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Powerful Answers: Energy Efficiency Goes Commercial

 

Verizon recently awarded the city of Charlotte, North Carolina with a Powerful Answers Award to help develop the most environmentally sustainable urban core in the nation. Many cities across the country in the past five years have created initiatives and have pushed to make energy efficiency not only a priority but a reality. Charlotte is no stranger to energy as it is the home of Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States.

To pursue energy efficiency on a citywide level, a unique public-private partnership has been formed between Verizon, Duke Energy, and the business and civic leaders of Charlotte. Energy efficiency in many other cities is pursued on a building by building basis, many times through the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification process. Despite the merits of the LEED certification, it is tough to fight for energy efficiency on a case by case basis without an overall collaborative effort. The city of Charlotte’s ambitious plan is clearly a plan of action when you have partners like Verizon and Duke Energy on board.

Energy efficiency is often referred to as the “low-hanging fruit” in sustainability. Although energy efficiency is regularly a better financial investment for buildings and businesses, it does not garner the attention it deserves simply because it’s less “sexy” than renewable energy solutions. The most sensible way to approach sustainability is to first bring your demand down as much as possible through energy efficiency measures before attempting to produce any of your energy on site via renewables.

Unfortunately, we do not always act sensibly and often would rather produce more energy than efficiently allocate the energy currently available. The energy efficiency vs. energy production decision is analogous to saving money vs. making more money. When people and businesses want more money available to them — instead of looking for ways to cut back their spending, they may first look at how to make more. This is perfectly understandable as there is nothing glamorous about saving money, much less energy.

However, it is arguably easier to save money since we are usually acutely aware of how much money we are spending and where it is going. Businesses are normally only able to properly manage their finances thanks to accurate “real-time” accounting. It is through measuring and keeping track of money that we are able to make intelligent financial decisions — energy  is no different, this is where the city of Charlotte is making big progress.

We are all energy dependent but it is only now that we are becoming energy aware. It is this awareness that prompted Verizon, Duke Energy, and the city of Charlotte to come together to build what are essentially real-time energy accounting solutions. By measuring and tracking energy use, energy efficiency suddenly comes to the forefront of our minds. Once real-time energy consumption data is available and visible, people not only think about their energy use but can start to make informed decisions.

The partnership between Verizon, Duke Energy, and the city of Charlotte is called “Envision Charlotte.” Envision Charlotte is a 501c3 charitable organization and boasts a number of heavy hitting partners across the industries of energy, communication, and infrastructure (http://www.envisioncharlotte.com/partners/).

Envision Charlotte is creating “intelligent buildings,” where real-time energy consumption data is gathered through smart meters and sensors and displayed on interactive kiosks. These kiosks can be found in the lobbies of large commercial buildings in downtown Charlotte and encourage people to think about their energy decisions. Over time, this energy data will help educate and inform the citizens of Charlotte, leading to better energy choices.

Energy has long been thought of as an abstract commodity or an endless resource, but through the efforts of Envision Charlotte, energy is being made visible, measurable, and most importantly, actionable.

In many cases, it is not a matter of doing without, as much as replacing old technologies with newer more energy efficient technologies. A good example is the widespread adoption of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that have largely replaced their less efficient incandescent predecessors. Another technology is the use of motion detection lights so that “leaving the lights on” is to some degree a concern of the past.

 The type of initiative and commitment shown in Charlotte provides hope for more energy efficient cities throughout the country. Envision Charlotte has been able to garner partners like Verizon and Duke Energy not only because of the environmental benefits of conserving our vital energy resources but also due to the serious financial benefits that are made possible to businesses in this win-win scenario.

Verizon provides their core competency communication services in order to deliver large amounts of real-time energy data that in turn allow people to make more informed energy decisions. These better energy decisions lead to lower energy bills for businesses and the lower energy demand prevents Duke Energy from having to build new power plants. When people conserve energy, everyone wins.

Bill Ehrlich is a Mosaic blog contributor who works in the electrical industry. After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in Finance he worked on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and then taught English in China. Returning home to the States he worked at Inovateus Solar, a solar integrator in South Bend, Indiana. Originally from Minnesota, he is currently getting his hands dirty doing electrical construction in the city of Chicago. Outside of work Bill enjoys investing, solar power, and most of all, investing in solar power!




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