Energy Efficiency: A Key Component of U.S. Competitiveness
With the rising cost and variability of energy, many U.S. companies are looking for ways to cut their energy costs and improve their long-term competitiveness. Responding to this challenge, the International Trade Administration (ITA) recently organized a Forum on Energy Efficiency in Manufacturing to underscore the available resources both state and federal governments provide to help companies be more efficient.
by Ryan Mulholland
Energy efficiency, long considered the low-hanging fruit of the global energy challenge, represents not only the largest opportunity to increase energy security and limit carbon dioxide emissions, but also the lowest-cost option to improve sustainability. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, more than $300 billion is invested in energy efficiency every year in the United States—a number that could grow to $700 billion by 2030. Billions more will be invested around the world, particularly in China and other developing countries.
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|A visit to the University of Toledo’s Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator was part of the recent Forum on Energy Efficiency in Manufacturing, a one-day event organized by the Department of Commerce. The event was part of the department’s effort to promote the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. (photo courtesy University of Toledo)
Many small and medium-sized companies struggle with the often onerous upfront cost of efficiency upgrades, and even large companies continue to disassociate energy decisions from corporate governance. By strategically incorporating energy-efficiency improvements into production and business planning, U.S. manufacturers can increase cost savings, raise productivity, and improve their competitiveness throughout the global marketplace.
Outreach to the Private Sector
Taking this message directly to industry, ITA recently organized a Forum on Energy Efficiency in Manufacturing to help manufacturers learn about the resources available from state and federal governments to promote efficiency. The forum was part of an ITA Energy Efficiency Initiative focused on promoting the use and commercial deployment of energy efficient technologies. The one-day event was held September 21 in Toledo, Ohio, and attracted 86 participants. Toledo was chosen because of the city’s efforts to reinvigorate its manufacturing industry by taking a leadership role in developing the clean and efficient industries of tomorrow.
The forum was hosted by Owens Corning at its world headquarters and included presentations by the ITA’s Office of Energy and Environmental Industries, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program, and the Environmental Protection Administration’s Industrial Energy Star Program. Additional speakers came from the state of Ohio Energy Office, Ford Motor Company, Eaton Technologies, Rockwell Automation, North Star BlueScope Steel, and Energy Industries of Ohio.
Energy Efficiency and Job Growth
Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services Mary Saunders introduced the event and moderated two panel discussions. Saunders told the audience that energy efficiency “represents a key component of the Obama administration’s national strategy to support job growth,” adding that “With efficiency, you don't have to depend on scientific breakthroughs or engineering miracles. You don’t need to wait for economies of scale so efficiency can compete with other energy alternatives. In fact, an upfront investment in efficiency is often much cheaper than investments in new supply. And it is immune to the troubling vagaries of the energy market. Efficiency is merely a way of maximizing the amount of energy you get from existing sources.”
Rep. Marcy Kaptur also participated in the event, telling participants that energy efficiency and clean energy are the keys to Toledo’s future. She also congratulated Owens Corning on winning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Partner Award.
A “Checklist for Corporate Energy Efficiency” prepared by ITA industry specialists was made available to forum participants. It outlines 10 steps to greater energy efficiency, with links to help with each step.
Following the morning discussion and a keynote address from Owens Corning’s chief sustainability officer, forum participants visited the Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator at the University of Toledo. The incubator gives alternative energy companies the ability to develop into growing enterprises through consulting, technology development, and financial planning from the university’s staff.
Currently, the incubator has 11 clients and 6 graduates. It hosts eight centers—most notably the Wright Center for Photovoltaic Innovation and Commercialization, an $18.6 million state grant–based program to help commercialization and supply chain development of the solar industry in Ohio.
The Forum on Energy Efficiency in Manufacturing continued an ongoing commitment by the Department of Commerce to promote energy efficiency as a competitiveness tool for U.S. industry. As part of this effort, the department’s Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative has led four so-called “SMART Tours” (Sustainable Manufacturing American Regional Tours) in cities around the country, focusing on different aspects of sustainability. In addition, ITA will host a roundtable on energy and manufacturing on October 20 in Washington, D.C., to discuss ways to reduce energy consumption and improve the long-term competitiveness of U.S. industry.
Ryan Mulholland is an international trade specialist in the Manufacturing and Services unit of the International Trade Administration.