Economic Recovery and the Clean Energy Revolution

Companies, non-profits, government organizations, healthcare facilities, and institutions of higher learning will soon look beyond survival to recovery, and eventually growth. It may be difficult to visualize this given our current state of affairs, but this too shall pass and better times will come. Our culture has seemingly lost its ability to think and plan for the long-term; priorities, politics, and results are driven by short-term metrics. As such, I believe that we should use this opportunity to reinvent, rethink, and rebuild with the following attributes in mind: organizational resiliency, serving the common good, equability, and sustainability.

Sure, this all sounds great. But what do you mean?

I tend to think of nearly every problem (opportunity) in terms of the Pareto Principle, better known as The 80/20 Rule. It asserts that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes for any given event. In business, for example, the goal is to identify what actions or inputs are most productive and prioritize them accordingly.

The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule

So, as it pertains to this concept, I believe there are two inputs we should focus on with respect to economic recovery, arguably the biggest global challenges of our time (COVID-19 + climate change), and the attributes I mentioned earlier (Resiliency, serving the common good, equability, and sustainability). Speaking broadly, they are 1.) Energy and 2.) Health.

No, seriously. I get it. Give me specifics.

OK, first we need to deal with the public health crisis at hand. Social distancing, wearing masks, and limiting travel — these practices are already in play and are driven by behavior. But the one thing we can do to make people feel more comfortable returning to our prior norms, such as returning to work, shopping, eating at restaurants, etc. is to invest in the health of our buildings. By focusing on healthy buildings (HBs), we will not only make people feel comfortable, we can actually help reduce the spread of the virus, let alone make ourselves more productive. This leaves our employees, customers, and any other stakeholders feeling better and more productive.

So, what constitutes a healthy building?

Sick building showing indoor air quality

First, seek to understand both sick building syndrome (SBS) and building related illnesses (BRI). As defined by the EPA, SBS is a situation in which occupants experience acute health and comfort effects linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. Indicators are discomfort such as headaches; irritated eye, nose, or throat; coughing; dry or itchy skin; nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. Complainants report relief soon after leaving the building. Physical evidence within the building itself includes an incoming draft at the front door; hot or cold spots throughout the facility; condensation on ceiling diffusers; slippery floors; mold; hard to open doors; stuffy or stale air; unpleasant odors; the presence of insects and/or dirt; and high energy expenses. BRI is indicated by occupants complaining of symptoms such as cough; chest tightness; fever, chills; and muscle aches. These can be clinically defined and require prolonged recovery, long after leaving the building.

Holy cow. I hadn’t thought of all this being related to buildings. What are the primary causes of SBS and BRI?

Poor HVAC performance such as inadequate ventilation and negative building pressure.

OK so, how can I invest to make my building healthy as you suggest?

This is a loaded question. There are A LOT of things you can do. I’ll try to keep this brief.

First and foremost, make sure the HVAC system has been well maintained. And think about the health issues described above. Are these currently problems? If not, you may not need to do much, though there’s certainly always room for improvement. If these are problems, consider consulting with an expert on HVAC and healthy buildings. Make sure they’re independent of whomever is responsible for your maintenance and certified to do so. They’ll likely perform an investigation and assessment on the HVAC system, as well as indoor air quality. The factors to be evaluated (and adjusted) on the HVAC system include but aren’t limited to verifying equipment operation; checking building pressure; inspecting filters, belts, and fans; and finally asking questions about comfort. The primary factors that influence indoor air quality are the occupants; the HVAC system; pollutants and their pathways; and internal and external contaminants such as chemicals, smoke, grease, molds, and pollen.

After these initial assessments are complete and adjustments made, get some form of system to monitor building health. Think of these monitors like having a FitBit for your building; empower yourself with data to maintain proper health. There are plenty of options out there and what you install should monitor some of the following attributes: differential building pressure (the #1 indicator of overall building health); C02; relative humidity; and temperature. Monitoring these core attributes will cover the 80/20. Other important, albeit less impactful, attributes to monitor may include volatile organic compounds, water quality, noise pollution, occupancy, lighting quality, and energy usage.

Building health alone covers more ground than I imagined. But you also mentioned energy. What can I do there?

Invest in Energy Efficiency (EE), Renewable Energy (RE), and Clean Energy Transportation (electric vehicles or EVs).

Why? And, how does this relate to helping with economic recovery?

