Written by Sasha Wedekind
The COVID-19 pandemic has had varied consequences for different industries in the US and worldwide. The energy efficiency industry has been no exception in adapting to the new landscape of stay-at-home orders and physical distancing guidelines.
Uncertainty for Contractors, Project Delays, and Process Adjustments
While some energy efficiency work can be continued remotely (especially on longer-term projects), many efficiency programs have come to a halt. According to Utility Dive, utility-driven, residential energy efficiency programs and many state weatherization programs have been put on pause. The change is resulting in a lot of uncertainty for contractors and other partners, including layoffs.
Some commercial energy efficiency work is continuing. Aspects of projects with longer time horizons, project management, and planning requirements can be completed remotely. However, progress has stalled in many cases, resulting in delays and uncertainty regarding project status, energy savings, and employment for many working in the industry.
HVAC-related work is considered essential, so projects that focus on direct installation, repair, and maintenance are ongoing. Market participants are working out new operating procedures to safely and efficiently perform these projects.
Multiple energy service companies are also leveraging their capabilities to support national response and medical professionals. Johnson Controls JCI, for example, is working to support US military efforts by outfitting pop-up field hospitals with HVAC and air filtration systems. Siemens is outfitting and supplying hospitals, field hospitals, and repurposed facilities in addition to supporting global manufacturers in their switch to medical device production.
The Focus on Digital Tools in the New Normal
In-person work will always be a critical part of any energy efficiency project. Installing and maintaining equipment must be done by professionals onsite. However, the pandemic is highlighting the growing importance of digital tools in efficiency and other energy projects.
AI-powered smart building systems can support remote monitoring, controls, fault detection, and other features. These capabilities are proving to be critical now as buildings stand empty and receive minimal in-person attention. However, not having personnel onsite does not mean that building health and efficiency must be sacrificed while new smart building technologies push the boundaries of digital control.
Digital capabilities are already interwoven into some large-scale commercial and public sector energy efficiency projects. As the pandemic puts an extra focus on digital solutions and monitoring, customers are increasingly looking for building resilience when pursuing energy saving performance contracts and other contracts. These contracts have typically included energy storage and onsite generation. Now, smart building solutions are likely to be part of the resilience package as well, ensuring that facilities can be monitored and issues can be addressed remotely without human contact.
On the Other Side of Recovery
With the pandemic, the energy efficiency market is experiencing significant changes and rapidly reorienting resources toward essential work and healthcare projects. These adjustments will likely have lasting effects on the industry. Many projects and programs—especially on the residential side—will likely return to normal once the pandemic gets under control and restrictions are lifted. On the commercial side, customers may be more likely to consider broader resilience solutions, including digital tools, as part of energy and energy efficiency projects. Many service providers may come out of this crisis with new capabilities, partnerships, and skills that can be applied to diverse, future customer needs.
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