Energy Efficiency: The Quiet Giant. An Interview with Lime Energy’s Jonathan Baty.

In the first in our series of conversations with industry experts on the past, present, and future for energy efficiency, Jonathan Baty discusses energy efficiency’s impact on the global energy scene, how it enables other clean energy advancements, and new areas for innovation that will require further investment.

The Lime Energy Blog is introducing a new series to explore the perspectives, ideas, and observations of those at the vanguard of the transformation of energy efficiency. Titled Energy Efficiency: The Quiet Giant, this series will shed light on how the often unheralded emergence of energy efficiency promotes the rapid expansion of clean energy solutions. Today’s guest is Jonathan Baty, Lime’s AVP for Engineering and Energy Solutions. Jonathan is an industry veteran who has witnessed two major lighting efficiency revolutions and is helping to push similar revolutions in HVAC and refrigeration technologies. Our conversation, conducted via email and over the phone, has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Lime Energy Blog (LEB): Jonathan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. To start, can you tell our readers a little about your background and how you became interested in energy efficiency?
Jonathan Baty (JB): In 1990, I invited Amory Lovins to speak to the University of Colorado Boulder campus about the energy efficiency revolution. I have been inspired to be involved in the market transformation ever since. I am very happy to see that many of the interesting renewable and storage technologies that I learned about in the 1980s are now highly cost effective and represent excellent investments. I am also passionate about clean transportation. I have bike commuted to work for decades. It’s hard to beat the 800 miles per gallon equivalent and the free workout.

LEB: You mention that yesterday’s exciting developments are today’s cost effective solutions. How would you assess the current state of energy efficiency?
JB: EE is sort of the quiet giant in terms of its impact on the global energy scene. For years and years, the energy industry has always had some new and amazing thing, but there has also been this large, almost invisible growth of investment in energy efficiency and the benefits that the economy reaps from EE. The growth of efficiency is not necessarily highly touted or advertised, but it is dramatic when you look at what energy efficiency has been able to deliver. In California alone it is estimated that energy efficiency has saved over 50 terawatt hours of electricity since 2003 and that makes up almost 20% of the electricity resource pie, larger than all other resources except natural gas! To put this in perspective, a terawatt hour is a billion kilowatt hours! It’s the same or better service and you do it by wasting less energy. It is almost silent, it’s not flashy, but the savings that are generated over time are just absolutely immense.

LEB: The scope for those developments has the potential to be, in fact already is, tremendous. How is EE shaping the global economy?
JB: The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that we’ve had back to back to back years of zero GHG emissions growth yet the global economy is growing at a rate of 3-plus-percent a year. The IEA indicated in March that this is the first time since they began record keeping that this has occurred and cited energy efficiency and renewables as the key drivers reducing the carbon intensity of electric generation. EE also has the potential to assist developing countries leapfrog polluting development paths and adopt cleaner paths directly. Imagine how much cleaner a solar powered LED lamp is than a kerosene burning one inside a home! In a nutshell EE increases national security, grows the economy, and reduces pollution among a whole list of other benefits – it is a very nice industry to be a part of.

LEB: How did we get there? What role has energy efficiency played in the developments you describe?
JB: The Rocky Mountain Institute, in the most recent issue of their Solutions Journal, has an interesting graph that illustrates estimates of United States’ primary energy use per unit GDP since 1975. In the past, experts forecasted that relationship to remain the same, that primary energy use would grow in lockstep with GDP. In actuality our economy requires 50% less energy per unit GDP today than it did in 1975. I like to think energy efficiency has been a significant and largely silent partner in that transformation. Just think about the 60 Watt lightbulb folks were buying back then, now you can get the same amount of light from an LED lamp using less than 10 Watts! That’s an 80+% reduction in the primary energy used to provide illumination. Other building sciences are following the lighting industry’s shining efficiency example and developing improvements to HVAC, refrigeration, and other end uses so the savings pie keeps expanding!

LEB: If the big gains we have made in the last 10 years have come from lighting, are you suggesting that the big gains to be made for the next decade can be through similar technological improvements and efficiency improvements in HVAC and refrigeration?
JB: I’m hopeful. A lot of that is being generated in new buildings and major renovations, what they call deep energy retrofits, because buildings are sort of like a system. We are looking at innovations in how those mechanical systems are being controlled as well as innovations in different types of refrigeration and even refrigerants. In Europe and here in the US, there is a growing presence of carbon dioxide based refrigeration. Carbon dioxide offers a little bit of efficiency savings but it also mitigates any risk from refrigerant leaks. But it is a new technology so it is something that is going to take another round of investment.

LEB: And how does Lime Energy fit into that picture? How can Lime contribute to that next decade of growth in energy efficiency?
JB: Lime Energy is the catalyst for market transformation in small to medium sized businesses. Utilities have realized that buying energy efficiency is far cheaper, cleaner, and faster than building new power plants and can even help defer expensive grid upgrades. Lime Energy upgrades the businesses that benefit the most from the economic uplift that arises from energy efficiency investments. Small to medium sized businesses are the foundation of economic vitality in the United States and in fact the globe and Lime Energy is now the leading force in delivering energy efficiency and smart building services to this business class.

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