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Energy Efficiency Inspires Professionals and Students

December 2, 2009 - 5:06pm

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Energy efficiency doesn’t just save money for families, but it also saves money for businesses.  One passionate entrepreneur built his business by making industrial companies more efficient, and it’s making a big difference to his clients and the economy as a whole.

“Most people have no clue about how central a healthy industrial sector is to a robust economy,” says Marcus Wilcox, founder and president of Cascade Energy Engineering, an energy services firm in Walla Walla, Wash. “Without industry, it is virtually impossible to be top-notch.”

His job, as he sees it, is to help assess the energy use of his clients – mostly utilities and manufacturers – down to the micro level and find ways to make their operations leaner and meaner.

“We often do simple projects to start with that have clear savings and benefits.  This starts developing the relationship necessary to win their confidence,” Marcus says. “Essentially, they are saying ‘OK, you know what you are talking about, and I can trust you to give me good advice, what next?’”

In 1993, Marcus started CEE in response to what he saw as a growing need for industrial energy conservation. His team visits clients’ manufacturing facilities across the country and identifies ways to improve their processes and reduce costs – from recommending simple improvements, such as switching to energy-efficient lights, to revamping complex industrial refrigeration systems. 

Today, Marcus’ firm employs people across Oregon, Washington, Utah and Idaho, providing customers with useful analyses about energy conservation.

“This sector is huge now, and you can’t just be a good engineer to do it because it’s heavily relationship driven,” he says. “It takes a special breed of engineer.”

He attributes much of the company’s success in the industrial energy marketplace to his educational background, having earned star status among the graduates of the Industrial Assessment Center at Oregon State University as the center’s first graduate and one of its most successful.

Marcus describes his time as a graduate student at the IAC as an invaluable “learning by doing” experience. Going to dozens of industrial facilities to get experience in energy efficiency is where Marcus says he felt at home, and he enjoyed the combination of analysis and field work.

IACs provide a critical avenue for students to gain real-world, industrial energy experience, which can be hard to get otherwise, he says.

“Even with an internship, it’s only at one site that may or may not have energy associated with it,” he adds.

Industrial assessment centers across the country provide critical training in the growing green energy job market. Greg Wheeler, director of the IAC at Marcus’ alma mater, OSU, says students get a much broader experience at IACs than they can get elsewhere.

“They learn to use lots of equipment and talk to everyone from maintenance people to CEOs, learning to speak their language and where they’re coming from,” says Greg. “When you go to a job interview, and you’ve already sat at the table with these people, you feel more comfortable and confident.”

Industrial Assessment Centers are sponsored by EERE’s Industrial Technologies Program.

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