How can energy efficiency best position itself front and center for improved resilience?

Government and industry leaders discussed the importance energy efficiency plays in the synthesis between sustainability and resiliency. From Super Storm Sandy to increased drought and heat waves, the reality is our climate is changing. The group of panelists all agreed that energy efficiency must remain key to enhanced climate adaptation and mitigation now and into the future.

Moving Beyond Codes: What are the most promising advancements in disclosure, rating, and labeling processes? And what are their predicted effects?

Today’s building codes are far from perfect.  But they provide an intellectual stimulant from which the right questions are being asked; questions like, “why do the codes prioritize square footage over number of occupants?” and, “why are architects and construction workers not kept in the feedback loop on energy usage post-occupancy?”  The panelists all agreed that public disclosure and the promotion of transparency are key to energy efficiency efforts worldwide.  However, in many parts of the world, there has been hesitance by both individuals and utilities to report energy usage, calling it “private information.”  In fact, in some places, there is a great cultural stigma against sharing any information that could be seen as private.  But as people in developed countries have become more comfortable with the idea of energy usage as public information, energy efficiency efforts in their regions have improved.  Other regional challenges include the need for strong political leadership, and the need to advance minimum energy requirements progressively over time.

What is needed to build capacity in the public and private sectors to mobilize EE investments in developing countries?

Practitioners in project finance for energy projects in emerging markets highlighted that when working in developing countries the focus of the discussion has to be energy security, rather than climate change, in order to have their governments interested in energy efficiency. In addition, discussions shifted toward explaining that the problem is not lack of money, but rather lack of good projects to invest in many of the emerging markets. Panelists suggested that investors from the private sector should focus also in project development, aiding on the early stages of the projects. Finally, panelists identified the size of projects as a major problem investors face in developing countries. Usually energy projects in developing countries are too small but they proposed aggregating projects as a solution to attract investors.

How can governments across the globe collaborate to make EE a priority?

Energy efficiency is not a single sector issue, and this challenge is reflected in the multiple government agencies involved in any given country; action does not just come from a ministry of energy. Moreover, panelists’ robust debate highlighted that intergovernmental collaboration is actually a much broader exercise than simply one national government speaking to another national government. While there are a number of multilateral bodies working on energy efficiency, there is also a healthy appreciation for transnational relations, with important contributions made by non-government actors. Governments need to embrace the complex stakeholder network involved in making energy efficiency a priority. This ranges from acknowledging the roles of individuals and private sector actors to directly deliver change as well as to drive action by governments; to encouraging international cooperation across the subnational level; to appreciating that a country is part of an interconnected global supply chain in which its measure of energy productivity should also address the energy embodied in its trade.

Because energy is a critical factor in relationships between countries, there is a lot of finger-pointing on the issues, especially between developed and developing countries. Energy productivity is a positive concept that can help us circumvent this counterproductive behavior, but depends on us first developing metrics and accounting mechanisms that allow for benchmarking and reporting.

How do advances in technology affect possibilities for EE standards and harmonization?

There is palpable tension between standards and innovation.  Innovators in high tech industries are concerned that standards don’t move fast enough when implemented by the government, and would prefer to self-regulate.  But standards are designed to create a level playing field in the industry, and regulators are concerned that industry self-regulation won’t account for that.  On the flip side, there are some industries that feel as though regulation is moving too quickly for them, and there are instances of regional lawmakers freezing energy efficiency codes to make industry more comfortable.  This is a dangerous trend, because it takes away industrial drive for innovation.  The panel observed that the tension, however, is not over who develops the standards, but rather who updates them, and how quickly they do.

Amidst aging infrastructure and a changing environment, how are facilities taking steps to become independent from the grid?

Panelists discussed microgrids and cogenerating energy systems, from a historical standpoint up to some of the innovations being made in the US, Europe and developing world today.  World events, such as hurricanes, forest fires, and terrorist attacks, are driving the effort to make the grid self-sustainable.  Globally, there are 1.3 billion people without access to electricity.  Terry Mohn raised the point that as organizations begin developing effective, inexpensive microgrid technology for the developing world—where it may be a better option than a traditional utility model—that technology can then be brought to Western countries where it is being increasingly sought after.  Finally, panelists discussed several challenges to microgrid implementation today.  These include education of politicians, especially in regard to short term limits, incentives versus disincentives, and in some cases, the monopoly of utilities.

What big data and collection efforts are needed to attract and unlock capital markets?

Panelists agreed, standards and protocols for capturing and displaying data are necessary to unlock capital markets. We should play a role in helping financial institutions set these standards, and perhaps we could start through a regulatory approach. In terms of collection efforts, there is a lack of granular data on energy use in operations and buildings. It may exist in many forms, but may not be captured and it must be analyzed properly. Investors and lenders assess energy efficiency projects just as any other. They need to be able to value it, calculate the payback, and find it still make financial sense.