Impact of US federal energy efficiency programme hopefully convinces decision makers that they remain

With severe cuts being made to the US federal budget, Justin Koscher, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, argues in an article on The Hill website that energy efficiency programmes should be spared.

 

Federal energy efficiency programs deliver strong returns. Congress should look elsewhere for cuts

Every business owner knows you can’t build a company without investment. The smart ones know you must focus that investment like a laser on areas with the greatest returns. Yet even as we talk about running government like a business, we sometimes neglect this fundamental principle.

Federal R&D programs on energy efficiency at the Department of Energy (DOE) are a shining example of how a strategic investment of taxpayer dollars can yield tremendous returns to the country, driving economic growth and spurring innovation that puts American industry ahead while at the same time improving energy efficiency and helping consumers. Remarkably, the administration and Congress are now considering deep cuts to this R&D.

I know firsthand just how important this R&D is for private industry. My industry has been growing for the past decade thanks in part to a public-private partnership with DOE and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory that helped transform our product to become more sustainable and competitive.

Polyisocyanurate insulation (polyiso) was originally developed in the 1970s as an insulation solution for the aerospace industry. It was adopted by the construction industry in the 1980s as a popular insulation for roofing. With exceptional thermal properties and durability, polyiso now is the most commonly used roofing insulation for commercial buildings in the country, used in more than 70 percent of buildings. The industry employs thousands of people across the country, with more than 30 U.S. manufacturing plants. Our product is helping businesses, schools, hospitals and other organizations operate more efficiently, lower energy costs and provide comfortable conditions.

But our growth was not without setbacks. Like many products, polyiso insulation is significantly different, and improved, from the first generation of products sold 30 years ago. The reasons for change are not novel – innovation, competition, market demands, and regulation all contributed to its evolution. However, many would be surprised to learn that today’s polyiso insulation would not have been possible without the world-class research facilities at Oak Ridge.

In the early 1990’s, the U.S. joined the Montreal Protocol to address the environmental consequences of using ozone-depleting substances. The blowing agent used in the manufacture of polyiso at that time was classified as one of these substances. Blowing agents used in foam insulations are key to the product’s performance attributes, including density (strength) and thermal performance. Facing an extremely short deadline, the polyiso industry was tasked to find a replacement that provided equal or better performance. Failure to do so threatened to sink the industry.

To complete this accelerated research, development and deployment, a coalition of organizations in the polyiso and roofing industries turned to Oak Ridge for technical assistance. Under a cooperative agreement with the laboratory, the industry embarked on a multi-year research project supported by Oak Ridge’s best-in-class research and third-party impartiality.

The project worked. Together we developed a reformulated product that met the Montreal Protocol requirements and exceeded the market needs for a highly-effective thermal insulation. A decade after completing the initial research project, the polyiso industry again partnered with Oak Ridge to completely remove the use of ozone-depleting substances from its insulation products. As a direct consequence of our country’s decades-long investments in national laboratories, today’s polyiso industry delivers highly efficient insulation products to the market without harming the ozone.

The polyiso industry’s work with a national laboratory is hardly an exception. From pioneering nuclear technology to housing some of the world’s fastest supercomputers, the network of national laboratories and offices at DOE are assets to U.S. manufacturers that provide a leg up on global competition.

To be sure, there are tough decisions to be made by Congress and the Trump administration on how to allocate limited resources to reflect our values and priorities as a country. But as Congress works through the appropriations process in the coming weeks, it should not back away from this important work, as the administration’s proposed budget recommends. If we are serious about fostering a domestic manufacturing renaissance, we need to be fierce advocates of funding for DOE’s energy efficiency investments, R&D, national labs and other critical programs.

Basic and impartial research funded by government agencies – done across the country in blue states and red states alike – drives innovation, and innovation is the past, present, and future of the American economy. It’s what makes us great.

 

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