Mar 28 • 1HR 15M

Volts podcast: Rob Harmon on how to scale up energy efficiency

A new model in which everyone wins.

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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking a lot about the war in Ukraine. I don’t have much expertise in foreign affairs, so unlike every other pundit on the planet, I’ve mostly chosen to keep my hot takes to myself.

One aspect of the conflict, however, overlaps with my interests. Everyone seems to agree that the top priority going forward is to wean the West off of Russian oil and gas. As usual, such discussions are dominated by supply-side considerations — how to find the oil and gas elsewhere.

But as all good energy nerds know, the fastest and cheapest way to use less oil and gas is … to use less oil and gas — to reduce demand, not frack more.

So I thought it would be nice to do a series of podcasts focused on clever, innovative ways to reduce oil and gas demand.

We begin today with energy efficiency, specifically with one of its biggest challenges: commercial buildings, which are responsible for around 18 percent of US primary energy use (more energy than all of Canada consumes) and 16 percent of US carbon emissions. Today, according to the EPA, they waste around 30 percent of that energy. Almost a third! And they are coming under increasing pressure from policymakers to emit less.

Efficiency in commercial buildings is an enormous opportunity, not only to reduce emissions but to keep money in local communities and create local jobs.

Despite that, it has never quite taken off like proponents hoped. The tough nut to crack is developing a model that can make deep efficiency retrofits of existing commercial buildings work without ever-escalating public subsidies.

Rob Harmon

That brings us to today’s guest, Rob Harmon, a long-time energy expert and entrepreneur who lives here in my home city of Seattle. Over the last eight years, he has been developing, evangelizing, and road-testing a model that he thinks can finally scale up efficiency in commercial buildings.

I will warn listeners that the model — called MEETS, for Metered Energy Efficiency Transaction Structure — is somewhat complex. There are some unfamiliar terms involved. But once it clicks into place I think you will see that it is incredibly clever and the opportunities for growth are boundless. I’m eager to talk to Harmon about how it works, where it is currently working, and the opportunities he sees ahead.