Energy Watch: financially Planning Energy Infrastructure Now and in the Future

Brendon Dorn

HGA Building Performance Analyst Brendon Dorn highlights The Energy Efficiency Gap at the Wisconsin Energy Efficiency Expo on May 17. Below, he details steps to invest in future energy performance.


When talking about future energy infrastructure planning, one starting point is to reduce the problem to its essence: present-self is at odds with future-self. Too little restriction now and present-self enjoys life’s goodness while future-self pays the price with little to nothing saved. Too much restriction now and present-self enjoys no such goodness while future-self gets to live comfortably.

Successful energy infrastructure planning identifies a common thread between present-state vs. future-state among many variables. In recognition of this, three general strategies can guide your financial energy infrastructure planning as you balance current and future needs.

Building Automation

Our environment has been manipulated and flooded with noise. Automation is a fantastic solution to minimize decision-making, from identifying temperature set-points to remembering to turn off the lights. A centralized building automation system that controls heating, lighting, shading, ventilation and air conditioning can create an optimal energy environment. Automation and algorithm software can help you decide how best to invest in current and future energy planning. And while automation is not necessarily new, what is unique is adopting this same idea in other challenging areas—such as automatic deposits into an energy project account.

Default Options

Another great tool is the default option. Default options are pre-selected to the preferred or optimal state but can be changed according to preferences. Research shows that default options nudge people into better decisions without restricting freedom to make a different choice. Imagine 100 new thermostats are installed in an office building with the manufacturer’s “green button” mode activated. This efficiency mode programs fuel-saving temperature set-points, coasts into unoccupied mode, and prompts occupants with “Your requested change will undo factory settings, are you sure you want to proceed?” Without the default mode, occupants may set their individual preferences, potentially wasting energy.


The way something is framed affects decision-making. Let’s map that idea to energy projects. Imagine your company is budgeting for this year’s energy programs, which are expected to save $300,000. One possible program to obtain the energy savings has been proposed.

Assume that the cost-savings estimate of an energy program is as follows:

  • If program A is adopted, you will save $100,000 annually.
  • If program B is adopted, you have one-third probability of saving $300,000 annually, and two-thirds probability of saving no money.

What did you choose?

This scenario illustrates the difficulty of making decisions under uncertainty. Technically, the choices are equal—both save $100,000 but both “miss” saving $200,000. The introduction of probability causes us to under- or over-weigh outcomes compared to outcomes not involving probability. Think about this in how energy planning has been framed and presented to you in the past—perhaps with limited success. Framing energy planning to your specific goals can guide your decision.   


Generally, we tend to focus on the present at the expense of the future. Every indoor environment, from common spaces to board rooms, influences decisions with varying degrees. In recognition of this, we can steer ourselves toward better decisions. Through appropriate tools, you can adopt energy and maintenance strategies that financially benefit your business in the present and future—and contribute to a healthy building.

Topics: Energy & Infrastructure