Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso tells New Jersey Business magazine that he once attended a municipality’s event where a building’s “new windows” were celebrated as an energy-efficiency accomplishment. However, Fiordaliso noticed that the windows had never been properly sealed, and while sitting in an event chair, he had to wear his “topcoat” to shield himself from the mid-winter winds seeping in from outdoors.
If there is perhaps a lesson in this story, it is that achieving energy efficiency and associated reduced costs is likely best undertaken with proper planning and expert execution. What, for example, are a businesses’ underlying energy efficiency motivations? It is to simply achieve financial savings and/or to create energy system resiliency in preparation for potential power grid outages, etc.? Is it a deep, abiding commitment to sustainability and protecting the earth from the perils outlined in the recent, staggering and arguably cataclysmic report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? In conjunction with an expert’s guidance, the business owner may wish to ask himself or herself these and other, related questions – and perhaps the good news is that an “all of the above” and/or “other reason” answer is possible.
Experts say an energy audit conducted by qualified professionals should be undertaken before a business embarks on its energy-efficiency journey. Absent such an audit, there have been instances – for example – of companies installing solar systems on their roofs, only to later learn that they could have first drastically reduced their power consumption via more “simple” techniques such as installing LED light bulbs.
Daniel (Dan) Svejnar, vice president, head of commercial North America, Centrica Business Solutions, creates a metaphor: “The way I like to think about it and position it with clients is: ‘You want to lose weight, and then you want to buy a suit.’ If you size a solar system on your roof – for your entire building – and three years later, you say, ‘Geez, I could replace all my lighting; I could replace that old air conditioner; I could replace all this stuff, and your load profile then drops … well, you have oversized your solar system. And we struggle with [clients in these scenarios].”
Ted Repetti, program manager, solar loan program, PSE&G, notes that businesses will receive significant energy savings from solar systems over 20 to 30 years. He generally concurs, however, “[While] there are compelling financial reasons to do solar … you are better off doing [an] energy efficiency program first, reducing your electric consumption, and then that can let you [install] a smaller solar system, which is going to cost you less money.”
While there are various energy-efficiency approaches, Centrica Business Solutions’ Svejnar says his firm offers “insights, optimization and solutions,” ranging from equipment that examines what a building’s load profile is and how it is being utilized, to optimizing building energy facilities (e.g., “turning off every other light,” for example), to offering solar panels, battery storage or combined heat and power, for example.
PSE&G’s Repetti even recommends “quick hits” for business owners such as: replacing high-use lamps and fixtures with LED lights, turning off power-consuming devices when they are not in use and installing modern thermostats.
Repetti explains, “A small business owner or his contractor can inexpensively install a smart thermostat. When he leaves for the day and says, ‘Oh, I forgot to turn the heat down,’ if [he] goes on [his] phone with an app and cranks the heat down, [he] will not be wasting [energy] when the [business] is not open.”
In the photovoltaic panel arena, such equipment’s costs have dropped when compared to yesteryear in ways that might be akin to flat screen consumers’ televisions: When those first came to market, they cost thousands of dollars; now, basic units can be purchased at, say, Kmart for perhaps $400. Solar systems’ reduced prices, in conjunction with Solar Renewable Energy Credits, make this sustainability option a viable option in many cases.
In broader terms, while an aforementioned energy audit is important, so too are financial considerations, with a recurring yet obvious theme that the cost of energy efficiency implementation/sustainability should be less than the cost of taking no action – unless the business has an overarching cost-as-no-object environmental/sustainability goal, which, incidentally, may be the case for some companies that wish to specifically showcase their sustainability to their customers, clients and/or employees. Or, they may also simply adore our planet, and from a principle-based standpoint, they want to minimize any environmental harm.
Yet cost-savings and sustainability often glide in tandem. If out-of-pocket costs are a concern, the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy offers an array of programs, and a business’ local utility can often allow it to pay for the remaining costs at times essentially via a line-item on its electric bill (conceptually, this might be akin to when a person purchases a smartphone from a carrier; the phone’s cost may be distributed over 24 billing cycles until it is paid for). Utilities offer a bevy of such energy-efficiency/sustainability programs and services aimed at both businesses and the general public alike.
“Many of our utilities currently have energy efficiency programs,” the BPU’s Fiordaliso stresses. “That triangle is an important one because each has its place, and I think it’s vital for a business to check out everything available to them for energy conservation.”
Maureen Minkel, general manager, energy efficiency and conservation, South Jersey Gas, illustrates precisely the types of options to which President Fiordaliso alludes. She says, “I would suggest [businesses] either contact South Jersey Gas, or check out our website – or even the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy website. There is a variety of educational information, programs, audits and incentives available.”
For example, South Jersey Gas offers a direct install program through a partnership with the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy in which companies can earn toward energy efficiency projects or incentives; businesses can receive a free energy assessment and work with a participating contractor to cut their facilities’ energy costs by replacing lighting, HVAC system, or other, outdated equipment with energy efficient alternatives.
Minkel explains, “Then, the balance of what is left – if they get 70 percent worth of incentives – is for the other 30 percent. South Jersey Gas offers a zero percent loan to cover that remaining project expense. There are lots of programs available, and South Jersey Gas wants to be a partner to our local businesses to help them take advantage of the programs – and the savings.”
Jerry Ryan, energy efficiency operations manager, New Jersey Natural Gas, explains that his utility offers on-bill repayment for two of New Jersey’s Clean Energy Programs. He says, “The Clean Energy Program can rebate up to 70 percent of the project and New Jersey Natural Gas will fill that gap with an on-bill repayment program. It can actually be larger than 30 percent. Depending on the project’s scope, there is a determination made as to how much of that project will be covered by the New Jersey Clean Energy Program rebate. [The] NJNG on-bill repayment program is designed to fill that gap so that there are no out-of-pocket costs to the customer.”
There are rebates offered through the New Jersey Clean Energy Program: Direct Install might be viewed as a more comprehensive program for the building; the SmartSmart program is aimed at individual energy-efficiency measures.
In the energy arena, an old adage is that the least expensive watt is the watt that is not used. And while this may be a financial reality, people, again, are also increasingly attuned to environmental realities. New Jersey has aggressive carbon-reduction-related goals via the New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan. In May, Governor Murphy’s office stated, in part, that he had “signed Executive Order No. 28 directing state agencies to develop an updated Energy Master Plan (EMP) that provides a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The new EMP is to be completed and delivered by June 1, 2019 and will provide a blueprint for the total conversion of the state’s energy production profile to 100 percent clean energy sources by January 1, 2050.”
Separately, the aforementioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate report might concern most people who read it. The BPU’s Fiordaliso declares, “[The report] is damn frightening. And most of us thought that maybe we had until the end of the century [before severe climate change occurred], but that thinking has pretty much gone out the window. If we are talking 20 or 30 years from now, that’s not a long time, and I don’t know of any other piece of real estate to live on [besides earth].”
Citing yet another reason to pursue energy efficiency, Anne-Marie Peracchio, director, conservation and clean energy at New Jersey Natural Gas, says, “You want to try to do this before it is end-of-life on your equipment, and it just breaks in the middle of your business day – and that disrupts either customers who might be in your restaurant or [people during] a shift in your plant. If you proactively [approach energy efficiency], then you can manage it and potentially investigate some more high efficient options, rather than just rushing to get something up and running as soon as you can, that may be subject to the availability of what is in a warehouse.”