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Wall Street and Natural Gas

By Michael DeCaluwe, CEM

This winter, natural gas rates have continued their fall below the $2 per dekatherm price point. Weather and decreased production typically create a floor to gas prices. However, neither has been able to slow our run to historically low gas prices.

What’s Wall Street’s role in the market?

Typically, Wall Street’s venture capital firms invest in a company and assume an eventual payout.

  • For example, think of Amazon, which lost money for many years even while its stock price went up. Wall Street was investing in the potential of the company to eventually make money.

Investors applied the “loss leader” strategy to the energy sector, but they haven’t seen the same results. Venture capital firms invested heavily in shale during the post-2008 boom. Yet natural gas rates have continued to decrease, and so have the returns from energy companies.

Debt-riddled and highly leveraged, many natural gas producers have been unable to produce a return for investors.

How did Wall Street get it wrong?

The biggest aspect of the natural gas market that investors didn’t consider is the decline rate in production at the well head.

Gas Well Decline Rates

A decline rate is the decrease in the amount of gas a well is expected to produce year over year. For instance the amount of gas that a shale gas well produces declines by an average of 70 percent in Year 2 versus Year 1.

Natural Gas Decline Rate

Production and Royalty Declines in a Natural Gas Well Over Time — Source: geology.com

The chart above illustrates why the loss leader approach to investing in the natural gas industry has led to big losses.

If these wells aren’t making money in Year 1, the rate of decline means they surely won’t be profitable in future years.

Producers have had to drill new wells to keep production and cash flow up to repay their creditors. This, coupled with the lower domestic gas demand, has created a vicious cycle that has resulted in today’s sub-$.20 gas pricing.

What happens now?

The party might be over for the natural gas industry.

Investors are starting to pull their money out of energy companies, and natural gas rates are at 20-year lows. Shale producers decreased spending by six percent in 2019 and are forecasted to decrease by another 14 percent in 2020.

The number of natural gas-directed wells also decreased by over 35 percent in 2019.

In spite of this decrease in investment and rig counts, gas rates have continued to fall in 2020. It could take a year (or more) of decreased investment in the market to affect natural gas supply.

How This Impacts You

As a buyer, it’s important to understand Wall Street as a market factor. Here are some articles that explain this concept in more detail:

If you’d like to learn about other macro factors affecting the markets, check out our February Chronicles of Nania or feel free to contact me.

 

About the Author

Michael has served as the Senior VP of Commercial & Industrial Sales at Nania Energy Advisors since 2007. He believes that listening to and understanding clients’ energy needs is vital to becoming a thought leader in the industry and forming a mutually beneficial business relationship. In his spare time, Michael enjoys being a dad, staying active, and playing basketball.

Michael can be reached at mdecaluwe@naniaenergy.com or via phone at (630) 225-4552.

TMT: Benefits of a Reverse Auction

Video Transcript

What’s the difference in electricity and natural gas supplied to you between one supplier or another?

The answer? None. They’re both commodities. There’s absolutely no qualitative difference if your supplier is Constellation, Direct Energy, or any of the other dozens of retail energy suppliers.

So, what does matter? Making sure that you’re getting the best effort from all qualified suppliers to provide your organization with the best results.

In this week’s Two-Minute Tuesday, we’re going to talk about how a reverse auction for energy procurement can compress supplier margin and drive energy savings for you.

How does a reverse auction work?

In a reverse auction, all qualified energy suppliers are invited to compete against each other in a live event that you can watch through an online portal.

With each bid, suppliers attempt to win your business by under-bidding one another. They can’t see who the lowest supplier is, but they can see the price to beat. This gives each supplier “last look” and dramatically improves the level of competition.

What happens when the auction ends?

At the conclusion of the auction, when no supplier is willing to go any lower, you’re left with the supplier who was willing to put their money where their mouth is. And the lowest possible energy rates achievable.

You’ll also have a report with time and date stamped bids from all suppliers during the auction.

Consider using a reverse auction for your procurement.

For commodity procurement, there is no more efficient and transparent platform than the reverse auction. But it’s important to note that the auction is just one tool in your energy management toolbox. You aren’t guaranteed the best results just by virtue of using one.

