February 2, 2018

Ecosystem Speaks: At The Energy Gang Live Podcast

A team from Ecosystem’s NYC office attended a live taping of The Energy Gang podcast. One of our engineers, Matthew Sheridan, had some questions for the panel, and he discusses the experience.

Matthew Sheridan, an Ecosystem design engineer based in NYC, is a big Energy Gang fan.  “They address the issues that I care about personally and professionally,” he said. “Attending the live podcast with my NYC colleagues was my first opportunity to meet the hosts of my favorite podcast in person. Their talk was really interesting, and when there was a Q&A, I had a question for them.”

My question…

The first part of my question essentially asks: “Why don’t building owners embrace energy efficiency opportunities that SAVE them money?” It really baffles me that buildings retain fluorescent lighting even though a small investment in LEDs will have a return on investment in as little as two years in some cases. If I ran a hedge fund where I could 100% guarantee that someone’s investment would double itself in four years, literally everyone on Wall Street would be knocking on my door, but that is what you can get in NYC with an LED lamp upgrade when lights operate 24/7.

The other part of my question asks: “Who is pursuing complete electrification in buildings in New York City?” While I understand that heating with electricity is expensive in New York City, all heating will need to be electric within the next 30 years if carbon emissions are to be eliminated.

And their answers…

The Energy Gang had some helpful responses. To my first question, they pointed out that building owners generally replace their worn-out equipment in kind, i.e. replacing a boiler with the same boiler, not really thinking of how this replacement can also be an energy investment. And at Ecosystem we know from our own experience that this is often the case. Our sales team has a great opportunity to educate the market to reach smarter decisions.

Several hosts addressed the second part of my question. The podcast’s guest host was Mark Chambers, who is the Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. In his view, it doesn’t make sense to pursue electrification of heating systems until the power generation sector is decarbonized. I understand this response, but I believe it is skirting the main problem, which is that the building industry needs more education about the benefits of converting New York City buildings from gas to electricity.

Some people make a similar claim against buying electric cars, arguing that using electricity generated by dirty power plants is wrong. However, advocates understand that it takes time to develop electric car technology and to spread the infrastructure needed for its use, such as charging stations. In that context, it makes sense for people to start using electric cars as soon as possible and accelerate the transition. I believe the same approach should be taken with electric buildings that burn no fossil fuels on site; the industry will need to confront the associated grid capacity challenges.

Taking the lead

Ecosystem can be a natural leader in this effort, as we utilize heat pumps in Canada, where the climate is much colder that New York, and we have experience in steam to hot water conversions, which will be required in New York City buildings if the heating systems are decarbonized.

Jigar Shah, one of the Energy Gang hosts, later offered another idea: make electricity utilities the enemy of fossil fuels. He said that they should be the main driver for getting buildings off natural gas because they would make more money if they sell more electricity. This is an interesting view because the same profit incentive for utilities to expand electric heating would also incentivize them to be against energy efficiency.

Taken all together, the field of energy efficiency is complex and requires collaboration among many different parties that don’t always share the same motives. Progress requires asking very tough questions and implementing the best technical solutions. I’m glad to be working on these kinds of challenges in my role at Ecosystem, and I look forward to the progress we can make in the industry.

About the Energy Gang podcast

The Energy Gang podcast explores topics in clean energy from technological, political, and financial perspectives. It is hosted by Stephen Lacy, Jigar Shah, and Katherine Hamilton, whose combined experience spans starting solar companies, advising Congress, and running online magazines. They seem to know about every new venture and policy that has an impact on the field. Most importantly, they critically assess the benefits of public and private sector initiatives, and they aren’t afraid to criticize efforts that don’t offer practical solutions.

To subscribe, visit their website at https://www.greentechmedia.com/podcast/the-energy-gang