There are a number of reasons. Quite honestly, too many to cover without writing a book. So, again, I’ll focus on the 80/20.

The first, and most pressing is economic opportunity. Energy, and the cost of it, flows through everything. Think about that. The cost. of. energy. flows. through. everything. As far as EE goes, the cost of energy saved is the lowest cost of energy. This is a no-brainer with a guaranteed ROI. Further, the cost of RE is at or below the cost of traditional fossil-fuel based sources, depending on the state, scale, and application. And EE, RE, and EVs are driven by technology — not sources of fuel. In terms of economic growth, every measure of kWh or BTU saved by EE or generated domestically by RE translates into wealth we are not exporting to foreign nations. In other words, we keep more of our own money, thus further strengthening our own economy. Put that into perspective, relative to the cost of energy, which is buried in the cost of… oh yeah, EVERYTHING!

Making the transition is a moral imperative. The science is clear and indisputable. We are harming our earth. If we do not reverse course, soon, the damage will be irrecoverable. Remember how quickly COVID-19 swept the globe and how we’re still reeling from its devastating impacts. Climate change is a crisis in slow motion. Yet, unlike this virus and the subsequent public health crisis, the impact will change the face of the earth — and humanity —forever. I cannot, in good conscience, put that burden on my children and grandchildren. We have borrowed at their expense for far too long.

Making the transition is a matter of national security. How many global conflicts have been fought over the allocation of natural resources? This strategy not only protects the lives of future generations through preserving the earth but, quite literally, may prevent them from fighting avoidable wars. When we leverage technology for our energy, we are not subject to the whims of foreign nations and their strategic interests. As the world seems increasingly less stable, this also seems like a no-brainer, let alone the cost savings relative to current military spending. Simply put, an investment in clean energy is an investment in our own national security.

Finally, consider how the industrial revolutions of the past have shaped our great nation: the emergence of water, steam, and coal as sources of power and how they expanded existing or developed new industries such as railroads, steel manufacturing, electric lighting, the automotive industry, transportation, and the digital revolution — which brought forth widespread globalization, low-cost economies, and new business models. What is next? I contend we are in the beginning of the Clean Energy Revolution. And when we have the benefit of hindsight, I truly believe it will dwarf those prior examples in terms of how it changes the world. Do we want to be the leaders of this revolution? Or will we continue to cede this opportunity to other nations to embrace? And, if we do not lead this New Age, what’s next for America? I can’t think of anything that compares. Let’s dismiss coal and oil to embrace the future. The potential for job growth and opportunities for continued innovation are beyond comprehension.

It is abundantly clear that investing in Clean Energy will make our great nation more resilient, equitable, sustainable, and resilient. Much like Google didn’t build its empire with fax machines, we won’t rebuild our economy by relying on fossil fuels. We cannot subsidize our way out of this. So, let us learn from our current crisis as we begin planning for a better future. None of us can carry the world on our shoulders. But we can carry our world on our shoulders. If we can do our part individually, collectively we can make America — let alone the world — a better place if not for ourselves, then for future generations.

Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: Fighting Climate Change with a One-Two Punch

To invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy? A question often pondered by building owners, design engineers, investors, energy engineers, performance contractors, and anyone in between who has a say deciding how to invest money to make the strongest financial and environmental impacts. In an ideal scenario, one can invest in both efficiency and renewable energy.

Integrating Efficiency and Renewable Energy

When it comes to the materials we use in everyday life, we have all heard the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Well, there is a reason why reduction is mentioned first! It can be argued that the most sustainable energy source available is the energy that we never have to use.

Of course, there will always be energy used no matter how efficient a building is. But, in the energy spectrum, renewables reduce the cost for the electricity that must be used. Renewables also offer many other benefits, such as protection against fluctuating energy costs, incentives like federal tax credits, net metering, shaded parking lots… the list could keep going. And research confirms that investing in both energy efficiency options and renewable energy is a smart move. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) collaborated in a 2007 study, reporting that investments in both energy efficiency and renewable energy are essential for the United States to create a secure energy future.   

Boxing gloves

Creating an Energy Synergy

Think about it like this… If a boxer has a great right hook but a poor defense, he may win some fights but could easily lose to an opponent with a solid defense and a timely counterpunch. Combining two strengths to be stronger overall is called synergy. That is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When energy efficiency and renewable energy are combined, they complement each other in a way that can maximize the total impact, both environmentally and economically. Consider this…

Right hook: An upgraded utility plan to reduce HVAC costs.

