emissions. PepsiCo, Ben & Jerry’s and other companies called for stronger fuel economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks. And 365 companies and investors wrote to state governors urging timely implementation of the Clean Power Plan, our nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

four-people-speaking-megaphonesA watershed moment for climate action is approaching in December, when the United States and other nations gather in Paris for the COP21 climate negotiations. A strong agreement in Paris could put the world on a path towards greenhouse gas reductions that science tells us are necessary for a stable climate. Business leadership will be critical, both to embolden the negotiators to reach a strong deal, and to ensure that the U.S. delivers on the commitments made in Paris.

Amplifying business support for climate action

Right now, there is a wealth of opportunities for businesses to voice their support for a strong outcome in Paris, and showcase their own efforts to cut climate pollution. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) recently organized a webinar to present those opportunities and clarify how companies can get involved. Read more

Denver Housing Authority Sets Bar for Municipalities Nationwide

To many, it may seem that pursuing environmental sustainability would fall relatively low on a municipal housing authority’s goals.  After all, providing moderate and low-income families with clean, stable homes in the face of uncertain federal subsidies and increasing taxpayer scrutiny is challenge enough.

North Lincoln Homes - PV SystemsThe Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (DHA), therefore, deserves praise for its innovative solar power program that not only provides renewable energy, but creates revenue for the housing authority, creates green jobs in the region, and saves taxpayers’ money – all the while reflecting the spirit of the federal Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, which looks to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. DHA serves as a model for municipalities across the country.

Andrea Davis of the DHA’s Real Estate Department and Chris Jedd, portfolio energy manager, showed the creativity and sheer will to make a lofty renewable energy goal affordable, manageable and successful, while providing their communities with empowerment, economic opportunity, and a vibrant living environment. Read more

EDF Climate Corps Proves its ROI for Private Equity Firms

As summer officially gets underway, the 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellows are already off to the races seeking out energy and cost-saving opportunities for some of the world’s largest companies and organizations. Among those participating, we are pleased to place 13 fellows with private equity firms and their portfolio companies, the largest such cohort in a single summer, besting last year’s record of 12 fellows. This brings the grand total up to 57 EDF Climate Corps fellows who have worked in the private equity sector (including with portfolio companies) to date.

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

Since 2008, EDF has worked with the private equity sector to drive environmental results, beginning with a partnership with KKR & Co. L.P., and later with The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital Partners. Resulting from this work was a suite of free tools designed to help firms identify and manage environment, social and governance (ESG) issues. EDF Climate Corps offers private equity firms a powerful resource that continues to deliver environmental benefits alongside real financial returns.

This year, as in past years, we continue to see a diverse range of participating companies and projects:

  • In 2015, we welcome new hosts Guitar Center, NBTY (vitamin/food supplement supplier), Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (medical equipment manufacturer), Pharmaceutical Product Development, and Gelson's Markets (a grocery chain in southern California).
  • Among returning companies, we’re excited to welcome back Floor & Décor, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Avaya, and Caesars Entertainment, the last of which was featured in episode 7 of the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously (now available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime), which profiled the efforts of EDF Climate Corps.
  • HCA Healthcare will also be returning, marking the company’s sixth straight year of participation.
  • KKR & Co. L.P., Carlyle Group, and Hellman & Friedman will have fellows working at the firm level this year.

The work that these fellows will engage in this summer ranges from energy benchmarking and efficiency upgrades to demand response assessments and green revolving loan fund design. We’ve written previously about the myriad ways that fellows can add value both at private equity firms and portfolio companies and we’re excited to see new stories unfold this summer. Watch this space as well as our Climate Corps-specific blog, where fellows across a variety of sectors will share their experiences and accomplishments.

The Role of Buildings in a Low-Carbon Future

Zpryme talked with Ellen Bell, Senior Specialist, Environmental Defense Fund, for her thoughts on the role of buildings in a low-carbon future, the rise of microgrids, and how graduate students in EDF’s Climate Corps program get her excited about energy.

ZP: What do you look forward to the most in your business day?

ellen_bell287x377Bell: We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.

ZP: How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

Bell: The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

ZP: What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Bell: Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

ZP: Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Bell: Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

ZP: What individuals (i.e. thought leaders) get you excited about energy?

Bell: Personally I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Ellen Bell will be speaking at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23 in Chicago. To learn more about the ETS@chicago and all of its speakers, please visit ets-chicago.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

This post originally appeared on Zpryme's Energy Thought Summit blog.

Bringing The Pope’s Climate Encyclical to Life, a Church at a Time

Last week’s papal encyclical on climate change galvanized those of us who already see responsible stewardship for the earth as both a moral mandate and business imperative. In the 184-page document, Pope Francis calls for a sweeping overhaul of political, economic and individual practices to halt the degradation of the environment and protect our planet for the long term.

The pope's sweeping vision is sure to prompt churches, people of faith and a whole range of organizations to rethink their actions with regard to use of energy, water and other natural resources. But already, religious organizations have been working quietly and steadily to effectively manage their environmental impact, in keeping with the established theological tradition of moral economic development and use of resources.

