When the automaker Nissan decided it would work with its industry peers to benchmark just how it evaluates energy efficiency, it decided to allocate more capital to the effort as well as give the initiative three years to pay off. Altogether, the company says that it has implemented $2.6 million worth of energy efficiency projects since 2012 while saving $2.1 million a year and preventing tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
This initiative is one that is spearheaded by the US Department of Energy’s Better Buildings initiative that has been set up to improve the efficiencies of commercial buildings and industrial plants by accelerating investment in them and by sharing successful best practices.
“Extensive savings can come from upgrades to buildings,” says Maria Vargas, the director of the Better Buildings Challenge, in a telephone interview. “Saving energy and carbon reductions are two sides of the same coin. We can eliminate waste now in the system.”
The United States now spends $200 billion a year just to power commercial buildings and another $200 billion to run industrial sites. By improving design, materials and operations of buildings, Vargas says that these sites are achieving savings of at least 20%, and oftentimes, it is 30%, over 10 years. The best case scenario is 60-70% over the same time period. .
From where does the savings come? Sometimes the solution is as simple as not using a certain technology or by turning off the lights and unused equipment. But companies need to commit to the goal to make it work. And then they need to learn from others and to benchmark themselves against their peers.
To that end, the Better Buildings Challenge has mixed such businesses as Hilton Hotels and Whole Foods — having representatives from each visit the sites of the other, and then to make recommendations. Ditto with the Air Force and the Naval Academies, which looked at each others mess halls, dormitories and class rooms.
Hilton, for example, suggested to Whole Foods that it use more natural lighting whereas Whole Foods thought Hilton ought to use more advanced lighting that dims when no one is around.
As for the academies of the Air Force and Navy, the solutions were less obvious and centered more on turning food waste into energy. It involves a biodigester that takes that waste and produces a biogas to power the naval academy.
“Each business shares with the other the barriers that they face and then tells how they overcame it,” says Vargas. “Interestingly, most barriers are not technical. They are about getting employees engaged and the chief financial officer to pay for the upgrades. It is also about getting large and small organizations to just commit.”