Energy Efficiency Delivers the Green

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Energy Efficiency Delivers the Green… increased profits, that is

Too often I hear people describe energy efficiency as a “do-gooder” kind of thing – something to “help the planet”, but with no other intrinsic value.

Part of this may relate to confusion between the terms “efficiency” and “conservation”. While there are clearly overlaps between the concepts, they do not mean the same thing. Let’s start with the definitions:

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con·ser·va·tion [kon-ser-vey-shuhn]

noun

  1. the act of conserving; prevention of injury, decay, waste, or loss.

ef·fi·cien·cy [ih-fish-uhn-see]

noun

  1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance.
  2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort: The assembly line increased industry’s efficiency.
  3. the ratio of the work done or energy developed by a machine, engine, etc., to the energy supplied to it, usually expressed as a percentage.

Doesn’t really sound like the same thing, does it?

Let’s put it in practical terms. Many people would describe lowering the thermostat in the winter as an act of conservation. But, standards that ensure that a heating system uses less energy to achieve the same outcome may help conserve energy, but do so by creating greater efficiencies.

Perhaps the most telling example of this confusion – and the overall concern I raised above – is the quote from then Vice President Dick Cheney in talking about his administration’s proposed energy policy:

“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

Ouch! Without getting into a discussion of energy policy, there are several major problems with this statement. First, energy policy discussions generally address efficiency, not conservation. Second, conservation – at least IMHO – has nothing to do with personal virtue, and may yield a range of exogenous benefits, depending upon the context.

Sure, there is a perspective that some people are willing to freeze in the winter and broil in the summer in order to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. But, efficiency experts don’t generally propose making you uncomfortable. Instead, they recommend adjusting thermostats WHEN YOU ARE NOT THERE. No sacrifice. No personal virtue.

Now extend that concept to a business. A restaurant, for example, wants to make sure that their guests are comfortable, which is the overriding concern in setting thermostats. (Of course, one person’s comfort may be another’s discomfort, but I digress). However, keeping winter settings high and summer settings low overnight keeps nobody comfortable. And yet, that is what often happens.

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And, it’s not just HVAC systems left running at night– it could be lights or other equipment. And, it is not just equipment operating unnecessarily that creates inefficiencies. There are all sorts of older pieces of equipment that consume much more energy than newer, more efficient units. Or, there are simple yet effective changes that can be made to lower energy costs – such as adding strip curtains to a walk-in refrigeration unit – but aren’t.

But why bother? The answer is very simple – lowering energy costs is good business. Energy savings go right to the bottom line. Businesses strive all the time to lower expenses – sometimes at a cost to the business. For example, reducing headcount may result in having insufficient staff to effectively serve customers. But, energy efficiency generally has no such downside; it is simply a way to lower costs and increase profits.

And, yes, energy efficiency helps that other green as well – and that by itself may be sufficient for some. But, for most businesses, energy efficiency is an effective way to keep more of the green – in the form of increased profits.