The Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program solar microgrid project at Fort Hunter Liggett in California is managed by the Sacramento District. (John Prettyman/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
The front lines of energy transformation
Over the past decade, more and more experts, policy makers, and world leaders have spoken about the threat that climate change poses and the consequences of inaction.
As President Obama famously said in 2014, “This generation is the first that will feel the effects of climate change and the last that can do anything about it.”
As a result, many countries, cities, and states from around the globe have vowed to enact policies to curb carbon emissions. According to the American council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the U.S. currently spends $60 billion to $115 billion on energy efficiency improvements each year. Although these investments are being driven by government policies, energy consulting firms are on the front lines, ensuring smart, strategic, and sustainable investments are being made.
One such company is Lilker EMO Energy Solutions. Based out of Falls Church, Virginia, Lilker is a small energy consulting firm that specializes in providing sustainable solutions to their clients. Although Lilker has fewer than 10 full time employees, it has become a major player at helping organizations, business, and consumers reduce their carbon footprints throughout the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) area.
Steve Hearn, a project manager at Lilker who leads their residential team sees his job as one that “is on the cutting edge of the modern economy.” Clients reach out to Lilker when they are looking to make energy improvements to both existing buildings and newly designed ones. Through preforming energy audits, energy modeling, and commissioning consultants at Lilker are able to identify effective ways to reduce energy output and gain certifications like LEED, WELL, Energy Star, and EGC.
As one of the leading energy consulting companies in the DMV area, Lilker has had the opportunity to take on projects for their clients all across the country. One project that stood out to Justin Baker, managing director at Lilker, was one he completed 8 years ago for the Alice Ferguson foundation. In this project, he had the opportunity to oversee work on a living building. Living buildings are hard to find and even harder to build.
By definition, they are buildings that are net positive energy, water, and waste. Baker found this project to be “exceptionally challenging because of all the different requirements that go into a building like that.” Currently, there are only 9 certified living buildings in the DMV area and Baker sees them as “a major step in the right direction. If people understand that its possible for a building to do more good than harm to the environment, then that’s a great mindset to have for the future.”
Hearn also has had the opportunity to oversee eye-opening projects over his tenure at Lilker. In 2010, the National Park Service contacted Lilker about wanting to make energy improvements at some of their remote sites in Alaska. For two weeks, Hearn performed energy audits in buildings all across the Tongass National Forest, often taking “puddle jumper flights” to travel from site to site.
For Hearn “it was a really cool experience to work in such an incredible region, and it really put it into perspective how important it is to preserve places like that.”
According to the Alaskan Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), the Tongass National Forest is vulnerable to climate change, noting that “the future will likely be different than both what we see now, and what we have seen in the past.” The work that both Baker and Hearn do is, and will continue to be, instrumental in ensuring that great environmental treasures are not lost to the impacts of climate change.
Lilker EMO Energy Solutions was first founded in 1998 and since then, the industry has changed greatly. Baker has been working with Lilker since 2008 and has been encouraged by recent trends. “Back when I first started, energy efficiency standards were fringe topics that often were looked at as a premium. Now, people are much more knowledgeable about all the certifications and instead of them being a premium we are now seeing them as the norm.”
This should continue with the passage of the DC Omnibus Act of 2018. Going into effect in last month, it mandates that D.C. transitions to 100% renewable energy by 2032. “I give D.C. a lot of credit for being progressive on this,” Baker says. “Hopefully people now understand that building owners have a responsibility to protect the environment.”
This bill will open up many opportunities for firms like Lilker but also many challenges.
According to Hearn, “The DC Omnibus Bill sets a goal in place but doesn’t solve all the logistical problems that go along with making this transitioning so quickly.”
This is one reason why both Hearn and Baker have begun attending local state energy commissions such as the DMV Net Zero Coalition. This is a coalition of energy experts, policy makers, and academics who just recently starting meeting and are working to discover and drive solutions to achieving a net carbon future. For Lilker, “efficiency is always the first piece of the puzzle,” says Hearn, “but from attending these meetings it is clear that it isn’t the only piece.”
As is common in an industry of high forecasted growth, it is important to cultivate the next generation of energy professions. Lilker understands this and has had an ongoing intern program for the past 5 years.
Nathaniel Waldman, a senior at George Washington University has been an intern at Lilker for the last 8 months. Waldman has had the opportunity to see projects through from beginning to end over his time at Lilker, describing his experience thus far as “eye opening.” One, that contributed most to his growth, was the Preservation Partners Project. Through this, he says he gained “a greater appreciation for the construction process and the major effort it takes on the part of green building specialists to ensure that the builders meet requirements.”
With the passage of the DC Omnibus Act, this challenge will surely grow for Lilker. But Hearn knows that “it’s an exciting time to be in this industry, there is so much opportunity on the horizon and it’s important to take full advantage of it.” The question now is, will they?