Is the energy efficiency service market still MUSH?

June 9, 2011
By Elisa Wood June 8, 2011 We hear a lot about energy efficiency these days, but who is actually pursuing it? In recent years most of the big players that install efficiency measures, the energy service companies (ESCos), have found work largely in the MUSH market:  municipal and state governments, universities, schools and hospitals. In fact, […]
By Elisa Wood
June 8, 2011

We hear a lot about energy efficiency these days, but who is actually pursuing it?

In recent years most of the big players that install efficiency measures, the energy service companies (ESCos), have found work largely in the MUSH market:  municipal and state governments, universities, schools and hospitals. In fact, a report in June 2010 by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Association of Energy Service Companies found that MUSH made up 70% of the work done by ESCos.

Private businesses, on the other hand, were backing away from making energy efficiency improvements when the report was written. A year has passed. Is the market still MUSH?

I looked at the projects announced by the big players in recent months.  Here’s a sampling of a few.

  • Ameresco struck deals with the Greensboro Housing Authority, Boston Housing Authority, state of Alaska for public university buildings, New York State School District, Penn State University and City of Portland, Maine.
  • Chevron Energy Services is bringing efficiency to East Side Union High School District in San Jose, California; North Carolina Central University; the city of Victoria, Texas; as well as Orange County, California and Santa Monica College.
  • Noresco is working with the state of Hawaii, Fort Worth Naval Air Station, the Allendale County Schools in South Carolina, Capitol Hill and Elkhart County, Indiana.
  • And on and on as I made way down the list of large ESCos.

My very unscientific survey indicated that MUSH still predominates. And that’s not a bad thing. The MUSH market certainly has a lot of room for energy savings. And federal-stimulus dollars and state clean energy funds are available now particularly for government-backed institutions.

Fewer financial incentives are available for businesses. But even when money is offered, small to medium-size businesses are harder to sell on energy efficiency, especially now.  Even if an energy efficiency project offers a quick payback, businesses are reticent to make any initial capital investment. Or in a lot of cases, it’s hard for energy efficiency companies to even get a meeting with busy business people, especially in an economy that has left so many paddling furiously to stay above water.

The state of New York is attempting to crack the business market. One program, funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), tries to make it easier for small businesses to analyze building energy usage.

Few best-of-class monitoring technologies exist for the small business market. But the project uses a combination of inexpensive Onset data loggers and NorthWrite’s Energy Expert Plus, an information management software and service that gathers, analyzes and displays data about a building’s energy performance. The monitoring systems feed the information into NorthWrite software, where it is modeled with inputs, such as utility rates, weather and building characteristics.  An analyst studies the report and provides the building manager with recommendations on energy upgrades that will achieve 10% to 15% annual energy savings. Next, NorthWrite connects building managers with NYSERDA-approved contractors that can make the energy improvements.

“What we are providing with NorthWrite MBCx is a service,” said Terrence McManus, NorthWrite’s chief marketing officer. “Building managers could attempt to use these tools independently, but they do not have the time to learn what all the data means. They are already short-handed and responding to tenants needs. This turn-key service makes it easier for them to move forward with energy efficiency measures that provide a quick pay back.”

So that’s one example of an attempt to make it easier for businesses to pursue energy efficiency. I’m guessing there are many similar stories out there. Do you have one? If so, please post it in the comment section here.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

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