Mike Winka’s life’s work is energy conservation. Winka, director of the Clean Energy Program (CEP) in the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities since 2003, studied environmental science and environmental engineering at Fairleigh Dickinson and West Virginia universities, and then went to work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

He stayed there for 22 years, serving as chief of the department’s Bureau of Resource Recovery and administrator for its Office of Innovative Technology and Market Development. He was also responsible for overall management of the New Jersey Sustainability Greenhouse Gas/Climate Change Action Plan, which set the first statewide reduction level in the country.

By jumpstarting the sustainability movement in New Jersey with rebates for renewable energies and other payback options, says Winka, the Clean Energy Program has created business opportunities for both new and existing companies. These involve products that increase energy efficiency for heating and air conditioning systems and for whole-house insulation. The ripple effect from these more efficient systems creates business for energy service providers, installers, energy consultants, and home surveyors who make recommendations on improving efficiency, and also for architects and developers who use green building design.

“Because of rebates, net metering (to ensure that consumers get full value for electricity produced by their solar energy installations), and solar renew energy certificates,” says Winka, “we have had 300 percent annual growth in the solar market over the last three years, and are projecting 300 percent this year.” The number of installers has grown over about the past five years from two to more than 100. “If we were on NASDAQ,” he says, “we’d be on fire.”

Winka is a panelist at the session on “New Jersey’s Solar REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) Market” at the New Jersey Clean Energy Conference on Monday, September 18, at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Cost: $195. Register at www.njcleanenergy.com/conference.

Other topics at the day-long conference, at which Governor Jon Corzine is slated to give the keynote, are “Market Transformation in a Global World,” “Market Opportunities for New Jersey Businesses,” “Green Building Design,” “Energy Pricing and Procurement,” and “Federal Tax Credits.”

The drive for clean energy comes from an awareness of the damage that polluted air is doing, both to individuals and to their environment. So while the goal is purer air, water, and soil, along with a reduction in greenhouse warming, its side effects include new market opportunities for New Jersey, including:

Products that increase energy efficiency. With energy prices rising, the first step businesses and homeowners can take is to increase the efficiency of their appliances, in turn creating sales for businesses that supply these products. Although heaters and air conditioners may be the first products to come to mind when talking about improving efficiency, other energy-stingy appliances can affect a business’s bottom line — dishwashers in a restaurant, for example.

When it comes time to buy new dishwashers, restaurateurs have a big decision to make, and Winka has some advice: “Instead of installing cheaper equipment, they should be looking for dishwashers that use less water and heat and have better performance. Then energy costs are less, and the business is more profitable.”

Another new energy product is an integrated structural component developed by Jack Armstrong of BASF in Monroe Township. It provides a new way to build the walls of homes with super insulation already inside them. “This will lower the size of heating and air conditioning systems, yielding both a lower cost to build and lower operating costs,” says Winka.

Services that support energy efficiency. The Clean Energy Program’s Energy Star program trains and certifies energy service providers to do energy audits for homeowners. These auditors analyze the cost savings from more efficient appliances against their purchase prices, figure in rebates offered by CEP, determine the payback period, and then match the customer up with utilities that will finance a new furnace or air-conditioning system. The audit costs about $200, but says Winka, the recommendations arising from it can cut that much from energy bills in the first year.

Businesses around the financing of energy systems. An industry is developing around the ability to trade emissions credits for the energy reductions achieved by the new technologies. Businesses can generate solar renewable energy certificates for every megawatt hour they produce, and because electric suppliers must have a certain amount of renewables, there is an open market for these certificates. The Clean Energy Program established the trading system and monitors it to prevent manipulation and to ensure that there is not an undersupply or oversupply of certificates.

Meanwhile, banks are looking at the financing of renewable energy systems. “They are looking at solar systems like any other power plant,” says Winka. “Someone will buy that electricity, and they know they will get the money paid back.”

All in all, New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program is managing to improve the environment by lowering greenhouse emissions, while expanding business opportunities. “It’s a win-win scenario,” says Winka.

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