Johnson Controls will informally refer to itself as the IBM of green building and in many ways the analogy is apt. Both companies have extensive histories. The Milwaukee-based company just announced another quarterly dividend, the latest in a streak that stretches back to 1887.
And, like IBM, the company is pervasive in its field. Johnson is one of the principal contractors behind the retrofit of the Empire State Building. It also employs 800 LEED-accredited employees. Thus, what the company does will have some impact on the market. (It also received a $299 million grant to develop transportation batteries earlier this year.)
We recently spoke to Don Albinger, vice president of renewable energy solutions. Here's what's on his mind:
• Performance-based contracts continue to gain popularity, particularly with public sector companies like schools or government agencies. In these agreements, a contractor performs a retrofit and then guarantees certain reductions in energy consumption, etc. If they miss, the owner gets a refund. The contracts are similar to energy services contracts, in which the contractor gets paid through a portion of the energy saved, but there are differences.
• Industrial solar steam is taking off. In these systems, heat from the sun is exploited to run industrial boilers. "It is about a 40 percent efficient process. Solar thermal has advantages we need to capitalize on," he said.
• Although biomass has been gathering interest in some parts of the country, it is being challenged by the relatively low price of natural gas.
• One of the next waves in the industry will involve around tying building energy management systems to other enterprise applications. HVAC will be linked to building security applications and both will be integrated into financial and other applications. This will make energy savings and efficiency more dynamic and easier to measure. The company worked on a project like this with the state of Missouri, which has helped cut millions out of operating budgets.
• And of course, customers looking at ways to cut power bills should always think about reducing consumption before putting up solar panels.
"You've got to stop the building from losing energy before you start putting in new capital equipment," he said.