In the next installment of our Edison Plugged In Series, which shines a spotlight on the people, projects, and perspectives of the Edison Energy team, we are featuring the insights of Grace Junge on the environmental and economic benefits of green buildings. As Senior Project Engineer, Grace leads the engineering effort on energy optimization projects, with a specialization in critical environments such as healthcare and laboratories. Click here to learn more about Grace’s background.
Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of CO2 emissions in the U.S., with the residential and commercial sectors representing the majority of energy consumption in all U.S. buildings, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
A significant increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency renovations, along with the generation and procurement of renewable energy, will be required to meet emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement, according to Architecture 2030.
Green buildings, like those that are LEED certified, will play a major role in a sustainable transformation. And while the primary drivers for green building in the U.S. are client demands and healthier buildings, the economic benefits of energy optimization projects will play a critical role in the ramp up of more efficient and sustainable properties, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
“Every client is looking for how to save money through energy efficiency, and that’s a big driver of projects and always will be,” said Grace Junge, Senior Project Engineer at Edison Energy. “But the things that have evolved quite a bit often relate back to those big corporate or organizational sustainability goals that you hear about on the news. There’s been a whole slew of 2020 goals and most organizations missed those, so that’s definitely been driving more aggression in their willingness to try things that might have been outside their comfort zone 10 or 20 years ago. Technologies that maybe are a little more cutting edge–there’s a bit more willingness to consider them.”
Junge also notes client flexibility when it comes to the financial metrics of energy optimization projects.
“Typically, a client will have a return on investment that they’re looking for in an energy project,” she said. “In order to meet those goals, they might need to expand that financial criteria to allow for a bit of a longer payback project just to get it through, or to attach a cost to carbon emissions. This is another common strategy to get more projects through so they can see how impactful their projects are, not just from a dollars and cents standpoint, but from an emissions standpoint. Attaching that cost can make projects that previously might not have looked too attractive look more favorable and help them understand which projects are more impactful.”
To reduce both costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Edison’s clients are increasingly shifting away from on-site combustion of fossil fuels and exploring newer technologies that permit electrification, as electricity can be more readily produced via renewables like wind and solar.
“In addition to that, I think that a lot of companies and clients that we work for have longer-term risks around energy availability and the impacts of climate change,” Junge said. “These are huge risks to companies. We’re seeing it in terms of interruptions to supply chains and loss of access to natural resources. There’s a lot of things our clients need to be considering if they want to be in business 20, 50, 100 years from now. They can’t just continue business as usual because the world is changing, and what we do makes a difference.”
The storm in Texas earlier this year pushed the issues of risk and resiliency into sharp relief as the state’s power grid toppled, resulting in millions without power and water and dozens of deaths.
The winter storm also knocked out a third of U.S. oil refining capacity, leading to a nationwide surge in gas prices as demand outstripped supply, according to data compiled by Reuters and Wood Mackenzie.
“Used to be you could probably count on your electricity and gas to not change its price a huge amount in a couple of days,” Junge said. “But we all saw what happened in February in Texas. That hit almost the entire nation in terms of the pricing of natural gas. That type of risk becomes huge and something they need to do a better job planning for in order to stay in business.”
The national conversation around climate change and a shift in consumer priorities have also pushed clients to tackle the growing risks of climate change, with major global companies now embracing sustainable corporate practices.
Today, more than 1000 companies have pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to align with the Paris Agreement.
“On the client side, a big shift has been trying to drive cross-collaboration in their organizations,” Junge said. “We help them understand that you can’t run a truly successful sustainability program out of a single department of your organization because every single person in your organization uses energy, uses supplies, and has an impact on this. A big factor in all of our clients’ success is their own culture and how well they have integrated sustainability as a value at different levels of their organization so that they’re not fighting themselves internally to get things done.”
Property owners are also grappling with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has placed added pressure on building managers to invest in energy optimization projects and upgrades.
“We capture a lot of indoor air quality impacts,” Junge said. “I think that’s a great side effect of retro-commissioning. We’re looking for ways to save energy, but we’re also looking for places that just aren’t operating the way they should. Especially this last year during Covid, everyone has been very concerned about inside ventilation. Being able to recognize and correct those issues sooner helps the indoor air quality for the occupants of the building. We do a lot of work in healthcare, so you can imagine how critical it is for the healthcare facility to be correctly ventilated.”
As clients increasingly look to address carbon emissions, Edison’s business model has moved towards the integration of its service lines, including energy optimization, renewables and sustainability.
“I found myself needing to have a broader understanding of the different tools that can be used to mitigate emissions,” Junge said. “My specialty has always been energy efficiency and remains that, but our clients need us to present them with whole solutions, not partial solutions. So where in the past they might come to us and say, ‘We want to do an energy efficiency project because it makes good dollars and cents,’ we could do that in isolation. I didn’t really need to know anything about renewable generation or energy supply procurement. Now, there’s a lot more pressure to come with a whole package of solutions. That’s our cross collaboration as a company.”