Left jab: Intelli-Hood®, Melink’s demand control kitchen ventilation system to further reduce HVAC costs.

And for the knock-out uppercut: A solar array made of super-efficient photovoltaic modules that meets the entire energy load of the building (taking into account the reduced energy usage from the previous energy efficiency measures).

And what’s even more of a win? By reducing the facility’s entire energy load, the upfront cost of the solar array is reduced. Plus, the quick payback as a result of the energy efficiency measures creates additional cashflow to help pay for a renewable energy source, like solar array (or even geothermal!).

Accounting for Energy Opponents

But what if? Let’s say that the uppercut was blocked in this scenario because, in many cases, the availability of renewable energy is limited due to geography and available space. For example, in the hills and valleys of Southern Ohio, wind energy is not going to be near as effective as compared to the plains of Northwest Texas.

Or, while solar performs well in Ohio, a building could have very limited space for an array. For the counterpunch here, one could implement new energy efficiency technologies and maximize efficiencies on existing equipment. Then, for the knockout, a smaller solar array like a parking canopy could still be very impactful.

The bottom line? There are many options at play when it comes to the powerful combo of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Together, this combo helps to reduce peak demand charges, which can be astronomically higher than off-peak charges. For example, if a new energy-efficient HVAC system is added to an office building, that building will still see high peak demand charges (although lower than before the upgrade) from the utility. However, capturing a renewable energy source, like wind or solar, can greatly reduce the impact of peak demand charges.

Renewable energy wind turbine power

Winning the Fight on Climate Change

In summary, combining energy efficiency and renewable energy delivers the greatest environmental and economic benefits. Melink Corporation can help building owners, engineers, and designers with both energy efficiency and renewable solutions. We know this combination works from experience, too. With our own Zero Energy Building and another LEED Platinum building, Melink does not just talk the talk, we walk the walk.

Contact us today to protect your business from the volatile energy market, commit to sustainability, reduce utility costs, and fight climate change.

Melink 2025 Pledge

Happy Earth Day 2020!  Though we are living through a pandemic that is killing thousands, sickening millions, and affecting billions of jobs, we need to have a vision and purpose beyond this time that gives us hope for a better world.

Earth Day gives us the permission to think big again and to imagine the bold goals we have long supported finally being implemented and realized.  However, since government often lags rather than leads when it comes to the environment, we need individual action more than ever.

Sure, the clean energy movement is well underway.  Countless government, business, and education leaders are investing in solar and wind farms across the United States and around the world. Electric cars and batteries are slowly but surely going mainstream.

But certain headwinds are preventing this clean energy movement from becoming a revolution.  Yes, the current administration is one of them.  And the fossil fuel industry and climate change deniers are another. And, to some extent, so are you and me.

How many of us complain about someone else not doing their part to lead on climate action, and then fail to do so ourselves?  For example, is every one of us buying clean energy from our utility? And is every one of us at least planning to upgrade to an electric car in the future?      

It is in this spirit that I make the Melink 2025 Pledge. Though our company has long been a pioneer and leader in clean energy solutions and Zero-Energy buildings, we have typically allowed our employees to make personal choices that run counter to our mission.

Now that we are an ESOP and every employee is an owner, it is more incumbent than ever for us to walk the talk on our vision and mission. The world already has enough headwinds. But Melink shall continue to lead and live up to its calling even during the hardest times.

Melink 2025 Pledge

  • Every Melink employee-owner shall select the clean power option from his/her utility. (The average monthly cost of doing this is a Starbucks cup of coffee).

  • Every Melink employee-owner shall drive an electric car using clean energy. (Our EV incentive, leasing program, and lower market prices should make this possible).

  • Melink Corporation shall give everyone five years to transition to this commitment. If there are personal financial reasons preventing this, we will support him/her.

To further leverage this pledge, we ask that other local, regional, and national partners or stakeholders join us.  It’s a small premium to do the right thing, and it’s getting smaller every day.  Let’s create more demand so that in five years it’s cheaper than doing the wrong thing. Like the pandemic and any war, we can only win if we all do our small part. Let’s create a better world for our children and grandchildren — all of us, together.      

Sincerely,

Steve Melink signature

Steve Melink
Chairman & CEO
Melink Corporation

 

Is the Coronavirus Affecting Climate Change?

