President and CEO of GreenPath Energy Solutions
The most intriguing green initiatives are those that not only reduce consumption, but also enhance a business’s bottom line. It is an unbeatable combination – saving money while you save the planet. It is this binary approach that Samuel Graham has taken with his innovative new company, GreenPath Energy Solutions. They provide services and analyses that give answers on how to reduce energy costs in commercial, institutional and governmental buildings. Since many, if not most buildings were not engineered with the latest energy saving and monitoring technology, GreenPath’s energy analysis and solutions can represent remarkable savings.
EW: Explain GreenPath’s business model.
SG: We are essentially “energy experts” who are able to determine, for a building’s owner or a facilities management company, what are the most efficient and cost effective ways to reduce energy use and therefore save money for the organization, while reducing that building’s carbon footprint. Our goal is to transition existing buildings into high performance green buildings.
EW: Before we go further in exploring what you do and how, give me an example of one of the buildings you worked on and the results.
SG: In this region, one of the notables was the Raymond James & Associates corporate headquarters campus in St. Petersburg. We identified 47 energy conservation measures that resulted in annual savings of $504,000.
EW: Impressive. So how is that done?
SG: We do that in several different ways. First we work with the building owners and facility managers by doing an “energy audit.” We take a team that includes a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a certified energy manager and myself (LEED certified); we meet with the facility manager and walk the building, identifying and looking at all the energy consumption systems in the building. We inventory all these systems – electrical, mechanical, etc. – and do a complete analysis to understand the energy consumption of the building. Then we look for energy inefficiencies. We then come back with recommendations to increase efficiency; that is an energy audit.
We also do retro-commissioning. This is analyzing a building’s current use versus the original intended use. Architects design buildings and their systems to support the maximum capacity. That capacity may or may not be reached; they also design based on the intended use at the time, which may have changed. Over the life of a building, the use may change several times, but the systems are not adjusted or tuned for the current usage or occupancy. It is like a car – after 60,000 miles you have to make adjustments to maximize the car’s efficiency. Retro-commissioning adjusts certain mechanical or electrical systems, based on its intended occupancy.
EW: So just like a new building receives a certificate of occupancy, you sort of recertify for energy use?
SG: We call that initial inspection for certificate of occupancy a “commissioning.” It involves commissioning the systems – or testing and balancing them – based on that initial use. The problem is that may have been done 10, 20 or 30 years ago. These buildings are operating, but not at optimum levels.
EW: How did you get started in this field?
SG: I was working in project management as a consultant at the Orlando International Airport; my background is in construction and technology. I saw not only the airport, but also businesses and municipalities that had large portfolios of buildings – which were not their core business – and they were not energy efficient. This was about four years ago and at the same time people were becoming more aware of environmental and energy concerns. I always had a passion for the subject and had studied some scientific papers about how much buildings contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and found they contribute to about 40 percent of the energy use in this country.
EW: You saw a market opportunity, then what?
SG: I began an education process. I got LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED is the gold standard by which you determine if a building is energy efficient. It is a criterion based on the U.S. Green Building Council’s guidelines. An accredited LEED inspector, like me, can examine the building to certify it as, for example, a LEED Gold or LEED Silver building.
EW: Other than the obvious energy savings and the image that LEED certification communicates to the community, are there tax benefits to that designation?
SG: No, though there are incentives provided by the utility suppliers, which are legally mandated, and rebate programs for commercial and residential customers.
Some time ago they realized there is a finite amount of energy that can be produced. Therefore if we don’t reduce consumption we will outgrow the ability of the power plants to keep pace with demand. The cheapest energy is the energy that you don’t use. So they use incentives and rebates to encourage conservation.
EW: Does your company execute the retrofitting?
SG: No, our purpose is to analyze the need. Some customers ask us to develop a “scope of work” where we determine the specifications that they give to a contractor to bid on. I didn’t want to become a construction company.
EW: How fast is this retrofitting industry growing? Is it like putting electricity into buildings in the late 1800s/early 1900s?
SG: Most of this was driven initially by the federal government’s efforts to increase energy efficiency in their buildings, and there are a lot of them. In fact, there were guidelines issued by the President, as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to bring all federal buildings up to certain energy thresholds by a certain date. Then state and local governments followed suit because there were federal grants to meet these guidelines.
As that money began to run out, the corporate side began to engage, with sustainability as a part of their strategy, and is even included many times in their annual reports. Also, their customer base is evaluating their corporate image based on these criteria.
You look at Darden Restaurants headquartered here in Orlando and their corporate facility is LEED certified. This is good corporate stewardship.
To answer your initial question, I would say it is growing 10 to 15 percent a year and I think it is picking up. In addition, municipalities in some regions are mandating that if your building is over a certain square footage threshold (most of them use 50,000 sq. ft.) then you have to have your building benchmarked; you have to disclose your energy consumption. Boston, Austin, Chicago, New York and all of California have passed these standards.
EW: What are the most important things you try to communicate to potential clients or the general public?
SG: We like to remind people that you can’t manage something that you don’t measure. Many times people take utility consumption as a given versus something that you manage. There are very inexpensive web-based tools that will allow you to monitor and manage energy consumption.
By the time most facility managers even see the utility bill, it is 60 to 90 days old, and some managers are looking at bills for a portfolio of 20 or more buildings. Spikes and anomalies aren’t even seen. That behavior by a few employees who come in on the weekend and adjust the thermostat isn’t detected. These tools give you real time data that allows you to see it the next day.