(Credit: Sacred Heart)

(Credit: Sacred Heart)

Take Gene Murphy of Prescott, Ariz., as a prime example of someone sitting at the intersection of religion, sustainability and business. As the business manager for the Sacred Heart Parish in the Diocese of Phoenix, Gene has developed scalable solutions for his church and school that could and should be replicated across all churches, schools and relevant organizations.

The church performed a clean energy retrofit covering lighting, windows, waste and solar power that dramatically reduced their utility spending from $94,500 a year to $37,000, or $157 in daily savings and transformed the 32,000 square foot school into a near net-zero building. The solar project alone reduces more than 230,000 lbs of CO₂ per year, and the building is now lit with 97 percent LED lights. Gene is already drafting a template for similar organizations to use in analyzing their opportunities in light of new technologies, regulations and methodologies.

At EDF, we see Gene and the Sacred Heart Parish as a real-life example of the kind of pragmatic stewardship the pope is calling for, and we got on the phone with him to get some deeper insights into the parish's transformation. Read more

The Business Case for Hiring an Energy Manager

by Jacob Robinson, Program Coordinator, EDF Climate Corps

Here’s a provocative thought: energy managers are worth more than their weight in gold.

We often use that expression in a figurative sense—in this case, to emphasize the value of a dedicated energy manager, whose sole mission is to find financial and environmental efficiencies in a strategic way throughout an organization’s operations and mission. But could it be literally true?

Jacob Robinson

Jacob Robinson

Doing the math

With the average global body mass of a person being 62 kilograms and the current price of a 1 kilogram gold bar hovering around $39,000, an individual’s weight in gold is roughly $2.4 million dollars.

As part of EDF Climate Corps, graduate-level fellows spend 10 to 12 weeks uncovering opportunities for smart energy management, identifying an average of $1 million dollars in savings per fellow. Considering what a year-round employee could do, the annual value to an organization might top $4 million.

Making the case for management

If you’re putting together a budget request for an energy manager (or integrating energy responsibilities into existing positions) and drawing up a job description, this calculation is just a starting point. The business value of energy managers and integrating energy management into existing positions can be fruitful year over year, regardless of an organization’s maturity level at which they are addressing energy management.

Further, new technologies, funding mechanisms and incentives are constantly entering the market, requiring a dedicated set of eyes to analyze the most strategic opportunities.

Read more

Are Energy Managers Making Progress? Introducing a Tool to Help

Energy management can be complicated, and the projects that organizations must tackle run the gamut: from small-scale lighting and HVAC upgrades to whole building retrofits, from baselining energy consumption to data analysis of enterprise-wide energy management systems and from volunteer employee engagement programs to executive-level goal setting.

So if you’re an energy manager, there’s no doubt that you are busy! But, when you’re deep in the middle of so many “weeds,” what’s often not so clear is this: Is your organization making real progress to improve the way it thinks about and manages energy? What does real progress look like?


The Virtuous Cycle of Strategic Energy Management

Several years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and partner MIT started to address these questions through the  development of a framework for strategic energy management that showed the dependency of truly successful programs on a holistic and multi-faceted management approach—one where five focus areas work in concert to create a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement:

This year, we’re taking this work a step further by addressing another question that organizations frequently have: where are we on the journey?

To that end, EDF Climate Corps is proud to announce the launch of a simple and free benchmarking survey called the Smart Energy Diagnostic, designed to help energy managers assess the overall health and progress of their energy management programs. Read more

New Case Studies in Energy Management Show the Path from 'Why' to 'How'

Business leaders have long agreed on the “why” of environmental management: seeing the value in increased profits, reduced waste and a smaller carbon footprint. But the “how” has often been the stumbling block.

Two case studies released today from adidas Group and the Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (DHA) help to answer that question, detailing energy management strategies that deliver tremendous value and are great examples for other organizations to follow.

Material Handling Equipment at adidas Group

The adidas Group tackled the dual challenge of improving efficiency in existing distribution centers as well as when specifying material handling equipment in new facilities. Recognizing that only reducing upfront costs during design won’t optimize efficiency over the long term, the adidas Group is now analyzing the lifecycle cost of conveyer belts and other equipment. See the full case study here.

Meanwhile, DHA tackled the challenge of expanding renewable energy resources despite limited capital funds. The solution: an innovative power purchase agreement that enabled the installation of a 2.5 megawatt solar project with minimal upfront costs and a stream of lease payments to benefit DHA. If the 3,300 housing authorities in the U.S. duplicated Denver’s success, their rooftops could produce enough solar energy to power more than 1 million homes. See the full case study here.

Solar installation at DHA

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the recently released case studies of JLL and Urban Innovations, which have risen to the City of Chicago’s challenge to reduce commercial building energy consumption by 20 percent in the next five years. By focusing on education, automation and data, JLL and Urban Innovations each took leaps forward in energy efficiency.

EDF is thrilled to share these case studies as scalable solutions that companies across a wide range of industry sectors can adopt. Together, they show the diversity of organizations that benefit from EDF Climate Corps, and whet our appetite for the projects on tap for the summer of 2015, including Verizon, Shorenstein Properties and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

We are seeing the dawn of a new era for EDF Climate Corps, as our eight years of partnerships bear new and interesting fruit, with the potential to save energy in hundreds – or even thousands – of organizations. We are eager to hear how you are making the transition from “why” to “how” in energy management, and how EDF can help. Contact us at info@edfclimatecorps.org.