On the trail of energy management
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
Gregory Johnson is president of Kilawatt Technologies, the 17-year-old Shelburne company he bought with Steven Antinozzi three years ago. Kilawatt analyzes a company’s energy consumption patterns and finds ways to increase efficiency without buying expensive, more energy-efficient equipment.
Kilawatt Technologies has a lot to say about the pursuit of net zero energy.
In all the rush for companies to achieve net zero in their energy production — by putting solar panels on their roofs, for example, to offset the energy they consume — something is missing. That something, according to the Shelburne company’s co-owners, Gregory Johnson, president, and Steven “Rocco” Antinozzi, vice president of business development, is considering first the total energy a business is consuming and reducing it to the maximum extent possible.
Steven “Rocco” Antinozzi, vice president of business development and co-owner, joined the company in 2008. He uses his background in finance and economics as a lens through which to manage energy.
“Then and only then should a company start looking at replacing their consumption with another form of energy,” says Johnson, who bought the company with Antinozzi three years ago from its founder, Paul Grover.
“If we can go into a building and remove — and we’ve done this — 30 percent of their energy, it then becomes, depending on the size of the building, a financially viable argument to either build their own solar farm or come up with a means to obtain energy via an alternative energy format where you can have a payback of approximately seven and a half years. And in doing so, you completely eliminate your energy bills forever. That really should be the ultimate goal for people.”
Kilawatt does this by analyzing the energy in existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and recommending adaptations. “We don’t sell anything,” says Johnson. “We just ask what mechanical equipment is there that works.”
For example, Kilawatt was able to cut the electricity use in Vermont Public Television’s Studio A by 86 percent. A consultant had recommended that VPT spend over $300,000 to replace its 1967 analog HVAC systems and ductwork. Kilawatt identified ways to optimize the original systems by turning them into digital ones while eliminating some serious comfort issues along with the need to buy a new system.
“They have been great to work with,” says Glenn Dudley, VPT’s director of engineering. “The beauty of the system is a Web browser to control and monitor and gather data as to a snapshot of what our energy use is and what areas are utilizing the majority of the power. Rocco was our primary contact. He’s just a very knowledgeable and motivated and driven guy; just committed to improving the efficiencies of our operation.”
“This way of working differentiates Kilawatt from any company I know of anywhere,” says Amy Townsend, a specialist in green energy who contracts as the company’s director of communications. “Steven has found there are certain rules of thumb in the HVAC industry that don’t apply if you know what you’re doing.”
“HVAC engineers have told me that you need 1 ton of cooling equipment for every 600 square feet — that’s the general rule of thumb,” says Johnson. “What we have found in the data of a host of buildings throughout the Northeast is that we’re looking at applying 1 ton to every 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.”
It should come as no surprise to find Johnson involved with a company like this. His father, Martin Johnson, the founder of The Johnson Company, an environmental consulting firm in Montpelier, served as secretary of environmental conservation under several governors.
He grew up in Johnson, a native Vermonter of “somewhere between six and eight generations,” he says. After graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in zoology, he worked in the UVM orthopedics department researching back pain until 1986, when he left for Michigan State University to study civil engineering. He transferred to Tufts University and completed his master’s degree with honors in 1989.
He joined his father’s company, where he worked for about 10 years, “learning the ropes,” he says. He then launched Greatwood Engineering Management LLC in central Vermont, his own environmental consulting firm, which is still in business, having moved to the Champlain Valley with him.
At the end of 2009, he says, “Paul Grover asked me to come in and take a look at the place as an unbiased observer: Does this have any legs? Is it worthwhile? I was very busy with my own company, but back in 2009, there was nothing going on because of the economy, so I came in and met with Steven Antinozzi. We talked a number of days; I went out and met all their clients with him.”
Eventually, Antinozzi says, Grover decided he wasn’t interested in continuing with the company.
Antinozzi had joined the company in early 2008 and had done a lot of work setting up its current structure, applying accounting principles to the energy data analysis. “I was looking for an individual who was very interested in pushing the marketing end of the company,” he says. “Gregory Johnson loves doing the marketing and has great depth of knowledge of people throughout the state. As an engineer, he looked at what we were doing strategically and said this was a better qualitative way to deal with energy. We hit it off at the beginning.”
Antinozzi came to the company with an education in finance. After graduating from Ithaca College in New York in 1975 with a history concentration, the Falls Church, Va., native hung around and co-founded the Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, which is still there. “That was one of the first associational community-based credit unions chartered in the United States,” he says.
He entered graduate school at Cornell and earned his MBA in finance, accounting, and economics in 1987. Along the way, he met Katherine Palmer, his future wife. After graduation, they headed for Boston, where Katherine had grown up. They stayed for a couple of years, when he worked as controller for Megapulse Inc., a developer of high-powered solid-state transmitters for Loran C radio navigation, the precursor of GPS.
They tired of city life and moved to Vermont in 1991. They have two sons, ages 13 and 18. Leo, the 18-year-old, works for the company while he’s finishing high school before entering an entrepreneurial-based education program.
“I worked with a couple of other companies,” says Antinozzi, “but my real background is extending from finance and economics. That’s the lens I work through in all the energy work. It’s an economically driven environment.”
Using this lens, Antinozzi has developed what he calls the Circle of Value “to enhance the client’s relationship to energy and the environment.” The Circle of Value covers the areas of capital, maintenance, human resources, energy, communications, and full visibility. The results are completely data-driven.
The client list is impressive and includes such noteworthy companies as GE Healthcare, New England Federal Credit Union, Green Mountain Power Corp., and Pizzagalli Properties.
“One of the top things we provide is a report of energy usage, and we lay it out exactly like a financial report,” says Antinozzi. “We give them year-over-year comparisons, and those are taken directly from a client’s utility bills.”
One-way gates make security almost a non-issue. “Sensors are installed that use a “burst” format,” says Johnson. “Data is collected for a time, then the logger connects to the Internet, fires off the information, and slams down and calls us. So there’s no mechanism to penetrate back into the company, and if they do, they’re only going to see our data logger.”
The company is experiencing a growth phase, says Johnson. “Currently our main focus is the Northeast — New Jersey northwards — and we’re rapidly expanding beyond that.” He mentions a group in California and a “gentleman with an office in Hong Kong” who have shown interest. “The global range of this is that a building has to have high-speed Internet. The practical scope is throughout the United States, then Canada, the Caribbean islands, things like that.”
Being highly data-driven, the company has been able to keep a small footprint, opting to hire contractors (e.g., communications, bookkeeping, and accounting services).
Johnson spends his time off outdoors — hiking, skiing, SCUBA diving, swimming, and kayaking. He and his former wife share custody of their 15-year-old son, a student at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, and they have a 21-year-old daughter who manages horse facilities in Florida and Kentucky.
“Raising two sons keeps me pretty busy,” says Antinozzi, “but I have one other significant outside activity: I am the co-chair of the Shelburne Bike and Pedestrian Paths Committee. I’ve been involved for almost a decade.”
“My family has a long history,” Johnson says. Way back when, we had a manufacturing firm that built heavy lift equipment, and one of the things we built were coal barges. Teddy Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world powered by oil, and we didn’t see the writing on the wall.
“What I’m trying to say is that my family has had, in one stretch or another, a long history working with energy. Kilawatt is an absolutely new, logical way of looking at the energy question, and this is the best thing we can do, wrapping our arms around energy. Because it will have an impact way beyond Shelburne.” •