By Jane DeLorenzo
(This blog was originally published on LinkedIn.)

Going off the grid in the next 10 years is the strategy of a majority of companies and organizations that participated in the 2016 Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey, which queried more than 1,200 energy and facility managers globally.

“Surprisingly, 80 percent plan to achieve nearly zero, net zero or positive energy status for at least one of their facilities,” said Clay Nesler, VP of Global Energy and Sustainability for Johnson Controls. The company has surveyed more than 17,000 organizations around the world since it first introduced the study in 2007.

Johnson-gridNesler said 52 percent of U.S. respondents plan to go off the grid, while the numbers were 87 percent in India, 76 percent in Brazil, 65 percent in China and 50 percent in Germany. “That’s up from 49 percent [average] in the 2013 survey,” he said. Nesler shared the results this week during a Greenbiz webinar.

“The good news is investment is at an all-time high: 72 percent of organizations are planning to increase their investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy next year,” Nesler added. Cost savings remains the primary driver, yet those surveyed gave “very significant” or “extremely significant” ratings to energy security, customer attraction, employee attraction and brand/reputation.

The number of U.S. respondents with carbon reduction goals has grown to 64 percent, from 11 percent in 2007. What is driving this trend? Nesler cited the Paris climate agreement and new government policies on GHG emissions reduction. “I think, as many of us realize, that energy efficiency is going to be a very cost-effective approach to the challenges of global warming. This translates into action plans nationally and particularly at a city level,” he said.

Cities are significant because that’s where 70 percent of energy is consumed and where the greatest possibilities exist, added Debbie Weyl, Manager, Building Efficiency Initiative for the World Resources Institute. “Building efficiency is the most cost-effective emissions reduction strategy,” she said. “Building efficiency leads to economic development, in particular driving jobs creation in the construction sector.”

Weyl said the biggest barriers to energy investment are behavioral and institutional, not technological. She offered eight ways for cities to accelerate action on energy-efficiency building upgrades:

  1. Enact policies that establish minimum requirements for energy performance.
  2. Set energy targets.
  3. Use performance data and baselines.
  4. Offer incentives and financing options.
  5. Lead by example: Retrofit public buildings and establish innovative procurement policies.
  6. Engage building owners, managers and occupants.
  7. Engage technical and financial service providers.
  8. Work with utilities to identify energy programs and rebates.

One city that has been recognized by the Department of Energy as a model for energy efficiency is Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The city participates in the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, where participants pledge to cut energy use by 20 percent in the next decade.

“Energy efficiency makes building and cities more competitive,” said Erick Shambarger, Milwaukee’s Director of Environmental Sustainability. The city is a big proponent of free tools such as EPA’s Portfolio Manager, an online program that tracks energy use. Another tool is PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy, which provides low-cost financing.

Milwaukee has partnered with organizations that represent building owners, including the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and local business improvement districts. “Rebates and incentives are not enough,” Shambarger said. Through these partnerships, Milwaukee is providing participating building owners with financing, energy assessments, incentives, benchmarking support, tenant engagement and public recognition.

Jane DeLorenzo is a Sustainability Coach with REV and a communications specialist.