Emily O'Connell Systems Efficiency Initiative

It’s time to refresh our thinking on energy efficiency. Over the last 50 years, we’ve made great strides economy wide – manufacturing more fuel efficient vehicles, decreasing energy intensity in household appliances and improving the overall efficiency of homes and buildings.  I’m not suggesting our work is done, certainly there is always opportunity for improvement.  But it’s arguable that we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns when it comes to efficiency standards on many appliances and technologies. This certainly doesn’t mean research and investment should wane – quite the contrary.  Perhaps we just need to take a step back and broaden our thinking to take energy efficiency to the next level.

For example, a state-of-the-art new natural gas commercial boiler will be 98 percent energy efficient, a laudable achievement. However the true value of this new boiler is only as efficient as the pipes, valves and fixtures delivering heat to the building.  If these parts, or the heat delivery “system” complementing the boiler is sub-par, the efficiencies gained by the new boiler can effectively be lost. By focusing our attention on improving the efficiency of systems (the combination of equipment, operations, controls, accessories and means of interconnection that use or deliver energy) we can better design, install and optimize performance to achieve building wide energy efficiency.

“Systems efficiency” is not entirely new – members of the codes and standards community have recognized its potential benefits for some time now. What is new is the current effort to build support for developing and implementing systems-level efficiency standards in cases where this approach would make sense. The American Gas Association is a member of the Alliance to Save Energy and a founding member of the Systems Efficiency Initiative (SEI), a multiyear collaboration between industry and efficiency advocates to investigate and quantify the energy savings potential of a system-level approach. Through SEI, stakeholders from across the building value chain are discussing the untapped potential of systems-level standards as an added tool for improving building efficiency.

In its first year, they released a report entitled Greater than the Sum of its Parts: The Case for a Systems Approach to Energy Efficiency, exploring this shift in thinking and outlining the energy savings opportunities for various building systems with a focus on heating, ventilation, cooling, and lighting systems. Building on the report’s success, the Systems Efficiency Initiative will begin targeted modeling exercises to quantify the savings achieved through a systems approach.  They will be looking at multiple types of systems and even the interaction across systems to demonstrate that efficiency gains are not limited to one aspect or specific system within a building.  This initiative will culminate in the release of a roadmap where the SEI will highlight its findings and proposed recommendations on systems-level efficiency.

AGA continues to be involved in each step along the way and is committed to helping elevate the discussion around energy efficiency to include systems-level thinking. We will continue to keep you updated as the modeling exercises get underway and we learn more about the energy and cost savings potential of systems efficiency.

Emily O'Connell

About Emily O'Connell

As Policy Manager for the American Gas Association, Emily works to support the development of policies and strategies that strengthen the role of natural gas in a sustainable energy future. As part of her responsibilities, Emily seeks to maintain and build alliances with stakeholders across the energy spectrum, including energy efficiency and environmental organizations, research institutions, and the federal government. Prior to joining AGA, Emily served as the manager, federal affairs for America’s Natural Gas Alliance where she advocated for policies favorable to increasing market opportunities for natural gas. She began her career in public affairs at Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, where she worked on behalf of clients in the energy and environmental sector. Emily graduated from Providence College with a B.A. in Political Science and earned her M.A. in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University where she concentrated on Energy and Environmental Security.
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