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Five Questions with Microgrid’s Marc Lopata

June 15, 2012 12:15am • BY Jeffrey Tomich • jtomich@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8320

As president of Clayton-based Microgrid Energy, Marc Lopata has spent the past few years evangelizing about solar energy and energy efficiency in the St. Louis area.

Among his clients is the St. Louis Cardinals, and Microgrid has been involved with dozens of projects, big and small, to reduce water and energy use at Busch Stadium. Their most recent work involved installing solar panels on the roof of the Clark Street ticket building and on top of a canopy in the left-centerfield bleachers.

These days, Lopata is also spreading the gospel of energy efficiency on a broader scale as new chairman of the Gateway Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

One of his priorities at USGBC is a partnership with the Regional Chamber and Growth Association to increase the amount of office space in the St. Louis area that’s independently certified as energy- or water-efficient by 50 percent. And they want to do it in two years.

Lopata recently sat down in the outfield seats at Busch Stadium to discuss the program and his work at Microgrid.

Why is it important for the St. Louis area to have office space that’s certified as energy- or water-efficient?

It cuts down on the cost of operating a space. Ideally, it provides better indoor air quality. And, if you can associate that with natural day lighting, it provides a better work environment. One of the main reasons that RCGA wanted to go after this is that young professionals that are looking for jobs in office settings are looking for that sort of thing in the companies they work for. They’re looking for companies that are focused on sustainability and are in LEED buildings and walk the walk.

What’s the biggest challenge in achieving the goal that’s been laid out?

The biggest hurdle always is having the building owner understand what’s involved. I think a lot of times that people get the message that this stuff is all really expensive, that there’s no payback. I think that it’s important for them to know that energy efficiency can have a really good financial performance for them and that there’s financing available if first cost of doing the work is an obstacle. So there are tools out there to make it happen, and it is a smart business decision.

What some common types of projects undertaken to make office space more energy efficient?

Probably the major thing people go after is lighting upgrades. Probably a third of the energy used in a commercial building is lighting. Lighting technology changes quickly, so there are good reliable effective ways to light a space where they perform financially very well. You’ll see buildings where lights go on at 7 a.m. and don’t go off until 10 p.m. Or they leave them on 24-7, like hotels. We do a lot of hotel work and every hotel should have LEDs in the lobbies and the hallways and everything else that’s on around the clock because that stuff will pay for itself in a year. The next system to go after is probably HVAC, and what may be more important than doing an HVAC upgrade is an HVAC tune-up. In other words, take the system that’s in the building now and get it to the point where it’s operating as efficiently as you can.

How quick is payback for building owners?

There are capital upgrades that can take five, 10, 15 years to pay back. There are controls changes that can have a one- or two-year payback. A lighting upgrade that might be a one- or two-year payback. But there’s a whole basket of energy efficiency measures that we call no and low-cost measures like teaching the security people in the building to turn the lights off and asking them to do it every day.

Beside solar panels, what kind of work has Microgrid done at Busch Stadium to make it more efficient?

We work very closely with the stadium operations staff, the electrician and the mechanical contractor. Together we have done a big steam plant upgrade to reduce the amount of steam used, to reduce the water waste in the steam system. We’ve done lighting controls upgrades. When we started, we had a list of 170 potential projects, and we’ve got less than 100 of them now.


MARC LOPATA

Title • President and principal engineer, Microgrid Energy

Age • 55

Career • Previously directed data center design and construction for Verizon; principal engineer at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida

Education • Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering

Personal • Lives in Clayton with his wife and two children

Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch