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Accelerating Energy Productivity

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Last year, in response to President Obama’s call to double energy productivity by 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Accelerate Energy Productivity 2030. The DOE, in partnership with the Council on Competitiveness and the Alliance to Save Energy, was tasked with doubling the country’s energy productivity—defined as the ratio of economic output (as measured by gross domestic product) to primary energy use—by 2030. The groups are to accomplish this by engaging in a series of public dialogues and executive roundtables to raise awareness of and generate support for the effort and by developing strategies to make the effort successful. For the country’s energy productivity to double by 2030, Americans will have to improve their energy productivity by 3.7 percent every year from 2014 through 2030. If they can do this, the impacts, according to the initiative’s website, will include $327 billion in avoided energy costs and the creation of 1.3 million jobs.

In September, 12 months after the Accelerate Energy Productivity 2030 initiative was launched, “Accelerate Energy Productivity 2030: A Strategic Roadmap for American Energy Innovation, Economic Growth, and Competitiveness” was published. It describes benefits of and paths to achievement of the DOE’s goal. According to the document, the benefits of increasing the nation’s energy productivity include “lower energy bills, job creation, economic growth, a more globally competitive manufacturing and industrial base, and greater prosperity for Americans in the decades to come.” It identifies the principal stakeholders as businesses; federal, state, and local governments; higher education; and individual energy consumers. Interestingly, it does not emphasize energy security as much as one might expect.

Released around the same time as the roadmap, the Honeywell Smart Building Score found, not surprisingly, that safety and security—not energy efficiency—were the top concerns of building owners in the United States. The survey of nearly 500 building owners/operators in seven cities, conducted by Honeywell and KRC Research, did find energy issues were a “major” concern, with approximately half of the respondents reporting a lack of equipment necessary to maximize their building’s energy efficiency (only 53 percent believed their building was “technically advanced” enough for overall energy efficiency to be improved significantly). The survey showed the average smart-building score to be 35 on a scale of 1 to 100, with 27 percent of the respondents indicating green assets are “the most indicative qualities” of what it means to be a smart building. Surprisingly, only 82 percent of respondents said energy efficiency was beneficial.

When discussing the equipment necessary to allow a building to operate more (energy) efficiently, HVAC must be considered, as it accounts for an estimated 35 to 45 percent of a building’s total energy consumption. Fortunately, HVAC equipment is continually becoming more efficient. For example, 15 years ago, a 500-ton centrifugal chiller operating at 0.75 kW per ton was acceptable. Today, centrifugal chillers with efficiencies of 0.38 kW per ton are commercially (and competitively) available.

Our industry cannot do much to help government stakeholders do their part to reach the 2030 goal, but we can help the commercial businesses that are called to reduce their energy consumption by specifying and supplying higher-efficiency HVAC equipment and systems. Although those solutions generally will have a higher first cost, resulting in some pushback by clients/customers, we—as HVAC professionals—need to do the heavy lifting to educate them on the total cost of ownership of their equipment. All of us will benefit in the long run.

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