The “Accidental” Energy Manager

Erin Fitzgerald

A career as an energy manager almost didn’t happen for Paul Kuck. You see, Paul received his degree in fine arts from the University of Oregon in 2000 and thought that he wanted to be a computer animator. However, as he learned more about the industry and got his hands “slightly wet,” he realized that the industry didn’t really appeal to him. He wanted to have more passion for his job, and he wanted his career to have a positive social benefit.

Paul_KuckWho would have thought that the many years of working in the restaurant industry would eventually lead him to his current career as an energy manager? From the time Paul was 16 years old, he has worked in restaurants, holding a variety of positions―host, waiter, cook and manager—eventually transitioning to the operations side of the industry as a project manager opening and remodeling restaurants. Through this role, he quickly learned that there was a lack of information on how restaurants could be more energy efficient. Frustrated, he did his own research to help guide his efforts and eventually developed a website to share what he learned. Paul became an industry expert on the subject, and in 2009 started doing contract work for Ecova working with its restaurant clients. In 2010, he was hired as a permanent employee and began supporting the company’s many restaurant clients full-time.

As an energy manager for Ecova, Paul continues his quest to make the restaurant industry more energy efficient. He spends much of his day conducting energy audits for clients, looking at those “low hanging fruit” opportunities, as well as longer term projects, such as capital improvements. In a restaurant, lighting, refrigerators, HVAC systems, and fryers are all fair game for Paul―he leaves no stone left unturned. Paul also works to identify “outliers,” those sites with the highest use of energy, and then makes recommendations to help the site perform better. “I really like getting a chance to talk to general managers and district managers, whether it’s during an audit or when I’m working with them because their site has been identified as an outlier. They are typically dubious of me at first, but once they realize I’ve worked in the business and understand what’s going on at their restaurant, they open up and we can start indentifying efficiency opportunities, troubleshooting equipment, or giving them some suggestions on operations or equipment maintenance.”

With such variety in his role as an energy manager, I asked Paul what he liked best about his job. His answer was not really that surprising. “The fact that I continue to work in an industry that inspires and motivates me after all these years is rewarding―an added bonus is that I get to escape the day-to-day stresses that often are associated with working in a restaurant.” He went on to say that he’s seen a positive shift within the industry and has been a part of some great success stories. For example, his work with Shari’s helped identify an opportunity with its dipper wells (those things in which they keep the scooper at ice cream shops) that reduced water consumption by 40 percent and natural gas usage by 20 percent at pilot sites. Shari’s will install the equipment that drove the savings in all of its sites over the next couple of years and expects similar results across the board.

“The variety of projects keeps my job fresh and getting the opportunity to work with clients to reduce their energy consumption, which has both financial and environmental benefits, keeps me going.” Given that many of Paul’s clients have multiple sites across the country, his role does have its challenges. Rolling out companywide changes—such as lighting across many sites—can be hard, as it involves working in different states, as well as with different management teams and utilities. “These can be some of the tougher types of projects to manage.”

As a veteran of the restaurant industry, I was curious to learn what trends Paul is seeing. He was happy to report that the industry is recognizing energy management as a part of doing business, a controllable cost. The future seems bright for the industry. Paul foresees a continued focus on companies looking for both financial and environmental savings as increased attention is given to recycling and composting.

Now, every time I walk into a restaurant I’ll wonder if Paul had something to do with making it more energy efficient. And that’s the story of a how a “would be” computer animator became an Ecova energy manager.

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