Your consultant or broker should also be:

  • Helping you develop an RFP that defines your energy goals and assists you in making the best decision
  • Monitoring the market for you to advise on the timing of your purchase, and
  • Partnering with you directly to meet the reporting needs of your organization.

When you’re considering options for your upcoming commodity agreement, check out a reverse auction. It might provide some valuable competition you might be missing from your process.

Thanks for watching! If you found this video helpful, please like, comment, or share below.

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TMT: Liquefied Natural Gas

Video Transcript

Did you know that natural gas can be turned into a liquid?

In today’s Two-Minute Tuesday, we’ll be talking about why liquefied natural gas (or LNG) is an important factor in the cost of energy in the US.

Liquefied Natural Gas: Fast Facts

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, can be exported on ships.

At export terminals, natural gas is cooled to about -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it becomes a liquid. It’s then shipped using special ocean tankers to import terminals. There, LNG is heated and returned to its gaseous state.

Historically, the United Stated imported LNG, so most of our ports are designed to heat LNG to turn it into a gas.

However, recently we’ve seen a rise in shale fracking and an increase in our natural gas production. This led to the opening of the first US LNG export facility in February 2016.

Since then, we’ve added five more export facilities, with more scheduled to come online in the coming years.

Why is Liquefied Natural Gas important?

LNG can affect the price of natural gas both domestically and internationally.

Historically, the price for gas in Europe and Asia has been 80-100% above the cost of gas in the US. This matters because of how it impacts our supply market.

Domestic natural gas producers can get a higher return for their natural gas in the international market versus the US market.

Although we only export a small amount of LNG right now, our exporting capacity could increase because gas producers are driven to capitalize on the market differences. Could this siphoning of supply cause the cost of gas in the US to rise to the level of the international market?

The Future of LNG

The future of LNG exports has a lot riding on the upcoming election. Depending on who wins this contest, the US LNG market could continue to expand or could be cut back. Regardless of the election, LNG exports will continue to influence domestic energy prices for both natural gas and electricity, and its expansion is a factor to watch over the next decade.

Thanks for watching this Two-Minute Tuesday, and look forward to future videos! If you found this video helpful, please like, comment or share below.

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TMT: Demand Response Program for Schools

Video Transcript

Starting June 1st of 2020, significant changes to the Demand Response program in our region could mean a drastic reduction in your school’s payout.

In this week’s Two-Minute Tuesday, we’ll talk about these changes and what they mean for your school district.

What is Demand Response?

Let’s start with a quick recap of Demand Response.

On days when our power demand is at its highest, relative to the “capacity” available to handle that demand, our grid — also known as PJM — has to ensure that everyone who needs power has it. This prevents blackouts.

Rather than installing expensive infrastructure that may only be used a few hours a year to meet that high demand, PJM started a program known as Demand Response.

In the Demand Response program, participants can voluntarily commit to reducing their power load during times that require it.

The only caveat is that participants have to prove that they can hit those levels during an annual 1-hour test event. In return, those participants receive money from PJM for both the test event and any emergency events, should they occur.

What’s new this year?

Historically, these real emergency events only posed a threat in the summer on the hottest days of the year.

Given recent history, however, the winter now also poses a threat in bouts of extremely low temperatures. So how has the Demand Response program changed?

Well, starting June 1st of 2020, the program will require year-round enrollments versus summer only of previous programs. Your total curtailment amount as a school district is now based off the lower of your two PLCs — both winter and summer.

Unless you use electric heat, this means your total curtailment is likely going to decrease dramatically — and so is your money earning potential.

Some curtailment service providers have adapted their software to accommodate these changes and may be able to offer you a unique solution to still enroll for summer only. But keep in mind: your total payout will likely be half of what it was in the past.

Ask your provider how this will impact you.

If your current provider has not yet contacted you about these changes, reach out and ask them how it’s going to impact your revenue potential.

And, if you have questions about how you can still capture some of the earnings — versus dropping out of the program altogether — reach out to us. We’re happy to help!

Thanks so much for watching. If you found this video helpful, please like, comment, or share below.

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PJM Capacity Market Ruling

By Michael DeCaluwe

On Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted 2-1 to extend PJM’s Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) to any generation assets that receive state subsidies. As a result, energy consumers in PJM’s territory could see a significant rise in their electric rates.

That’s a lot of energy industry jargon, but we’re going to simplify it here and explain how this new rule could impact you.

What is Capacity?

Capacity is a charge levied by a grid operator, such as PJM. It is money collected from electricity consumers by the grid and paid to power generators to ensure that there’s enough power to meet energy needs during peak demand times.

This charge used to be a small portion of your energy costs, but over the past few years it’s grown to be 25-30% of your energy bill due to coal generators shutting down.  There’s less supply to meet demand.

PJM operates their capacity charges in a 3-year forward market. They hold an auction in which generators bid against each other to set capacity rates 3 years in advance. For example, capacity rates for 2022 were to be set in this year’s auction (2019).

Current State of PJM Capacity Market

Some generators have voiced their concern that state subsidies for some types of generation (such as renewable energy programs, state nuclear bailouts, etc.) place them at an unfair advantage when they need to compete in the capacity auction against these subsidized generators.

FERC — the regulatory body that oversees PJM and other grid operators — agreed to review PJM’s auction rules and delay the 2019 auction while these rules were reviewed.

What did they decide?

In their vote yesterday, FERC essentially banned any subsidized generator from participating in PJM’s capacity auction. This was a victory for un-subsidized generators (coal and natural gas-powered generators), but it was a severe blow to nuclear and renewable generators in PJM’s territory.

PJM Capacity Market

Source: trane.com

Estimates on increased electricity (capacity) costs to consumers range from $1.6 billion – $5.7 billion in the 11 states that PJM serves.

 

Why will capacity costs increase?

All 11 states in PJM’s territory operate some type of subsidization of energy, whether through nuclear bailouts (Illinois or New Jersey) or through state renewable standards (almost all states). If subsidized generators are barred from participating in the capacity market, future capacity markets will be determined by relative few players.

Less Supply + Same Demand = Higher Rates!

Also, without the ability to capitalize on capacity revenue, renewable energy assets become much less economical to build. This stunts the growth of renewable energy in the PJM market.

What’s Next?

There will undoubtedly be court action against this vote. Additionally, some states are pushing for a “carve-out,” in which they would operate their own capacity market independent from PJM.

In short, this FERC ruling has sent the industry into a pandemonium and has created real concern over the future of renewable energy assets in PJM.

What’s there to do as a customer? Nothing at this time until we have a clearer vision of what the final outcome will be. Just be aware that there could be major changes coming to electricity pricing in the next few years.

We’ll keep you updated as we learn more. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

2020 PJM Demand Response Changes

By Becky Thompson

December 19, 2019

BIG changes to the PJM Demand Response program are coming in 2020.

If you’re currently participating in or considering enrolling in the PJM demand response program, here’s what you need to know.

What is Demand Response?

Demand response is a program designed to ensure reliability of the electric grid during peak demand periods.

Companies that enroll in the program agree to reduce their electric usage when they receive curtailment alerts. In return, they can receive substantial payments from PJM.

“I don’t think we can curtail any usage.”

That’s what clients initially say when we bring up demand response.

There are a variety of ways businesses can curtail their usage without major disruptions to daily operations. For example:

  • Industrial or manufacturing clients can shift production to off-peak hours.
  • Hospitals and data centers can use non-emergency backup generators that meet program requirements.
  • Schools and residential buildings can raise air conditioning set points by 5 degrees and turn off unused lighting.

What’s changing in 2020?

Up until 2019, organizations could enroll in a Base Capacity program that only required participation during summer months (typically June through September). Since most businesses use more power in the summer than the winter, they could easily match their projections and earn big payouts.

Starting in June 2020, the only available demand response program will be PJM Capacity Performance, a mandatory year-round program for participants.

Quick Facts about PJM Capacity Performance

  1. Demand response program participants will be required to curtail their usage during summer and winter events.
  2. Summer season is June 2020 – October 2020 and May 2021. Winter season is November 2020 – April 2021.
  3. There will be two test events  — one in summer and one in winter — and participants will have to participate in at least one of the tests.
  4. The enrollment deadline for the 2020 – 2021 is in the first or second week of May. However, the program has been decreased by 20% for this year – so enrollment space could run out before then. Site that sign up by the end of February should be able to get their desired kW enrollment value.

Why the change?

