Schneider Electric CEO: Let’s celebrate efficiency

September 29, 2015, 5:16 PM UTC

Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman and CEO of electricity generation equipment maker Schneider Electric, is a big fan of efficiency. He says, for example, that allowing machines rather than humans turn off the lights reduces electricity usage by 30%.

The problem is that too little of the public debate about saving the planet from the ill effects of climate change is about efficiency. Fortunately, Tricoire has figured out why. “I’ve come to the conclusion, after working on this for 30 years, that you don’t inaugurate energy efficiency,” he told the audience of Fortune’s energy and environment conference, Brainstorm E, in Austin, Texas on Tuesday.

The line was designed for yuks, and it’s a good one. Power plants, battery factories, and solar-panel manufacturing lines all get ribbon-cutting ceremonies. When a company implements an efficiency program—Schneider sells efficiency-oriented software packages, for example—it saves money. But there’s no party (with champagne-sipping worthies in attendance) to celebrate the accomplishment.

The goal, Tricoire said, isn’t merely to use electricity only when it’s needed but also to use it when it’s cheaper to produce. Utility-industry people refer to this as “off-peak” power. Electricity is cheaper, for example, in the middle of the night when fewer lights are on. Schneider helps the city of Boston forecast its electricity needs by analyzing traffic lights, office usage and other consumption patterns. “If we start consuming electricity when it’s most efficient,” Tricoire said, “we get more efficiency.” Let the cork-popping begin.

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Interested in the economics of clean energy? Watch this video from Brainstorm E: