EDITOR'S NOTE: In this Lake Wylie Pilot series, we focus on Lake Wylie businesses with mass appeal still thriving despite the tough economy.
LAKE WYLIE -- Steve Kelly knows energy conservation is a timely topic. But, for Kelly, energy efficiency is not a new concept.
In fact, solutions to a host of energy problems may well come from the work Kelly began 30 years ago, work he continues each day in Lake Wylie.
"We're not young kids in this business," said Kelly, principal engineer for The Kelly Group. "We have seen the same energy crisis. We had long fuel lines. I've seen all this stuff before."
Kelly heads a staff of seven, generally working on two dozen or more energy accountability and design projects from churches to museums, municipal buildings to school districts. His focus is not on finding more energy, but "energy conservation accounting." And, Kelly says it's easier to achieve than one might think.
Throwing money at energy problems without adaquate documentation of results-- whether by government decree or utility rates -- is hardly an efficient fix for Kelly, especially since the subject of energy can be so subjective. In fact, Kelly likens such efforts to "throwing money into a black hole."
"Energy is a voodoo science," Kelly said. "In order for government or private industry to fiscally give away our money, it seems to me they should have some sort of accounting."
The problem with energy accounting, Kelly says, is a lack of baseline figures. A grocery store in Miami , for instance, might use more energy during the summer than a similar store in Buffalo, N.Y., while a similar building in Green Bay, Wis., may use much more energy during the winter than one in Phoenix. So how can you tell which building is more energy efficient?
That question is one Kelly poured decades of work into, finally creating his Energy Accounting System--a consistent, automated and easy method of documentation.
"If you factor out the weather attributes, you can put them on the same weather plane," Kelly said. "If you can take the differing rate structures out of the equations, then all buildings can be compared on the same parameters."
Then, Kelly said, energy conservation "becomes a matter of management and not a matter that can be hidden behind different weather and utility rate differences."
"Energy conservation then becomes a real--and fair--contest," he said.
The EASY process uses electronically downloaded utility data to sift through differences in weather, rate costs and other factors that could impact the overall energy use of a building. The process then picks out the worst buildings in a system and prioritizes them for further energy analysis, allowing the owner to design and install energy-saving features and monitor success.
So, does it work?
"We know exactly how much electricity and gas we use in each building," said Sue Rutledge, building services superintendent for the city of Charlotte. "You've got to know what you're using to know how to improve it."
The EASY impact
Rutledge has enough to deal with during her day, managing 3.9 million square feet of building space for the city.
"Everything but the airport and the water plants," she said.
So when Kelly designed a program for the city more than 10 years ago -- one he still operates -- Rutledge was happy for the help. Now Rutledge can measure energy, emissions and financial data on a "real basis." She can compare the efficience of her buildings based on "kilowatt hours per square foot" rather than the industry standard consumption figure.
"That allows us to see where we have the most opportunity to go in and improve energy cost and energy use," she said. "It's the base information we use to do pretty much anything else."
With the data provided, Rutledge is able to use Kelly's engineering skills to determine ways of cutting energy costs from the least efficient spaces. As a result, Charlotte energy-use is lower than comparable state, federal and private entities, Rutledge said. Since 2003, the energy-use index created by Kelly has helped reduce energy use by 23 percent. Despite energy cost increases, Rutledge's department continually makes budget.
"Every utility in this country, if they have electronic billing, can provide the necessary data," Kelly said. "There's all sorts of ways to save money that we haven't even begun to think of yet."
Kelly understands few people know what "weather-corrected cents per kilowatt hour" means, let alone topics like avoided costs, electrical and gas consumption and dariemand values, even emission standards. But most people know the importance of energy use and saving money.
"We've been heading that way," he said. "It's catching on."
So for reasons he barely understands, such as churches often building additions during a down economy, Kelly's business at the heart of River Hills sees little signs of the current financial crisis. In fact, Kelly stops short of saying his business is "booming."
Although more than 1,000 church designs and various other projects in nine states can attest to the success of Kelly's innovative system, the man who dabbles in calculated carbon footprints, emission reports and accumulated savings as if they were play things says The Kelly Group and its energy accounting are not defined by dollars and cents. Nor should it be, he said, defined by politics.
"This is not a party thing," Kelly said. "This is an energy thing. Environmental conservation of our precious natural resources has to occur."
After 30 years developing and perfecting his groundbreaking system, Kelly wants something else. He wants to partner with schools and have students help solve energy problems at municipal levels to ensure energy "transcends long beyond political arguments."
"I want to pass it on," Kelly said, "and that's what I'm doing."