Blackouts occur when the demand for power exceeds the amount of supply available. And in recent years, winter blackouts have become more likely than summer because there is lower total supply available. In the Polar Vortex of 2014, PJM energy consumers were at risk of experiencing a blackout during one of the coldest winters in history.

As a result, PJM was forced to rethink how they viewed grid reliability.

How You Can Prepare Yourself for PJM Capacity Performance

Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering enrolling in the new program:

  • The minimum requirement for curtailment is 100 kW.
  • Your curtailment ability will be the difference between your seasonal Peak Load Contribution (PLC) and your Firm Service Level (FSL). Since these can vary greatly between summer and winter, you may see a drastic reduction in your curtailment ability and potential payout.
  • To maximize your payout, ask your demand response vendor if they offer a seasonal performance program that allows you to have different curtailment values for summer and winter.
  • Enrollment in the demand response program is limited because the total MW allotment has been decreased by 20%. It could be beneficial for you to sign a longer Demand Response agreement to ensure your seat at the table in the future.

Despite the changes coming to the program, demand response could be a viable way for your organization to generate some additional revenue. Contact us to discuss if the program is a good fit for you.

 

About the Author

Becky is a Senior Strategic Energy Advisor specializing in the public sector, including schools and municipalities. She has been in the energy industry for over five years, working from the ground up as an account manager and then as an electric pricing team lead. Her background knowledge of the inner workings or an energy company helps her identify actionable strategies for making her clients’ energy strategies both easy and cost-effective. In her free time, Becky enjoys any activity that requires being outside and making her son belly laugh.

Becky can be reached at (630) 225-4561 or bthompson@naniaenergy.com.

Ask An Advisor: LED Lighting Upgrade

December 16, 2019

Video Transcript

Hi! I’m Michael, the Senior Vice President at Nania Energy Advisors. Now you’ve probably heard that upgrading your facility’s lighting to LEDs is one of the easiest ways to reduce your energy costs and to reduce your carbon footprint.

And that’s true. But what does it look and feel like to do a lighting upgrade project?

In today’s video, you’ll get an inside look at an in-progress LED upgrade, along with some before and after shots. You’ll be amazed by the results. Come see what I mean!

How does a lighting project affect day-to-day activities?

Today we’re on site at one of our industrial clients who is currently undergoing an LED upgrade project. As you can see, the contractor is able to do the lighting project with minimal disruption to manufacturing activities.

What can you expect from a lighting upgrade project?

So after the lights have been replaced and the project is complete, what can you expect to see?

1) Energy Savings

Depending on the energy of your current system, you should expect energy costs and usage related to lighting to drop anywhere from 20-80%.

As an added bonus, those organizations with sustainability goals should also see a reduction in in their carbon footprint, improving LEED scores and Energy STAR ratings.

2) Quick Return on Investment (ROI)

The average LED project will have a payback period of 1-3 years.

  • A payback period is defined as the amount of time that it would take for your electricity savings to accumulate to equal the initial project cost.

Your individual payback period will depend on a few factors, most notably:

  • The efficiency of your current system,
  • The number of hours that your lights are on during an average week, and
  • Any utility rebates that are provided to help pay for the initial project cost.

3) Lower Maintenance Costs

While a typical fluorescent bulb will last between 20,000 and 30,000 working hours (or 2-3 years), you can expect an LED bulb to last over 100,000 working hours (or 10 years).

Because LEDs last longer, you won’t have to replace them as often, saving you money on labor and supplies related to lighting.

Before

After

What are the benefits of a LED lighting upgrade?

So how is this industrial client benefiting from their lighting project?

  • This client will see an annual savings of over $31,000 a year on their electricity costs.
  • They’ll see a project payback of 2.6 years.
  • And they will see the lighting quality in their facility improve by over 250%.

How can you pay for a LED lighting upgrade?

Now, if you’re worried about how to pay for a lighting project, the good news is that you don’t have to pay for it all up front. There are many creative ways to pay for an LED upgrade.

For example, this customer selected to use on-bill financing. This project is being funded by one of our electricity supply partners, and the client is paying for the project through a small fee on their monthly electricity invoice.

Consider doing a lighting project at your facility.

As you can see, a lighting project can be extremely beneficial to your facility. If you’d like to learn more about LED upgrades or other efficiency projects, please check out our website or contact us.

