Preparing for a wild ride

The start of a new year is an excellent time to look at our goals from last year and review what we wanted to achieve, assess our actions and how the surrounding conditions changed, then evaluate our outcomes, plan for the new year and set goals. 2020 was the start of a new decade, and with any planning exercise, it is best to determine your starting point.

To establish an initial energy baseline, Hanson recommends looking at energy efficiency with respect to the statement on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website that “Improving energy efficiency is one of the most constructive and cost-effective ways to address the challenges of high energy prices, energy security and independence, air pollution and global climate change.” As we consider how we will generate sufficient electricity for our ever-growing population and energy needs, we need to establish our energy baseline and employ energy efficiency to reduce how much energy we actually need. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “Buildings consume approximately three-quarters of the electricity used in the United States, and account for 40% of primary energy we use and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions.” The tools for obtaining energy efficiency (e.g., retro-commissioning) help us achieve our efficiency goals and reduce the baseline of energy required for our buildings and campuses.

During the summer, we looked at the next phase of our energy strategy: creating a comprehensive energy roadmap that could help us forecast, prioritize and budget with respect to the energy-related demands of our buildings, processes and transportation requirements. As Bob Knoedler and Imane El Ghazouani stated in our July blog article, an energy roadmap “helps establish goals, policies and procedures for their employees, partners and constituents, improving energy efficiency and encouraging behaviors that save energy and costs.”

Throughout 2020, we were buffeted by unusual conditions that had tremendous effects on our lives, but also on our use of energy and the energy markets. Brent crude oil prices were very strong last January, averaging $64 per barrel, but they closed as low as $9 per barrel in April and went up to over $47 per barrel in late December. Plus, in September, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasted “2.4% less electricity consumption in the United States in 2020 compared with 2019,” which consisted of a greater decrease in electricity use in the commercial and industrial sectors, than the off-setting increase in the residential sector due to people working from home.

In December, the federal omnibus budget bill was passed by Congress and signed by the president. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 included a bipartisan, bicameral agreement (the Energy Act of 2020) that combined the Senate’s American Energy Innovation Act and the House of Representatives’ Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act. This was the first major energy legislation to be enacted by the federal government in over a decade and includes energy-related provisions dealing with renewable energy, building efficiencies, a research and development provision for renewable energy, grid modernization and more.

As we look back at 2020, it was an eventful year that provided a wild ride for energy efficiency and energy planning. However, 2020 was a year of establishing our energy baseline, determining how to reduce the baseline so we will not need to produce as much energy in the future and implementing our plans. As we look ahead to 2021, we see that we have plenty of tools to use as we set goals and continue to plan our energy future. Hopefully, this year will provide a much smoother ride for everyone!

Bill Bradford, P.E., is a senior vice president and Hanson’s energy, sustainability and resiliency principal. He can be reached at bbradford@hanson-inc.com.