James Wolf, vice president and chairman of Trane’s Environmental Policy Council.
The Alliance to Save Energy's recent "Great Energy Efficiency Debate" in Washington, D.C., included a panel discussion called "Keeping U.S. Manufacturing Globally Competitive: Is Energy Efficiency a Key?" The panel was comprised of representatives from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Dow Chemical, Ford Motor Co., World Resource Institute, and one HVAC industry member - James Wolf, vice president and chairman of Trane's Environmental Policy Council.

Wolf agreed to talk with The News about the panel discussion and comment further on the issues raised. "While the focus was on manufacturing, we also emphasized HVAC and brought general buildings into the discussion," said Wolf. "A lot of technology exists today that can be utilized to implement high energy efficiency processes in buildings," he noted.

"There's been significant progress made in the last three decades in the efficiency of equipment. We've improved our efficiency to where products are available now with 35 percent-plus better operating efficiency than in the past. We can actually build buildings that use 50 percent less energy today than what has been the minimum building code standard."

There's a lot of opportunity to improve efficiency, he said. "It's a matter of creating an awareness that the technology exists and what the total ownership cost is."

The Great Energy Efficiency Debate was hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The event included a panel discussion titled “Keeping U.S. Manufacturing Globally Competitive: Is Energy Efficiency a Key?”

The First Cost Mindset

"We talked about the concern that most of us are conditioned to buy the basic services we need at the lowest first cost," Wolf stated. But we are seeing a trend from year to year to customers purchasing more energy-efficient products, he remarked.

Regarding the cost of energy, three decades ago oil cost $2.50 a barrel; now we're over $50 a barrel, he said. "That is beginning to create an awareness of the importance of energy, and is helping to drive the interest in reducing energy use."

Wolf commented that we don't need any more mandatory requirements regarding efficiency. "Incentives and education could go a long way - with increased cost of energy - to help drive a change in people's purchasing habits."

Basically, he said, when you buy on a life-cycle basis and consider the total ownership cost, "you're buying energy efficiency that's good for you and also good for the environment."

In a lot of commercial projects, Wolf related, we're finding that we can sell up on energy efficiency. "When you're talking about hospitals, schools, government buildings, manufacturing plants, and large office buildings, people [formerly] interested in a three to five year payback may now go seven to 10 years.

"We're seeing a trend."

There's also pressure on companies from the investment community to be environmentally conscious, said Wolf. General Electric, for example, just recently announced that by 2010 it will spend $1.5 billion annually in research on cleaner technologies, up from $700 million in 2004.

It plans to double its revenues from products that provide greater efficiency and environmental performance. The company also plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve its energy efficiency. "So they have really put a stake in the ground saying energy use is important and they're going to be one of the leaders."

Business Moves Ahead

"The business community is ahead of public policy - clearly," declared Wolf. "Part of it is cost of energy. Part of it is operating costs. And part of it is environmental image." And this time, unlike the 1970s, the move to energy efficiency will sustain itself, he said. Now it's about more than just supply. It's a much broader issue.

Need Some Incentives

In order to promote energy efficiency, you need some mandatory requirements and some incentives, Wolf said. When you're trying to develop renewable technologies, like wind or solar, you need tax incentives to get the volumes up and make them cost competitive, he asserted.

"Tax incentives to do things like replacing old, inefficient equipment could make sense. Maybe accelerated depreciation would make some sense." But this is not a total, long-term solution, he conceded. This should be done just to stimulate the market.

With large facilities, there's more interest in combined heat and power (CHP), but "it's an incremental situation," he said. Worldwide, there's more interest in central plant installations.

Replacing CFC Chillers

Commenting on the slow pace of replacement of CFC chillers, Wolf said there are several things that can be done to improve this situation. He noted that we should continue to educate owners that they would be wise to replace their current chillers operating at 0.8 kW per ton or worse with today's much more efficient products operating at 0.45 kW per ton. With the energy savings gained, they could pay for that replacement in three to five years. "We have to demonstrate that it's to their benefit and show them facts and case studies."

In addition, he said, "They need tax incentives ... and then they need an understanding that long-term it's not viable to keep CFC chillers." Accelerated depreciation would also help, as well as utility programs, noted Wolf. "It's got to be an economic benefit to get their attention."

Publication date: 06/27/2005