Joe DeFazio, Executive Vice President of NAESCO-accredited energy service company (ESCO) Wendel Energy Services (Wendel), recently sat down with NAESCO to talk about his career, his leadership style, the keys to Wendel's success and some notable recent examples and more.
1. Wendel has been an industry leader for 80 years. What would you say have been the keys to the company's track record of success?
Our success is built on the principle of "doing right by the client." We are able to consistently accomplish this thanks to the expertise of our natural "systems" thinkers, or engineers with significant design experience. With these resources at hand, we are better able to start our recommendations with a complete understanding of the entire system we are evaluating, enabling our projects to look beyond replacing in-kind solutions to make impactful upgrades. The interactive effects related to our recommendations are always accounted for so that the building's overall operation and performance is improved upon completion of a given project.
Increasingly integral to Wendel's success, though, is focusing our in-house engineering expertise with building performance data intelligence. Specifically, first we study existing drawings and other materials to understand the original design intent. We then leverage our analytics tools to generate actionable insights, including information regarding operational anomalies - like unintended equipment activity, mixed air temperatures, simultaneous heating and cooling, etc. - that we can then investigate further.
The recommendations we make as a result run the gamut from relatively minor control changes that yield large energy savings and operational improvements to major changes, such as the installation of a heat recovery chiller or advanced ventilation controls.
In sum, though, much of Wendel's success stems from our cost-effective, vendor-neutral approach to service, which allows us to focus on improving existing systems wherever possible rather than replacing otherwise modifiable building equipment and systems to yield energy savings.
2. You've been with Wendel for 22 years, starting out as an energy engineer before eventually rising through the ranks and making partner in 2002. Given your unique perspective, what strategies in your view will help to sustain Wendel's growth over the short- and long-runs?
We don't assume or presume to know what is best for our clients without first getting to know them and their unique situation, which is to say “doing right by our clients” starts with listening generously.
Our leadership team at Wendel is determined to stay abreast of new technologies and combining it with our 80-year foundation built on technical excellence. It seems like new challenges present themselves to our clients at a faster pace than ever. Along with that, our clients are bombarded with new “silver bullet” solutions that may or may not actually work for their issue. When faced with the opportunity to help our clients with a new challenge, we assemble a team of engineers to immerse themselves and become experts in that challenge.
We see huge benefits to analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) when properly deployed. Battery Electric Vehicles and Battery Electric Buses appear to be on the verge of breaking out. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and a healthy building environment is obviously on everyone's mind right now. How to improve IAQ while not giving up on energy conservation is a real challenge. We have assembled a dedicated team of engineers and architects that are actively immersed in studying the best practices related to HVAC improvements as well as building alterations to promote workplace flow and appropriate physical separation.
Our 4th generation of leaders is already being engaged and groomed. These young professionals are amazingly bright and truly care about making a positive impact in the communities we are serving. Their incredible ability combined with their desire to make the world better makes me very confident for the future of our company.
3. Is there anything about Wendel that you feel sets it apart from its peers in this market?
Wendel is unique among ESCOs in our ability to provide comprehensive solutions in a one-stop-shop setting. Wendel does not sub-out the investigation, planning and design phases, which we feel these are the most important phases of a successful project. Our energy professionals are supported by architects, construction managers and engineers from a wide variety of disciplines. And since our systems approach to projects is vendor- or manufacturer-neutral, we work equally well with products from different manufactures and our solutions are driven by the project's needs.
And again, generously listening to the client is a critical step in our project approach. We are so committed to this that we have coined a term - Immersion® - which everyone at Wendel understands to mean gaining a full understanding of our clients' needs and objectives. Immersion is our unique “pre-solution” process, used to get projects off to a quick and efficient start. An Immersion takes place over the course of a few days to a week, consisting of fact-finding meetings with key stakeholders and facility/site tours to gather the information that will create a more informed and better-aimed project.
Another differentiator is the Wendel Master Builder process. This is our unique blend of design/build and design/bid/build delivery models, with a focus on strong project leadership. The main principles of this approach are:
Single point of contact;
Accelerated project schedule;
Stepped delivery approach and owner control;
Competitive subcontractor prices, and;
Fully transparent accounting of costs.
This process allows us to work directly with project owners as their go-to for anything and everything project related while our transparent, open-book process ensures they are getting the most project for their money.
4. In that same vein, could you briefly describe the project(s) that you feel best exemplifies Wendel's service offerings?
Our work with New York State municipalities regarding LED street lighting conversions is an excellent example of how the Wendel team immerses itself in a challenge to benefit our clients. The State of New York adopted Legislation 5205.B in 2015, this opened the door for the sale of street lighting assets by several electric utilities to local municipalities. The process and details of such a transaction were yet to be developed and daunting to our clients, but Wendel was well-positioned to provide a comprehensive portfolio of services, bundled in an energy performance contract, to facilitate and manage the purchase of street lighting systems by local governments across the State. Since that time, Wendel has been working with over 50 municipalities to design and implement LED street lighting upgrade projects to significantly reduce annual operating costs and improve the quality of lighting in their communities. Our open-book approach is very much appreciated by local governments who are under incredible scrutiny by taxpayers.
Perhaps the best indication that our clients appreciate the depth, breadth and approach of our service offerings is the long-term relationships we have with our clients. We have been working with several universities, local governments, and state governmental agencies for multiple years and for some, we are entering our third decade as their trusted partner, providing innovative energy efficient projects.
5. And how do you see the market for energy efficiency and infrastructure improvement services changing in the near term?
We see the market for energy efficiency and infrastructure improvement growing quickly over the next decade. Our clients are being asked to do more with less. Energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) are one of the most successful private public partnership examples available. ESCOs have implemented billions of dollars of improvements using money that is already in the client's operating budget. This “repurposing” of operational expenditure into energy efficient capital improvements can be a real “win-win” for clients that are facing shrinking capital budgets.
6. In closing, what would you say are the most important considerations for an organization determining whether to engage an ESCO like Wendel? Has COVID-19 changed these considerations?
Organizations that are looking to engage an ESCO should consider the ESCO's background and expertise. Is the ESCO NAESCO accredited? Does the ESCO do the upfront engineering and planning with their own staff or do they sub this out? Does the ESCO bring an engineering perspective, contractor perspective or manufacturer perspective to developing projects? Which perspective or approach is a better fit for that particular project or client?
COVID-19 has changed our world considerably. Our clients are faced with a very real challenge regarding IAQ. They have been forced into a position that makes them receptive to a “silver bullet” solution and, as we know, silver bullets don't often work. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges presented by COVID-19. New technologies used in the wrong application will have no real benefit. A company that has the in-house resources to understand a building's systems is an ideal partner to provide unbiased advice and solutions that will make a meaningful impact to the IAQ of a building.