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The Energy ‘Doctors'

Taiwan's New Green-collar Class

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Taiwan's New Green-collar Class

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A newly emerging class of "green" experts is using specialized knowledge of electronics, physics and refrigeration to help companies save energy and money.

Taiwan's New Green-collar Class

By Yu-Jung Peng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 438 )

Squeezing sideways into a tiny air conditioning machine room in a Hsinchu City office building, energy conservation "doctor" Liu Chien-po, along with his consulting team, is making a house call to take the pulse of the building's power consumption. A few months later, they will have helped the building save around NT$4 million per year in electricity expenses. 

Lin was a production supervisor at a Hsinchu Science Park semiconductor fab until he was laid off in 2008 during the global economic slump. Changing his career path over the past year, he repositioned himself as a "green-collar" worker on the front line in the fight against global warming.

Energy Conservation Doctors

At a time when many companies are worried about potential carbon taxes and feeling pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a group of engineers have propelled themselves to the forefront of the new class of "energy conservation service" workers.

At the beginning of 2009, the Industrial Technology Research Institute's Technology Center for Service Industries (TCSI) recruited 40 people with electronics, physics and refrigeration backgrounds from among the ranks of Hsinchu Science Park's unemployed engineers. They were given 172 hours of classes in technical disciplines such as air conditioning, lighting, thermal energy, pneumatics, steam, and automatic controls and also underwent training in marketing and customer service. The result was a group of service technicians capable of helping small- and medium-sized enterprises save energy. 

This initiative represented a new cross-sector competency that could eventually help businesses and workers in Taiwan shed the grip of low-margin manufacturing competition.

"Only through programs like this can Taiwan evolve from producing energy conserving products to value-added services," says the TCSI's deputy director, Richard Ju-Chia Kuo, who is responsible for training.

By harnessing knowledge and skills from different disciplines to develop "total solutions" and creating results where the "sum is greater than its parts," the TCSI's diagnostic energy-saving service is better able to solve problems than individual lighting vendors, air-conditioning companies, and boiler makers were able to do in the past, Kuo says. 

In its first six months, the team has already helped 600 SMEs save NT$60 million in electricity expenses.

"There are times when simply by analyzing a company's electricity bill, you can save it a few hundred thousand Taiwan dollars without spending a penny," engineer Liu says. He explains that many large power users, such as factories and commercial buildings, sign deals with Taiwan Power Company for a fee rate based on a "fixed contracted power volume," similar to mobile phone arrangements.

But like many phone subscribers, the power users often pay for more electricity than they actually use. Liu said he previously used a software program to help a Taipei office building calculate its most appropriate electricity rate based on seasonal usage fluctuations and advised the building's management to adjust its contracted volume downward. The suggestion saved the building NT$400,000 in electricity costs the following month.

After completing its preliminary diagnosis based on an analysis of the customer's electricity bill, Liu and his team carefully comb the site to seek out further savings, whether it's climbing to a hospital's roof to check out its boiler, going deep into a hotel to see its chiller, or observing the oven-like assembly line of a baked eel factory in southern Taiwan. They check for electricity leaks, outdated equipment, water leaks and other problems, and if help is needed, they can call on experts in pneumatics, fluid mechanics, and refrigeration technology to make a "joint diagnosis." The team then reports its findings and submits a complete improvement plan.

 "We often solve problems on site that were seen but not recognized," Liu says, such as pointing out motors running without a purpose, removing excessively heavy stone floors from elevators, or simply adding automatic power controls.

Kuo says there was even one time when he was asked to help a company that was spending NT$300,000 a month on electricity to run an exhaust fan 24 hours a day in its underground parking lot to remove the smell emanating from the septic tank. Kuo advised the client to simply pour bio-enzymes into the tank, and the smell – together with hefty electricity bill – were gone.

Benefit Now, Pay Later

To make companies more accepting of energy conservation planning, the Industrial Technology Research Institute and the Taiwan Energy Service Association have adopted American energy service commercial models based on the concept of "benefit now, pay later."

The first option involves "sharing the benefits." After the energy saving doctors make their diagnosis and sign a contract with the customer to carry out a solution, they install the necessary equipment and then collect a portion of the savings on the monthly electricity bill to pay for the services and equipment. This method helps small- and medium-sized enterprises avoid having to invest a lot of money up front while allowing them to immediately benefit from lower electricity fees, and at the same time moves the country a small step closer to its carbon reduction goal.

A more sophisticated model involves a "performance guarantee," where the customer pays based on how well the energy doctors meet their energy conservation goal. For example, using a third party to certify the actual amount of energy saved, if the goal of cutting power use of 30 percent is achieved, full payment is made, but if the goal is not achieved, payment is made proportionally to the ratio of energy savings relative to the goal.

The energy services sector in the United States is already quite mature, with revenues of NT$200 billion in 2008. Although the industry in Taiwan has gotten a late start, with estimated sales last year of only NT$2 billion, it is growing at a rapid rate. The Taiwan Green Productivity Foundation also created a "carbon reduction clinic" last year to help promote energy conservation checks in communities in Taipei County,

With carbon taxes a possibility in the future and the cost of electricity likely to be increased, Kuo estimates that energy-saving services will generate NT$30 billion in related commercial opportunities within the next decade and create 20,000 "green-collar" jobs a year

They will constitute a new class of workers who earn more the more the world goes "green." 

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier

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