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Welcome New Expert Interview Series: Gary Hilberg, President of Continuum Energy and New Expert in the Energy Efficiency Community

Energy Central

Among the most valuable parts of Energy Central is the network of experts from which the entire community benefits. Experts are identified as power industry professionals in the ranks of the Energy Central community who have many years of experience, deep knowledge of the industry, and who can provide unparalleled insights through the content they share, the discussion in which they engage, and the questions they answer.

The Community Team at Energy Central identifies high value community members and contributors who would make great experts, vets their qualifications, and discusses whether being an expert would be the right fit for them, as something that brings high-quality skills and knowledge from which the rest of us can benefit.

As this community of experts continues to expand, we’re eager to start highlighting these rock stars of the utility industry who are sitting here as your peers in the Energy Central Community, and that starts with the first in our series entitled Welcome New Expert Interview Series. As a part of this series, we’ll start regularly publishing a profile/interview of some of these recently joined experts so you, the community, have full understanding of just how much value these experts can bring and encourage you to reach out to and engage with them as you come across them through the Energy Central platform.

To kick off this series, I’d like to introduce Gary Hilberg to the Energy Efficiency Group. Gary is the President of Continuum Energy, a technology company focused on sustainable energy and technology commercialization. While he only joined Energy Central in the beginning of August, regular readers of Energy Central will already recognize him from the insights he’s already started sharing in discussions throughout various communities. But who is Gary and what’s his outlook on Energy Central and the energy efficiency industry? Well, keep reading for the conversation he and I shared to find out—and if you want to know more be sure to find him around the community to say hi and even pick his brain!

Matt Chester: We’re excited to have you as an official expert in Energy Centrals’ Energy Efficiency Community, Gary. Can you start by giving our community members an overview of your background and experience? What has led to you becoming an authoritative and leading voice in the utility industry, and specifically in energy efficiency?

Gary Hilberg: For me, my energy education started in college. As a Chemical Engineer, we studied systems using mass and energy balances and basic thermodynamics. I continue to be amazed how these basic skills are critical to our segment, the energy uses can exceed the energy put in and ignoring the waste is losing value.

My career progressed from the Nuclear Navy to the gas turbine power plant side and then in 2002 I joined TAS Energy. TAS was focused on energy augmentation and large-scale cooling for buildings, data centers, and industrials. This is where the focus on commercial and industrial cooling started. We found that most customers did not even measure their energy use by application and as such did not invest the capital in the equipment that could save them energy. When dealing with industrial customers we found a willingness to invest in efficiency since energy efficiency projects had a proven record of success, but this was not universal.

Around 2010, we started supplying equipment to large-scale data centers and found customers that were and continue to be hyper-focused on energy usage. These customers measure the full life cycle value of their equipment and operating decisions. This focus has improved the energy efficiency of that industry by a factor of 5 to 10, adding tremendous business and environmental value particularly with the huge growth in that segment. This experience has highlighted to me that energy efficiency can be more than a cost savings but also an enabler of business growth. 

 

MC: What do you see as the most important story in the world of energy efficiency in the next few years, whether that’s a specific technology, public policy, utility program, or something else? What has you most excited and optimistic?

GH: A driving force in some areas is the end user and consumer engagement. This engagement is forcing and enabling large entities to invest in efficiency and get a quick benefit, especially when combined with the proven longer-term financial benefits of efficiency. Some segments, particularly the renewables, have done a great job of end user engagement driving corporations into organizations like the RE100 when firms are committing new investment dollars directly to renewable energy development. Also, we are seeing the willingness of end users to invest in expensive residential solar panels with extremely long paybacks. Energy efficiency needs this type of engagement, programs like LEED and Energy Star have made some headway in corporations mandating more efficient building and facilities, but nothing like the success in renewables. Since our energy economy is only 33% efficient, the first, cheapest, and best step to a cleaner world is to improve our efficiency!

MC: If you had a massively large pot of money, let’s say $1 billion, that you were given and instructed to use in a way that would advance energy efficiency across the utility industry, how would you invest those funds?

