I remind and inform people from time to time that my career in this industry consists of three distinct eras. In the first era, lasting about five years, I was running, climbing, crawling, and digging around in commercial and industrial facilities for comprehensive energy assessments and studies. This included gobs of energy analyses, simulations, and fairly complex cost estimating. The second era included essentially mentoring others to do the same, plus reviewing thousands of calculations and hundreds of reports. The third includes business development, program development, implementation, and evaluation – with a much grander view of the industry. In the process, I have had the fantastic experience of getting to know other energy efficiency professionals and more about what they do. The challenge is daunting but who wants it any other way?
Energy efficiency professionals comprise an enormous range of academic and career backgrounds when one considers program managers, administrators, process and impact evaluators, regulators, field staff, and technical support. Unfortunately, there is often bias and cynicism and misunderstanding between one pedigree of professionals and another, and this, in general, is the result of ignorance, as in lack of knowledge, not stupidity.
Starry Eyed Engineer
Consider engineering. Engineers coming out of school, probably like non-engineers, have stereotypes of what engineers do. They design cars, airplanes, and bridges. They test things until they fail. The fact is, very few engineers actually do those things and my saying for new grads: They don’t know what they want to do anyway, even if they think they do. That was my experience, and I have observed it many times interviewing these youngsters. “You want to design an air conditioning unit?” No. You will be stuck designing a mount for a compressor in a crappy rooftop unit and that will take months – designing a stupid stamped out piece of metal. Thankfully, this gives some people a great thrill.
Zeroing in to engineers serving the energy efficiency industry: this is my definition of engineering: if the task at hand requires an engineer to do the job, it is engineering. Many times the task at hand may seem boring or trivial but is as important and requires similar expertise, just in an unrelated track. For example, consider energy efficiency consulting for the design of a major ammonia refrigeration retrofit project versus review of a technical reference manual. I am guessing the typical engineer in a firm like ours with dozens of engineers would think, “Dude, the ammonia project is cool and the technical reference manual is for wimps”. Let me put that statement into layperson terms, “We play real football in the US compared to your wimpy brand in Spain, Italy, Brazil, et al.”
For the engineer, both require engineering and attention to detail. One requires more in-depth technical expertise and the other requires broader technical expertise, as well as applicability to other stakeholders – like strength versus endurance. Like American football versus world football: strength and speed versus endurance and a broader skill set. Moreover, like world football, technical reference manuals appeal to and are of much greater interest to a much larger swath of energy efficiency professionals. What people like and consider “real” depends on their perspective.
Stepping outside the relatively small engineering aspects of energy efficiency, we have marketing, outreach, integration with supply-side markets, process evaluation, and planning to name a few. I have experienced many times the treating of the other guys’ job as needless, a nuisance, not worth it or even worthless.
For example, some program implementers don’t like evaluators. I was attending a conference session one time while an executive from a large program implementation company was giving an evaluator on his panel the jazz. Everyone knows of instances where a guy leads on as if he’s joking, but not really. Between the chuckles and grins there is a serious punch in the gut.
The Machine Moves; Parts Alone Do Not
The fact is, there are many critical moving parts to the energy efficiency industry and many, if not most, stakeholders naturally think their piece is the most important because that is what they understand and generally have a passion for. But consider:
- Without engineering, impacts are unknown and many times un or under-realized
- Without marketing, nothing happens
- Without evaluation, things would veer into the world of Alice in Wonderland tomorrow
- Without regulation, there would be no programs to drive energy efficiency as a viable alternative to adding supply in willy nilly fashion
- Without programs, there would be no free riders; there would be
no riders at all