Carol Brzozowski 2015-09-15 10:44:53
Until recently, no one wanted to invest in upgrading Detroit’s buildings because many of the mortgages exceeded the buildings’ values, notes Carla Walker-Miller. The old buildings were saddled with aged energy systems. But with the now-growing economy, Detroit’s buildings are regaining their value and energy efficiency is moving to the forefront, with climate change, pollution, and harsh winters motivating change, says Walker-Miller. She’s president of Walker-Miller Energy Services, a 15-year-old energy efficiency services and solutions company for commercial and residential sectors. Walker-Miller’s company does science-based technical building evaluations, safety checks, and teaches occupants how their behaviors lead to energy waste. The company offers an action plan for upgrades, retrofits, and replacements to decrease energy use and building operating costs. Walker-Miller’s sequenced approach starts with no-cost measures such as occupant behaviors. She then moves to low-cost suggestions such as lighting and air sealing. Investment-grade cost measures such as HVAC systems are presented last. Her company also provides project management. Walker-Miller shows commercial customers who operate a building at the lowest cost that if they provide improved comfort and safety through efficiency upgrades, they can be competitive for tenants. What She Does Day to Day “I’m responsible for big ideas and big relationships, so I try to keep something that’s going to be ground-breaking in my queue at all times,” she says. That may include conferences or meetings with state and federal officials and keeping an open ear to what others are saying about energy. She also likes classroom teaching. She’s inspired by the US Department of Energy’s energy literacy program, also called “K-To-Gray,” which teaches how energy efficiency can be a lifelong learning endeavor. What Led Her to This Line of Work Walker-Miller had no money for college. She learned that engineering would offer her the most money without an advanced degree but her high school guidance counselor dissuaded her “because I was a black female,” she says. However, Tennessee State University, which was recruiting minority engineers in the early 1980s, offered her a full scholarship based on her test scores. Walker-Miller earned a B.S. in civil engineering and then went to work for Westinghouse. She also sold large transmission and distribution power equipment. Walker-Miller would hear discussions about the need to make the power grid more robust. “That concerned me because I knew there was a large group of people who even at that time, 14 years ago, were having trouble paying their utility bills and the only way to invest in the utility grid is through a ratepayer investment,” she says. While the utility grid was in the process of needed upgrades, Walker-Miller was convinced a real impact could be made by the smart grid, distributed generation and alternative solutions. She started conducting workshops for Detroit seniors on saving on their energy bills (she also heads up a non-profit that helps people struggling with water bills). In early 2009, her distributor agreement with ABB was cancelled due to the recession. By that time, she knew energy efficiency was going to be a growth business. Michigan also had passed energy efficiency legislation in 2008. In 2010, she focused her business on providing energy efficiency solutions. Revenues grew from $875,000 to more than $3.2 million today. What She Likes Best About Her Work “I love employing people,” notes Walker-Miller of her staff of 38. “We deliberately designed a company that values its employees. I also love that this is an industry that is helping in terms of education, returning money back to families and businesses and making buildings safer and more comfortable. This business has no downside, whether it’s from the point of economics, long-term sustainability or climate change.” Her Biggest Challenge Staying ahead of the curve and being prepared is Walker-Miller’s biggest challenge. For the first 25 years she was involved in energy, nothing seemed to change. Now, energy is the “Wild West,” she says, as she joins the effort to teach people how to use it, what to use—solar, wind, fuel cells, distributed energy—and how to deliver it. “It’s an exciting time,” she says. “My biggest issue is determining what is legitimately ‘next’ as opposed to what’s been proven in a laboratory, and where to focus our attention.” Carol Brzozowski writes on the topics of technology and industry.
Published by Forester Media. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.businessenergy.net/article/Reader+Profile%3A+Carla+Walker-Miller/2269985/272085/article.html.