GH: With the aging U.S. infrastructure, we really need a proven path to upgrade our infrastructure at scale. Building new facilities, offices, and homes in an energy-efficient manner can be easy, yet we don’t do it, but upgrading existing infrastructure is hard. I think we need to focus on a single area and provide financing, technology evaluation, and project management for best-in-class upgrades across all the type of infrastructure, including commercial office, industrial, and residential, while measuring the before and after impacts to show the savings. We should even include utility upgrades scaled for the improved usage profiles. With the right choices, the savings generated would prove that energy efficiency pays back, and a tight focus of resources would provide the technology, economic, and project management skills to reduce the evaluation and implementation costs, while also providing the political support. Then market the benefits for other communities, utilities, and more.

 

MC: In addition to looking forward and speculating about the future of energy efficiency, it’s often important to look backwards for lessons learned. If you had to come up with a past, existing energy efficiency program or technology that’s a great example of the road map for others to follow, what would that be? And on the other side, can you think of an example of an energy efficiency technology, program, or strategy that didn’t deliver on its promise but provides lessons learned on the type of pitfalls to avoid moving forward?

GH: ENERGY STAR is a program that improved energy usage across a tremendous range of products. Consumers and end users have trusted branding that is focused on better energy use. The end result has added value to our economy at all levels without being too intrusive. This is one of the contributing factors to residential energy usage remaining flat over the past 10 years while U.S. population has increased by almost 10%.

Instead of a failure, I will point out an issue that we have to overcome “dislocated agency,” in many cases where the owner of the facility, building, or residential unit is not the direct user who pays for the energy. This makes investment in efficiency very difficult as they do not benefit from the reduced energy usage. Similar to a distribution utility, when efficiency works, demand is reduced and then revenue can be reduced. PUC’s have tried to address this with some programs, but they seem to be difficult to implement and manage. 

 

MC: Lastly, what brought you to Energy Central and compelled you to provide value to the community by being an official expert? What do you hope to get out of this platform?

GH: The engagement by the subscribers is a great attribute of Energy Central. The ability to comment on existing threads and generate new threads based on different starting points, whether articles, links, or something else, is also very powerful. It’s good to have a diverse platform for information exchange and learning. 

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So, that’s our first ‘Welcome New Expert’ interview in the books! Keep an eye out for Gary across Energy Central, as he’s dived headfirst into engaging with fellow community members and sharing his knowledge. Be sure to say hi, welcome him to the community, and reach out to him with any energy efficiency questions or general expert questions that you may have.

And if you’re wondering about the existing experts who have already been helping Energy Central’s community for months or even years, worry not—we’ll shortly be kicking off our weekly series on existing experts as well. While we’ll host a ‘new expert’ interview whenever someone newly joins the ranks of expert, we’re looking to also introduce you more closely and tightly with our astounding existing network of experts with the weekly interview series entitled ‘Getting to Know Your Experts.’ So look out for that coming soon!

And last but not least, if you are interesting in becoming an expert, reach out to someone on the Energy Central community team (such as yours truly) or you can apply here.

Matt Chester's picture

Thank Matt for the Post!

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Discussions

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Aug 23, 2019 12:45 pm GMT

Welcome Gary - we are glad to have you as an expert on the site.  I am looking forward to growing the Energy Efficiency community and together solving problems that help the industry!  

Tony Carrino's picture
Tony Carrino on Aug 26, 2019 12:29 pm GMT

Good interview about building and equipment energy efficiency, Gary.   It makes us realize that we have done some good work on the demand side. Starting at the residential user level, by replacing conventional lighting with CFL and then LED, by choosing our appliance replacements watching those stickers that rate the average annual energy consumption, we have chosen more wisely.  We also know that commercial office and factory energy usage is monitored and controlled better each year. Gary makes an excellent point, there is still plenty of room for improvement in energy efficiency on the demand side.

At the same time, on the production side, we cycle conventional generation up from turning gear, no-load, consuming start-up fuel to meet demand behind intermittent resources, load following, and then off-line again, both ways through the worst part of the Heat Rate curve. 

So a logical question is, how much of the efficiency gains made on the demand side are being wiped out on the supply side? Does the no-fuel renewables production make up for the increased fuel consumption of cycling and load-following of back-up generation? I think I need to look into that...

Thanks for some thought-provoking material, Gary!

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