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Panel wants national energy management strategy

Jan 6, 2010 - Elwin Green - Washington Post

A panel of academic, government and business leaders came together yesterday to urge further collaboration toward a comprehensive national energy management strategy that can exploit the potential savings of increased energy efficiency.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., representatives of Bayer MaterialScience LLC, Eaton Corp., the University of Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of Energy described progress being made toward meeting the nation's long-term energy needs.

"Only by working openly and seamlessly with organizations such as academia as well as the government and other industry partners will we be able to meet the challenges of this particular market," said Paul Platte, head of Bayer's EcoCommerical Building Program.

In building design and construction, for example, he said Bayer favors "a holistic approach whereby the walls, if you will, of the construction process are broken down and replaced by an open plan" to employ state-of-the-art building practices.

In such an approach, energy efficiency will be a concern not just for a building's architects and engineers, but for suppliers of building materials, lenders who provide financing and any academic or government agencies that may offer expertise or regulatory direction.

Paul Cody, an Eaton vice president, cited a report released in July by consulting firm McKinsey and Co. that said the United States could save $1.2 trillion by using energy more efficiently.

"We Americans complain about our cost for energy, but we still throw away most of it," he said.

One reason for that, he said, is that efforts at energy efficiency within an organization are typically "highly fragmented," so that no one person within an organization has energy efficiency as his or her highest priority.

Gregory Reed, an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering, said increasing energy demands, regulatory and environmental constraints, and the need to upgrade the nation's aging infrastructure have come together to create "a perfect storm environment" for broad-based change in how Americans use energy.

In addition, he said, nearly 50 percent of the work force in the energy industry will be eligible for retirement within 10 years, creating opportunities for Pitt and other schools to train a new generation of workers in new technologies. Toward that end, Pitt is developing a new curriculum in energy management.

Richard Kidd, program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy's federal energy management program, highlighted an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in October that set energy efficiency goals for the federal government; for instance, by 2030 every new federal building must be "net zero," generating as much energy as it uses.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, all but one of the speakers demurred on the question of whether the nation's new energy landscape should include a tax on carbon emissions.

"It is fair and reasonable to place a value on carbon when you make your economic decisions," Mr. Kidd said. "But even if you value carbon at zero, the energy efficiency improvements generate financial returns, and they make sense."

Elwin Green may be contacted at egreen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969