New era of energy management is on the horizon - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency, Industrial, Commercial, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  November 1, 2016 - By Amy Poszywak

Executives: Coalescence of market factors beg new corporate energy management strategies

At the convergence of technology advancements and an increasing level of interest in corporate sustainability, many of world's largest businesses have closer eyes on their energy management strategies than ever before.

The trend was evident at the 2016 Sustainable Business Summit, hosted in New York City in October by Bloomberg BNA. The event brought together business leaders investors and other key decision makers to discuss how corporations are driving growth and profit opportunities through sustainable business practices, with corporate energy use emerging as a key area of focus as representatives from The 3M Company to JetBlue Airways Corp. and Xerox Corp. to Tiffany & Co. shared insights into their own strategies.

For many corporations, the rise of cloud-based computing and the corresponding need for energy-hungry data centers in the coming years is creating a need to mitigate the impact of accelerating energy use through energy efficiency and renewable energy sourcing. That need is already a reality for a technology giant like Microsoft, but it's likely to become true for businesses across all types of industries in the years ahead, Microsoft Chief Environmental Strategy Officer Rob Bernard said during a summit panel.

"If you look at thing things that came out of the World Economic Forum about the fourth industrial revolution as an example, every part of our business infrastructure is being disrupted simultaneously," Bernard said. "How many people can here in an Uber instead of a cab? How many people have stayed in an Airbnb in the past year? How many people process more and more of the things that they do and purchase through some sort of online transaction? How many people go to a farmers market and pay with a credit card where they used to have to pay with cash? All of that's just the tip of the iceberg."

Bernard, alongside the CEO of sharing economy startup app Stuffstr, John Atcheson, said cloud computing has been the single-biggest driver of an increased focus on energy. That challenge is compounded by mounting pressure from customers, employees and investors of all types of corporations for more transparency about their environmental impact; energy use is often the first place to start. 

Tiffany & Co., for example, appointed its first sustainability manager, Anisa Costa, in 2015; speaking at the Bloomberg event, Costa said the company's investors have been more interested than ever in its environmental initiatives. Tiffany, which has a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 goal, has already deployed energy efficiency initiatives on its path to getting there: Between 2014 and 2015, the famous New York City jeweler retrofitted close to 100 retail stores with LED lighting, both overhead and in display cases. 

All of this is to say that businesses of all types are looking for more meaningful ways to approach energy management at a time when the energy market itself is in the midst of rapid transition. So exactly what that new approach looks like is not yet clear, according to Edison Energy President Allan Schurr, though it is already starting to take shape. Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Schurr said some corporations are in the early days of imagining a new, fully integrated programming system that is "really high performing across all dimensions" of energy management, including cost management and system resiliency.

And while a lot more companies have started taking a more aggressive approach to their energy use, becoming more strategic about their energy management programs, no one company has it all figured out, Shurr said of the various corporations Edison Energy — a recently launched advisory/consultancy nonutility business subsidiary of Edison International  has been working with. Taking on an "energy as a service" model, Edison Energy's aim is to simplify things for commercial and industrial companies and the employees tasked with their energy management. 

"In our view, a partner is needed to make that happen at most companies, because energy is just not core to most businesses, that's not the business that they're in," Schurr said. "There are a few exceptions, like an aluminum smelter, where energy is such a core piece of their business, they need to have that kind of in-house expertise; but what we see happening in a lot of companies today is they can't get authorization to fill open energy jobs, they can't find the skills they need even if they have the ability to hire. Because the complexity is increasing so fast that keeping up with it is really a different situation than it used to be."

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