"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation


Adobe Improves on Perfection

By Jonathan Marshall

How do you improve on perfection? In the case of energy efficiency, software giant Adobe — in partnership with PG&E and Cushman & Wakefield — is showing the way from San Jose.

The famous maker of such iconic digital content tools as Acrobat, Illustrator and Photoshop, Adobe also has a reputation as an environmental leader. In 2011, Newsweek magazine ranked it as the 14th greenest out of 500 publicly traded companies. It was also the first corporation to achieve four Platinum-level Certifications for Energy and Environmental Design Excellence by the U.S. Green Building Council.

In 2009, Adobe installed 20 Windspire wind turbines at its San Jose headquarters to capture the energy of the wind speeding up as it flows between office towers.

In fact, with help from its utility and facilities management partners, Adobe achieved a perfect Energy Star score of 100 for each of its three headquarters towers in downtown San Jose over the course of more than a decade of continuous investing in energy efficiency projects. (Those scores recently edged down slightly due to a change in the rating system, but are still extremely high.)

Since 2001, PG&E has supported these initiatives with more than $738,000 in incentive payments to help Adobe achieve an 81 percent return on its energy-saving investments.

To squeeze the most of those investments, Adobe implemented an “Intelligent Building Information System” to measure and monitor energy usage and verify savings. With guidance from a PG&E energy audit, it undertook an ambitious array of lighting and HVAC upgrades, including installation of thousands of motion, daylight, and occupancy sensors to help minimize energy waste.

With more than 30,000 monitored points in the three towers, facilities managers can observe energy usage, water use, carbon dioxide emissions, and indoor climate conditions in real time to help them optimize building controls. The Web-based system even incorporates weather forecasts into its modeling for fine turning. It also flags trouble spots, giving technicians guidance for repairs and recalibration to keep the system running at its highest efficiency.

Its latest projects involve transforming hard-walled office spaces into energy-saving, open-plan “smart floors” and using clean fuel cells to provide on-site generation to augment the utility grid.

Adobe’s tests showed that its energy systems regularly accommodated about 25 percent more people than actually occupied its individual, hard-walled offices. Its designers came up with an alternative, open floor plan that lowered operating costs, increased floor capacity, and improved employee comfort.

To maximize energy efficiency, Adobe’s building management system was programmed to shut down lighting and HVAC services to individual sections of the floor when they were unoccupied. The results were remarkable. Even as overall floor occupancy grew, Adobe slashed energy use on its test “smart floor” by 65 percent. Not surprisingly, Adobe is now implementing the model across the globe.

In addition, to lower its demands on the electric grid, Adobe has installed several fuel cells at its headquarters. Operating with bio-methane or natural gas, these power generators supply about 30 percent of the electricity used by its San Jose towers. They are particularly valuable on high-demand days when the utility calls on large business customers to reduce consumption. PG&E rebates supported this installation as well.

Adobe’s ongoing quest to push the limits of energy efficiency proves that business success — in this case, lowering costs while improving employee comfort — can go hand in hand with environmentally sustainable practices. But it’s also a reminder that there’s no silver bullet for managing energy use. As with most things in life, sustained commitment and good partnerships pay off.

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.