Internationally, the coronavirus has impacted many aspects of our world, from the economy and our spending habits to our jobs and everyday routines. But what about our climate? Yes, our ecological environment has been largely affected by COVID-19, too.

Decreased Greenhouse Gas Emissions

While COVID-19 has spread globally, governments have been forced to initiate social distancing and stay-at-home orders in an effort to stop the spread. These lockdowns have caused many industries and individuals to cease production and travel, causing a ripple affect in greenhouse gas emissions. Countries across the world are experiencing a drastic drop in greenhouse gas emissions, according to an article from the BBC. In fact, China has experienced a decrease by 25% in CO2 emissions. In the United States, New York has seen a decrease as low as 50% in CO2 emissions. Other major countries seeing similar decreases in CO2 and NO2 emissions include Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

While this decrease appears to be some much-needed good news during the pandemic, scientists and ecological specialists are skeptical that these drops in emissions are going to have any lasting effects. If these drops in emissions are caused from a decrease in manufacturing and travel, then what will happen after the virus has been contained, when production increases and daily travel routines return?

“The fight against pollution is a long-distance race, not a sprint,” said Xavier Querol, a science researcher specialized in atmospheric pollution. Essentially, this means the sudden drops in emissions happening across the globe are temporary and if we truly want to see a lasting positive effect in greenhouse gas emissions, we must look to other solutions.

A Closer Look at Energy Consumption

The majority of greenhouse gas emissions (72%) can be attributed to energy. Of that 72%, the manufacturing and transportation sectors together make up 27.7%, which is the main contributor to the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions that are being experienced around the world due to COVID-19 restrictions.

However, it is not feasible to assume that these emission levels are going to remain where they are once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Therefore, we must look to the highest contributor of energy consumption, which is electricity and heat, and find solutions to decrease emissions.

Currently, there are many companies creating technology to support the goals of lowering emissions, slowing climate change, and lowering energy consumption. Melink Corporation, a leader in Zero-Energy buildings, offers five energy solutions to help create healthy buildings and lower energy consumption:

Each one of these services not only helps to create a sustainable world for future generations but also serves as a cost-saving opportunity for businesses to implement.

Coronavirus and Climate Change

In summary, what is coronavirus teaching us about how to decrease climate change? Well, that’s a loaded question that cannot be answered fully. But the solution starts with decision makers, business owners/operators, and individual consumers. If any good can come from this pandemic, maybe it’s how our perspective is changing. Now, perhaps more than ever, we see the importance of preserving this world that we all know and love — not just maintaining our current environment — and ensuring future generations are set up for success. We can do better when it comes to climate change, whether coronavirus is in the picture or not.

Beyond the Pandemic — Shifting to Sustainable, Clean Energy

As devastating as COVID-19 has been, there’s a different lens from which we can view its effect on the world. How can businesses become more resilient? While it’s hard not to focus on just the next few months, it’s important to think about the kind of world we want to live in after this crisis ends.

One immutable constant is great leaders always want to prosper. Despite whatever challenges, they will continue to seek opportunities to grow their top and bottom lines. They will continue to build their brands and organizations for long term success.

Given you may be one of these leaders, there’s a growing secret across the U.S. and around the world. Solar power is slowly but surely becoming the way of the future – and businesses are primed to reap the benefits. If you sense shifting to clean energy is an intimidating undertaking, the following points should empower you more than anything.

Ballasted mount on flat roof for solar power

Reasons to Consider Clean Energy

#1 Reduce Electricity Costs and Invest in Long-Term Savings
Using solar will lower the costs on your electric bill. Sure, the initial cost to install solar may be your biggest barrier. However, if you account for your average monthly electric bill cost, and budget for that expense on an annualized basis – after five, 10, 15, 20 years, the amount paid to the utility is a daunting reality that can be mitigated. Not to mention we should also factor in future rate increases over a 30-year period. The return on investment and savings over the lifespan of a solar panel system, depending on your energy consumption and the estimated production of the system, is a factor worth considering.  

