Last week, the Groom Energy team had our year-end meeting, reviewing 2013 and discussing our draft 2014 business plans. We brainstormed about energy efficiency market trends and came up with three things to watch for in 2014 -- one economic, one application and one fun, futuristic idea.
Will 2014 be the year when electricity price inflation returns?
Since the 2008 market crash, consumers and businesses have gotten used to flat to down pricing for electricity. Low single-digit escalation has been the norm.
Yet there are signs that 2014 could be different.
The first half of 2013 has already seen price escalation. Next year, some fundamental challenges may produce even bigger, longer-term pricing pressure. New England and New York have exposure as a result of limited investment in natural gas pipeline infrastructure. Texas has already seen rates rising due to higher natural gas prices coupled with no new power plants being constructed. And California’s costs are rising due to climate legislation which requires the purchase of more expensive renewable power.
It’s been a long time since our customers acknowledged any energy escalation factor in our financial return calculations -- maybe in 2014 we’ll be adding a new column to our proposals?
Rooftop Units (RTU)
Based on what our engineers are hearing from corporate customers, 2014 could be the year for RTU energy efficiency upgrades.
Historically, these big metal boxes have been out of sight and out of mind. They run long hours, consume a large percentage of a building’s energy, yet are rarely monitored or maintained with an energy mindset. The building management system (if there is one) acts purely as a scheduling box 99 percent of the time. ”End of life” was ten years ago. Break/fix is the only reason an RTU unit is visited. We’ve been to facilities where there was literally no roof access to even allow inspection of a building’s RTUs. That makes preventative maintenance difficult.
But awareness of the RTU opportunity is changing. The DOE’s Better Building Alliance has the High Performance Rooftop Unit Challenge, which is gathering steam. Facility managers who have already done low-hanging-fruit lighting upgrades know the RTU is the largest target. Demand-control ventilation, economizers, internet-based thermostats, even regular coil cleaning -- all can have fast payback without a total RTU replacement. And major utilities are increasingly inclined to support these projects with attractive incentives and are marketing their own “upgrade your RTU” programs.
In 2014, there’s energy efficiency gold on the roof (and I’m not talking solar).
Energy Audit Drones
Let’s face it, the Amazon announcement was really cool. Imagining drones delivering small packages to our door from Amazon Prime feels like The Jetsons.
And it got us thinking about how Groom Energy could use the same technology to supplement our overworked engineering team. We need to introduce a fleet of Groom Energy quadcopters, all trained to perform our on-site building energy assessments, literally on the fly. Our engineers can sit in their pajamas (tough visual, huh?) while taking video and pictures of equipment nameplates and log activity. We could then integrate utility interval data to produce real-time calculations for energy savings opportunities. And the quadcopters solve our roof access issue for RTUs.
We need to get to Brookstone before the holiday rush drains all the drone inventory. Should be a fun year.
Jon Guerster is CEO of Groom Energy Solutions. This piece was originally published at Groom's blog and was reprinted with permission.