By Phyl Newbeck
Philip Mosenthal began his career as an architect with an interest in creating energy efficient buildings. In the early 1980s he worked for the state of Pennsylvania performing energy audits on commercial and industrial buildings. As he learned how to make buildings more efficient, he began to think he might be able to have a bigger impact if he worked on the policy side of things. Mosenthal went back to school and got his graduate degree in Energy and Environmental Policy and then spent five years with a consulting firm. He had always wanted to move to Vermont so in 1996 he came up and founded Optimal Energy, now located in Hinesburg.
“All our work,” Mosenthal said “is premised on the fact that energy efficiency is not only environmentally beneficial but economically beneficial and should be looked at as a resource that can solve a lot of society’s problems. Everything we do is toward advancing renewal energy as an alternative to the traditional energy supply.” Optimal Energy’s work takes many forms including advising governments and environmental groups on policy issues. They also engage in utility planning which involves analyzing efficiency opportunities and designing and evaluating programs. The company works in the building sector trying to end reliance on oil, gas and electricity in buildings and factories.
Optimal Energy works primarily in North America but they have done some consulting in Europe and even China. Mosenthal admits that achieving change in China is a slow process. “We did a lot of work there from 2003 to 2007,” he said “basically trying to show that there were a number of efficiency opportunities that were economically preferable to building a new coal plant every week. We had some success and they’ve improved some of their building standards.” The company has also advised the Environmental Protection Agency on efficiency issues for their state partnerships.
One project Optimal Energy was involved in is much closer to home. They came up with the original plan for the creation of Efficiency Vermont which was the first (and is still the only) state-wide energy efficiency utility in the country. The company also provided guidance on the conversion of Vermont street lights to LEDs. Recently they finished a project in New York in which they analyzed efficiency opportunities in electrical generation. Mosenthal is pleased that renewable energy has become less expensive and that technology has improved the ability to integrate it into the utility grid. “The choices people have about where their energy comes from can potentially open the door to a lot more efficiency,” he said.
Optimal Energy started in Middlebury and moved to Bristol before settling in Hinesburg last September. Mosenthal lives in Starksboro but his business partner, Eric Beliveau, is a Hinesburg native and most of the company’s 14-member staff live in Chittenden County. Mosenthal is somewhat confident about the future of energy efficiency. “Things are moving in a better direction than they have historically,” he said. “We also have a long way to go but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
By Phyl Newbeck