NC could save money by using clean energy

The state of North Carolina's Archdale Building is located at the intersection of Salisbury and Peace streets in downtown Raleigh.
The state of North Carolina's Archdale Building is located at the intersection of Salisbury and Peace streets in downtown Raleigh. aspecht@newsobserver.com

We started out with a simple question: How much money could our company save by setting more ambitious goals to reduce energy waste? The results surprised us, saving us so much money that we recently joined other global companies in committing to doubling our energy efficiency by 2020. We’d like to share our experiences, because we believe North Carolina can achieve similar savings statewide.

I work for Cree, the Durham-based technology company known for inventing energy-saving semiconductor products, including energy efficient LED lighting. We know firsthand how people can save energy and money by upgrading to more efficient lights, but lighting is only one part of how an employer can eliminate energy waste. As a result, Cree has committed to reducing our energy waste throughout our business.

Why do this? Because reducing energy waste is a marvelously simple way to improve the bottom line now and for years to come. When you reduce waste, you reduce cost. When you reduce cost, you become more competitive. When you do more with less, you can grow your market share, and you also make the businesses you serve more competitive because you can offer them better prices.

For these reasons, we have been improving our buildings by taking steps such as installing new intelligent lighting systems. We have also been optimizing our manufacturing facilities by installing more efficient systems and improving our operating procedures.

The results have been phenomenal, and in some cases, surprising. For instance, our new sensors and intelligent lighting systems provide us much-needed data on where and how to reduce our energy consumption, revealing underutilized space in a building that could be put to better use. As a result, we discovered we did not need to acquire space for a new lab, instead opting to put the existing space to better use, saving us about $16,000 a month.

North Carolina could make a similar commitment to reducing the energy waste of its public buildings with increased energy efficiency targets for state-owned buildings. Doing so could save taxpayers money, and it could create local jobs. More than 40,000 people work in the energy efficiency sector in North Carolina, and the jobs created by this work are in areas like installation, engineering and project management. Such jobs are the kind our state needs more of because they pay well and cannot easily be outsourced.

North Carolina is fortunate to have Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who prior to being elected in 2012 was a LEED-accredited architect, so he understands buildings and how reducing energy waste can save money and create jobs. At a recent event hosted by Conservatives for Clean Energy in Raleigh, Forest said that clean energy “is one of those issues that I’m excited about and I think we should all be behind.”

We agree. The cleanest – and cheapest – form of energy is the kind you never have to use, and we hope the North Carolina legislature acts during this year’s short session to increase performance standards for state buildings. North Carolina has already met its goal to reduce energy use by 30 percent by 2015 in state-owned buildings, and North Carolinians have reaped the benefits, including $1 billion in energy cost reductions for taxpayers. Increasing this goal to 40 percent by 2025 would result in additional savings, create jobs, and send the message that the state is working to get the most out of our tax money.

We have made substantial progress in reducing energy waste and taking steps to become more efficient in how all of us use energy in our homes or businesses, which is keeping more money in our wallets now and in the years to come. And, our state legislators have an excellent opportunity this summer to build upon their own successful energy savings track record in government-owned buildings and deliver more taxpayer savings to all North Carolinians.

Greg Merritt is Cree’s vice president of marketing and public affairs.