Editor's note: This article was published in the Record-Eagle's Momentum '19 special publication. For more stories from northern Michigan's economic engine click here to read Momentum in its entirety online.
TRAVERSE CITY — Any business needs energy to operate — but how that energy is utilized makes a big difference in its bottom line.
E Three Inc., based in southern Leelanau County, is a firm that helps private and public operations across Michigan but a dent in their energy costs, reduce their carbon footprint and improve the comfort of the customers and employees in their facilities.
Industry estimates show that commercial and industrial property owners in the U.S. spend just over $200 billion a year for energy. But that up to 30 percent of that total — around $60 billion — is lost through inefficiency. So there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“It’s one of the world’s big concerns — energy. There’s not an infinite supply of it,” said Brian Johnson, the marketing and sales project manager for E Three. “So it’s important how you use it.”
Johnson said his company takes a comprehensive approach to helping companies identify energy-saving opportunities by analyzing all of its systems including manufacturing processes, HVAC systems, air quality, lighting, refrigeration, building design, renewable energy opportunities and even waste management. It’s important for companies to fully understand where energy is being used — from production to lighting to building temperature — to obtain the maximum level of energy efficiency.
E Three, founded in 2012, has helped improve the energy efficiency of several local high-profile structures, including Radio Centre in downtown Traverse City and the Leelanau County Governmental Center and adjacent Sheriff’s Department.
While those buildings aren’t considered old, energy-efficient building design is “a new science,” he said, so even projects that have gone up in recent decades can have energy-loss problems.
The average life span of an operational HVAC or building control system for a commercial building is approximately 20 years, and the rapid evolution of energy efficiency technology can make that window even shorter. Energy costs have stabilized in recent years, particularly with natural gas prices. Flat energy costs used to be a disincentive for making energy efficiency upgrades. But Johnson said that’s changing as well.
Power providers like Consumers Energy and DTE are joining utilities across the country in offering businesses significant financial incentives and rebates for equipment replacement and other energy efficiency improvements.
Utilities seek to reduce their peak power needs and eliminate coal-powered production facilities. Businesses also are reducing power use to show their customers, investors and the public that they care about environmental stewardship and are scaling back their carbon emissions.
It’s a message that resonates in the Grand Traverse region, Johnson said.
“Traverse City is probably ahead of a lot of cities in Michigan with a lot of this,” he said.
But Michigan lags behind other Midwest states including Wisconsin and countries like Canada, where energy-efficiency standards are being incorporated into construction codes and design plans to ensure that structures are more energy efficient as they are built.
“Going forward, we’re finally seeing that buildings are getting built properly,” he said.
The commercial sector’s interest in energy efficiency is a trend that Johnson doesn’t see slowing down.
Constant technology upgrades are lowering the costs of energy improvements and reducing the payoff times for companies investing in such projects. Johnson said he receives dozens of emails a day, and checks out websites and energy trade shows, to learn about the latest technology in energy savings.
“We’re constantly looking for that breakthrough,” he said. “I like to see what the latest stuff is and I want to be the first to know about it.”