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Of Negawatts and Energy Managers

“Energy-saving technologies keep improving faster than they’re applied, so efficiency is an ever larger and cheaper resource.” ~Amory Lovins

Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of our sustainable future. The cheapest unit of energy is the one you don’t have to produce. In a now-famous 1990 article, energy expert Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute captured this concept in his term, “negawatt” (i.e., “negative watt”). In a 2012 retrospective, Slate magazine’s “Welcome the Negawatt Revolution” explains:

The Negawatt itself is a theoretical unit of power measuring energy saved—Lovins came up with the idea after seeing megawatt misspelled with an n and deciding that this was a potentially useful conceptualization. It sounds self-evident now that you could reduce electricity consumption not by cutting back on energy usage but by improving energy efficiency standards and modernizing antiquated power sources. But the concept was revolutionary at the time.

As I reported in a 2012 Ecotext post, it is amazing how much energy our current buildings use—and waste. In his excellent 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins reports that “In 2007, U.S. buildings used more primary energy than the total energy use of Japan or Russia, and twice that of India’s 1.2 billion people. If American buildings were a country, they’d rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.”

Saving Money with Energy Efficiency

If negawatt management saves dollars and make such good sense, why aren’t we doing more of it? In an August 12 article, Triple Pundit reports: “Investment in energy efficiency projects has been in a long-term decline, going back to a peak of about $2 billion annually in 1992, which has drifted down to about $1.2 billion in recent years.” But Triple Pundit thinks that’s about to change: According to Chris Hummel, chief marketing officer of Schneider Electric Awareness, technology, awareness, technology, new business models, and ubiquitous distribution are all reasons “why energy efficiency is about to come roaring back.” For example,

Technology has brought much of the low-hanging fruit even lower. Things like LED light bulbs that pay for themselves in less than two years, to solar panels that have dropped in price by a factor of a hundred or more. ‘Smart’ devices are almost always more efficient than their not-so-smart predecessors, sometimes by a lot. Besides smart devices, there are increasing numbers of software applications to help people save energy in many facets of life.

There’s another reason why I believe energy efficiency is about to come roaring back: Green jobs are exploding, with an 88% increase in 2014 over 2013. There is a growing need for qualified energy managers to capture not just industrial negawatts, but commercial and residential negawatts as well. If training to be a “negawatt manager” appeals to you, check out Ecotech Institute’s Facility Management Technology and Residential Energy Management Associate of Applied Science programs: “Simply put, trained energy management professionals help others save money by using less energy.”

Remember… the dollars you save managing negawatts may be your own.

Kyle G. Crider (MPA, LEED AP ND) is a professional science and sustainability “story teller.” In his spare time he is pursuing his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary (Environmental Health) Engineering and traveling the highways and by-ways of home state with his wife Beverly in search of fact, fiction, and folklore for Strange Alabama.