Thank you for watching, and look for future energy videos.

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Two-Minute Tuesday: Reverse Auction for Energy

December 10, 2019

Video Transcript

love buying things on eBay. It’s that thrill of the auction as those last seconds tick down and getting the product that I really wanted at a great price.

What if I told you that you can buy your gas and electricity commodity in an auction format as well? But instead of the price going higher like it does on eBay, the price goes down. It’s what we call a reverse auction. 

In this week’s Two-Minute Tuesday, we’re going to talk about what a reverse auction is for energy buying, if you’re a good fit, and what the benefits could be to your business as a result.

What is a reverse auction?

So what is a reverse auction? Just like we talked about, it’s like eBay in reverse. Instead of the price going higher for your electric or natural gas price, the price is actually going down as more bidders compete.

Take your current supplier or third party, like a Constellation or a Direct Energy. They all compete in an open platform online live for 20-30 minutes submitting multiple bids to win your business.

What are the benefits of a reverse auction?

The benefits to you are transparency in the process and a lower overall energy rate.

Am I a good fit for a reverse auction?

To find out if you’re a good fit for this, you may consider:

  • Do you need complete transparency in your purchasing or procurement process?
  • Are you a public entity where you want to see everything on a fair, open platform?
  • Or, are you a large business where energy is a large spend for you and you need the absolute lowest rate possible in the marketplace?

If so, this may be a route you want to consider.

So how about a real-life example?

We just ran a reverse auction for electricity for a large local school district a few months ago. Their overall rate at the end of the auction resulted in savings of $600,000 for their school district.

Think about how that kind of money and savings could help your operating budget. Then, reach out to your current broker or consultant and see if this is something that they offer. See what it could look like for your business and the savings you could attain as a result.

Thanks for watching our video! Leave your comments below, and check out this article on how you could benefit from a reverse auction.

EV Charging Stations Made Affordable

By Calvin Cornish, CEM

It’s been almost 2 years since I wrote my last EV charging station article. And a lot has changed since then.

  • In 2017, there were 199,829 EVs sold in the US. That number nearly doubled in 2018 to 361,307. And as of August 2019, there have been 200,194 sold.
  • JP Morgan estimates that EVs and hybrid EVs will account for around 30% of all vehicle sales by 2025.
  • Automakers are preparing for the market shift — Tesla isn’t the only buying option for EVs.

How can you prepare your facility for this EV influx?

A new way to pay for an EV charging station may be part of the answer.

New EV Charging Trend: Lease/Rent to Own

The lease-to-own model benefits more than one party involved. Let’s look at the phone industry as an example.

For cell phone providers, this model:

  • Ensures revenue for network carriers
  • Encourages end users to upgrade more frequently
  • And makes smart phones more attainable to more people.

EV charging station manufacturers and networks are adopting the model as well. Companies like EVGo, ChargePoint, and Blink are reducing barriers to entry by improving the upfront economics and positioning charging stations as an operating expense.

What are the benefits of leasing to own?

1) Lower Upfront Costs

Leasing an EV charging station can dramatically reduce your initial investment. As a site owner, you’re responsible for preparing and running power to the charging station.

On average, preparations account for 30% of traditional upfront costs.

2) Reduced Management and Risk

Leasing your charging station shifts responsibilities back on the vendor that you would have had if you bought the station outright. These responsibilities include:

  • Allocating costs
  • Managing station availability
  • Maintaining functionality

Since the vendor owns the device, they bear the costs and liability for servicing and repairing it.

3) Opportunity to Recoup Costs

When you install a charging station, you can decide whether you’d like to charge patrons for using it.

With costs around $100 per month, you can assume that the revenue generated will eventually cover your operating expenses.

Depending on your initial costs to prepare the site, your payback period could be shorter than the term of your lease.

4) Enhancing Your Station’s Capabilities

As battery technology improves, charge times continue to drop. Leasing allows you to upgrade at the end of your lease term, and you can decide how much you’d like to continue investing in the station.

You can make sure your charging station is up to date and continues attracting users.

Know your EV Charging options.

The EV charging marketplace is still developing, and there’s a lot more to consider than whether to lease or buy a station.

If you’re considering diving in, talk to an energy advisor to discuss your needs before bringing in a representative from a charging company.

