Energy Success Stories from Around the World

07/18/2010 | By Eric Woodroof, Ph.D., CEM, CRM

In my overseas travels over the last two months, I have seen a variety of energy and green solutions that I hope will inspire you as they have inspired me.

In many hotels throughout the world, I find the guest rooms are activated by inserting your access card into a special slot located just inside the room. Until you place your card in the slot, nothing turns on in the room (lights, HVAC or TV). These systems save about 30 percent and have a 1- to 2-year payback. You can’t misplace your key card in the room because it must stay in the slot to operate equipment. I have found these systems in 10-year-old buildings in China, whereas in many U.S. hotels I find that the lights and HVAC are on before I enter the room.

In the Middle East solar water heaters are common; in fact, in Israel 90 percent of the buildings use solar heaters. This cost-effective solution can save natural gas in many locations besides the desert.

Speaking of solar, I must mention a domestic example: Frito Lay has a manufacturing facility that uses solar thermal to cook potatoes for the Sun Chips brand. In addition to the solar heating loop, the facility filters the cooking water for re-use, separates the organic material (potato skins, etc.) and burns this material in a waste heat boiler for “bio-based” process heating. Any leftover waste heat is recovered via an economizer.

A Cooling Tower Becomes a Water Feature
In Melbourne, Australia, an innovative cooling tower was designed for a LEED building. Instead of the typical metal box shape, this design is a 60-foot tall, 3-foot diameter tube of membrane material, which runs along one of the sides of the building. Condenser water is sprayed onto the inner diameter at the top of the tube and flows along the surface area, releasing some of its latent energy to the air. At the bottom of this cylindrical waterfall, the water hits a glass awning, creating an aesthetic feature and sound. The cool water is then reused for cooling within the building.

Did you know that some cities use seawater for toilet flushing? This idea can be expanded to other places where seawater is abundant and fresh water is not.

In Hong Kong the government subsidizes energy and carbon audits in high-rise buildings, which account for 85 percent of Hong Kong’s carbon footprint. In addition, Hong Kong charges 50 cents per plastic bag when you buy something in a retail store, which truly incentivizes people to reduce their use of plastic bags.

I was also impressed with Hong Kong’s transportation system, which is one of the best in the world. If you are landing at the airport, it is easier, faster and less expensive to use the subway than any other transportation mode. After getting your luggage, you walk about 100 yards and jump on the airport express train, which gets you to the city in about 22 minutes. From the downtown station, you can get almost anywhere quickly on trains arriving every 1 to 2 minutes during rush hours.

A universal access card called an “octopus” is a pre-paid debit card that works on all Hong Kong’s trains, buses, and trams. You can even use it to purchase items in local stores; just tap your wallet when next to the proximity badge reader and it deducts your fare or purchase from your card’s balance. 

In Brazil some buildings have card access systems that recognize you when you enter the building and activate the lighting and HVAC in your work area. The access data can also be used for security, time clock reporting and other applications.

If you have a success story from anywhere in the world, I would love to hear it. Feel free to send it to


Eric Woodroof, Ph.D., is the Chairman of the Board for the Certified Carbon Reduction Manager (CRM) program and a board member since 1999 of the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) Program. He is a strategic advisor, corporate trainer, keynote speaker, and founder of


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