Building energy efficiency: The secret to success

Building energy efficiency: The secret to success

The pursuit of energy efficiency is as important as ever. Developing more sustainable sources of energy and green technologies is key in the fight against climate change and reducing our carbon footprint.

Of course, there are current economic benefits to energy efficiency as well as important positive indicators for the future of the field. In the US, energy efficiency projects added more new jobs to the entire workforce than any other field in 2017. That rate of employment growth continued in the ensuing years, creating a vibrant marketplace for entrepreneurs to innovate and develop new ideas.

International heavy-weights like the World Bank and the IMF constantly stressed sustainability as a key factor as they grew their lending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. The European Union has doubled down on its $1 trillion-plus program to create jobs while eliminating the EU’s carbon footprint. This is just the beginning, and you can now get an exclusive sneak peek into the future of the field.

Watch the Webinar

Stanford professor Will Chueh, Stanford Precourt Energy Scholar Dian Grueneich, and Stanford Senior Research Fellow Stephen Comello recently discussed the current state of the energy efficiency industry and the impact this work continues to have on our environment. It was a fascinating conversation, and the webinar is definitely well-worth watching from start to finish. Here are a few highlights to pique your interest:

4 key elements to building energy efficiency

As Chueh, Grueneich, and Comello explained, energy efficiency requires a multi-pronged approach to hit on all requirements and targets, including reduced costs and lowered emissions. In particular, the group cited four key factors that inform the development of energy-efficient solutions today:

  1. Buildings: Are you working on energy-efficient improvements for existing and new residential homes, commercial sites, or industrial facilities? 
  2. Stakeholders: Who is spearheading this project, and who is responsible for bringing it to fruition? It’s important that everyone is on the same page and working together toward the same goal.
  3. Motivations: There are tons of benefits to energy-efficient technologies, and decision-makers may prioritize some over others. Cost-savings, environmental benefits, lowered health risks, and social development are all factors that could drive a project.
  4. Barriers: Project members may run into a wide variety of market, structural, or behavioral obstacles that hinder their progress.

Each of these elements needs to be addressed for any project to succeed.

Developing an integrated approach to energy efficiency

Given the complexity of energy-efficiency technology projects, the Stanford team believes the best approach is to attack them from multiple angles. Three key components need to come together to get a positive outcome:

  • Technology
  • Policy
  • Finance

Each of these elements informs decisions and even impacts each other, hence the integrated approach. For instance, policy establishes the incentives and information that dictate what kinds of technologies are viable. Meanwhile, policymakers are limited to setting goals and benchmarks that can be met with the available technology.

Another important example is the relationship between technology and finance. Getting funding for new energy-efficient technologies is often dependent on being able to deliver a return on investment, typically through lower operational costs. In many cases, this tech presents a more secure and bankable option than other investments, reducing perceived financial risk.

Integrated approach in action

Chueh, Grueneich, and Comello moved beyond the theoretical to discuss a real-world scenario highlighting the integrated approach to energy efficiency. Refrigerators in the U.S. steadily used more energy from the mid-1940s up until 1975. That year, the state of California released a new policy requiring refrigerators to meet stricter energy efficiency standards. That policy could be implemented because energy-efficient technology was available at a reasonable cost.

Since then, California refrigerator standards have grown increasingly stringent as new technology hits the market. Costs for both consumers and manufacturers have gone down through the years as well. Finally, companies have been able to sell larger and more effective refrigerators, even as production costs have dropped. It’s a notable success story, with winners on every side.

What’s next for the energy efficiency market?

The webinar presenters saw three major areas where energy-efficient technology can continue to grow and thrive: intelligent efficiency, decarbonization, and climate mitigation. Advanced analytics, the Internet of Things, and other emerging tech presents new opportunities for this exciting field.

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to watch the full webinar. Considering the impact that energy efficiency knowledge can have in your career? Stanford’s Energy Innovation and Emerging Technology program offers a practical education - taught by Stanford faculty and industry experts - that can be applied to the real world.

Online courses allow anyone to get a world-class education from virtually any location. If you have a passion for helping the environment, a career in building energy efficiency may be right for you. Get started on the next phase of your professional journey today.