#2 Hedge Against Volatile Energy Costs
Purchasing solar can be much like investing in insurance. People pay for insurance because of the uncertainties of accident, injury, or death. Similarly, there are unknowns about the price of electricity through your utility and what it will cost down the road. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over the last decade, the average price of electricity has increased about 4.6%. However, over those ten years, the standard deviation of commercial electricity prices was 0.24%. This signifies the great variability of energy costs over the last decade. Instead of relying on the ever-changing lows and highs of electric power prices, you can create a more predictable budget by locking into your rate for solar. Investing in solar can help companies avoid rising energy costs, and the uncertainty that comes with depending on power from the grid. 

#3 Boost Public Relations and Attract Talent
As more and more companies switch to clean energy solutions, they further enhance their brands. In an article by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, they indicate how practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reaps multiple benefits, such as engaged employees, loyal customers, and positive public attention. In fact, it’s a purchase driver for many. “In a Nielson survey, 66% of participants said they pay more for products and services from socially responsible companies.” People are simply targeting more businesses that strive for better Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) practices. It captures the interest of younger generations, brings talent, and drives morale within the workforce. Internally and externally, people are motivated by businesses that look out for the greater good.

#4 Improve Your Property Value
Think about buying and owning a house. There are various ways in which one can invest in its worth and longevity. Perhaps it’s an addition that makes the house more attractive. These investments should increase the value of your home or building when you go to sell it. People decide to stop renting because, well…it’s money down the drain. Like buying a house, when you purchase solar, you become an owner of your electric bills. Just like renovations maximize a home’s value, installing solar and producing your own energy appeals to buyers, employees, and consumers alike. An article from Money.com references a study provided by Zillow: “On average, solar panels raise a home’s value by 4.1% across the U.S. — that’s a boost of $9,274 on a $226,300 home.” Even more so with larger buildings, there’s always going to be operation costs that go into running a facility. Just like the importance of fixing a leak or fine-tuning the plumbing, investing in solar relieves the long-term expenses of running a commercial building, thus making it more valuable. 

#5 Commit to Sustainability
There’s no way to avoid it. Helping the environment and leaving the Earth in better condition for future generations is a driving force for companies to consider clean energy. Businesses now have a duty to pay attention to CSR. In an article published by RE100, numerous companies are taking action — and explain why:
IKEA has committed to “generate as much renewable energy as the total energy it consumes in its operations by 2020, as well as to consume 100% renewable electricity by 2025.” Why is that their goal? “(Our) investments into wind and solar energy generation contribute to the shift to a low carbon economy and, from a business perspective, help to secure our future as we become energy independent,” says Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer.
AB InBev recognizes that the “shift to renewables has the potential to drive a remarkable transformation in infrastructure, not only in the U.S. and Europe but also across emerging nations around the world. They have “pledged to secure 100% of purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025,” says Brian Perkins, Global VP Budweiser.
Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Strategist, Rob Bernard, makes a strong statement when asked why the company wanted to be 100% powered by renewables (achieved in 2014): “We believe there is a clear and urgent need for society to address climate change, and we recognize that our responsibility begins with our own actions. We are working to consistently reduce our carbon footprint, and we are committed to taking significant action to shape our energy future by developing clean, low-cost sources.”

Investing in solar is a commitment to cleaner air and a brighter future. It’s a commitment to not only maintain the health of our planet but to sustain the economy.

Section 201 Commercial Solar Panel Insstallation

Is Clean Energy Worth the Investment?

Convinced yet?  If not, compare solar power to other investments that may be in your portfolio.

It has been estimated that the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) – a metric used to quantify the profitability of long-term capital projects – can be greater for solar systems than traditional equity investments in the stock market. Taking into consideration initial installation costs, scale of the project, future electrical price estimates, and so on, calculations for an IRR over a 30-year period typically range between 10-13% for solar, versus 7.4% for the S&P 500.

Of course, it’s important to assess the value of installation, or Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which quantifies the cost of the electricity produced over a solar system’s lifespan – usually up to 30 years. This metric helps directly compare what you would otherwise be paying for utility charges. Again, this is where locking in a predictable rate can be crucial. One can expect to significantly gain from an investment like solar because it provides a solution to fighting rising electrical prices. There’s no longer a need to depend on the utility’s energy costs. 

If you’re a business owner or key decision maker in your company, these should be highly compelling reasons to consider clean energy for your facility footprint.

In times of uncertainty, it’s our responsibility more than ever to fool-proof our infrastructure and buildings to withstand the social and economic costs of pandemics, global warming, and other unpredictable occurrences. Furthermore, there’s a need to think about the greater good of our decisions, their impacts, and what our world can become beyond the pandemic.