Keep an eye out for my next post which will cover questions to ask yourself before leasing or buying a charging station.

 

About the Author

Calvin has served as a Senior Strategic Energy Advisor at Nania Energy Advisors since 2010. He specializes in preparing property management boards to make informed decisions on energy efficiency through property industry education. His clients include apartment complexes, condominium associations, and senior living facilities. In his free time, Calvin enjoys music and coaching youth sports.

Calvin can be reached at (630) 225-4554 or at ccornish@naniaenergy.com.

The (Not-So-Distant) Future of Energy

By Michael Zaura

One question I’ve been asked over the past few weeks is: “What future energy trends are you seeing, and how will they impact my business?”

As an energy advisor, I don’t take this question lightly. Keeping up with energy news and understanding how emerging technology will affect the energy market is important for current and future planning.

Recent energy news stories can give you a sense of where the industry is headed. 3 items you’ll want to keep an eye on are:

  1. Renewable energy generation,
  2. Energy storage technology, and
  3. The US-China trade negotiations.

Renewable energy generation is hitting new highs.

Renewable energy sources are rapidly increasing their foothold in our electricity supply. Just a few months ago, renewables surpassed coal as the top electricity generation source. In 2018, renewables accounted for about 17% of US electricity generation. This number is expected to grow as more solar panels and wind turbines come online.

Renewable energy options are more available and economical than ever before. Users are buying more “green energy” as opposed to traditional “brown energy.” Customers of all sizes — including businesses like Starbucks — are taking advantage of this opportunity in the market. Utilities across the country are offering new incentives for solar projects for both residential and C&I consumers.

Just 5 years ago, renewables were considered too costly and weren’t generating enough supply to make an impact. Overtaking coal this quickly shows us that renewables will be a big part of energy discussions and strategies going forward.

Energy storage is becoming more prominent.

As renewable generation increases, where is the excess generated power going?

The answer: batteries.

Energy storage is important. It’s also important that the stored energy can be dispersed when it’s needed. Think about a facility’s solar panels. Those panels are generating electrical energy while the sun’s out. When the sun goes down, the facility can use its stored energy to keep the lights on instead of going to the grid. However, if the battery can only hold an hour’s worth of power or can’t release the power efficiently, it won’t be very effective.

While the technology is good right now, the research being poured into it will only make the products better by increasing their capacity and flexibility. The “next big battery breakthrough” is coming. And as the companies developing these batteries continue to advance this technology, our energy future is only looking brighter! (get it?)

International events are impacting energy.

One topic the media has incessantly covered is the US-China trade negotiations. As the current world leader in natural gas and oil production, the US has some leverage in these talks. China is the #1 importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and the US is one of the world’s top 3 LNG exporters. Energy minds think this is great for trade, but it could also drive electricity and natural gas away from historically low rates.

Our clients usually ask us to look into our “crystal ball” and give our opinion where the energy market is going. No one know when these trade talks will conclude or how they might shake out. Acting now on historically low energy rates has yielded great savings for our clients over the past few years. How long this pricing environment will last is anyone’s guess, but the outcome of the trade talks is something we’re all watching very closely.

Keep these energy topics on your radar.

So, which one of these trends will have the greatest impact on your business? Chances are, it may be all of them, whether directly or indirectly.

  • Depending on your organization’s sustainability goals, buying green energy through RECs or even investing in hard assets for your facility may be a consideration down the road.
  • Having a reliable battery as an on-site source of energy in the future could keep your facility up and running during a blackout.
  • Lastly, whatever the outcome of the trade negotiations, it makes sense to review your current energy purchasing strategy now while the markets continue to produce historically low pricing.

The chances of rates declining much further are far less than them increasing at a faster pace. Feel free to give me a call or comment below if you’d like to share your thoughts on the future of energy.

 

About the Author

Michael is a Senior Strategic Energy Advisor in the Chicagoland area. He specializes in manufacturing, hospitality, transportation, and renewable/green energy. Michael helps his clients craft energy strategies specific to their current and future situations. He is passionate about renewable/green energy and its growth, continuously learning through reading and sharing publications. He enjoys spending his spare time with his wife, daughter, and triplet boys.

Michael can be reached at (630) 225-4556 or via email at mzaura@naniaenergy.com.