Innovation plays a key role in energy efficiency, with energy systems evolving as traditional users now act as both energy producers and consumers.

That was the opinion of panelists who spoke in late June at the Energy Efficiency Forum, co-sponsored by Johnson Controls and the United States Energy Association. The event featured leaders and decision-makers in the energy sector, such as representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Senate and Public Service Enterprise Group.

“Today, an additional 1.9 million Americans are employed — either in whole or in part — in energy efficiency,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “And the Department of Energy projects that more than a quarter million new hires will happen in 2016 alone.” 

Ralph Izzo, president of PSEG, said there are four winners in intelligent, balanced energy-efficiency regulation.

“The first is the consumer, the second the supplier, the third the environment and fourth, the utilities,” Izzo said. “The challenge in creating regulations is balancing all four to work together to be effective.”

In terms of policy, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) discussed the impact of energy bills for smart building technologies. 

“The new smart building focus has enormous potential for energy savings, high-paying jobs and the stimulation of economic growth,” said Cantwell, adding that these technologies can be integrated with other systems to help protect consumers and investors from power outages, price fluctuations and other challenges.

The forum, titled “Leveraging innovation to become an energy-efficiency superpower,” also brought together current and former mayors to discuss energy-saving initiatives in their cities, such as hydro-electric power, electric bikes and LED lights to reduce light pollution.

“The local level, I think, is the level where we’re going to find the answers, share them, emulate what is successful, avoid what isn’t successful and come to a solution,” said Greg Nickels, a former Seattle mayor. 

Private sector leaders in technology and innovation were also in attendance — such as global incubator and seed fund 1776 and consulting firm 38 North Solutions — and shared their energy advancements in solar and wind power.