Rackspace collaborates with CPS Energy to save money, energy and emissions

When your company’s motto is Fanatical Support, an unscheduled power outage is not acceptable.

That’s why Melissa Gray, Rackspace’s director of sustainability and strategic partnerships and Brian Carney, director of global real estate, came to CPS Energy last year.

They also wanted to make sure that back-up power was as clean and efficient as possible, given Rackspace’s efforts to position itself as a global leader in sustainable business practices.

Around the same time, Rackspace Chairman and co-founder Graham Weston and CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby, during a casual meeting, decided the two companies could learn things from each other and benefit the community.

A collaboration was born.

So far, that collaboration has increased Rackspace’s energy reliability, saved power (and money) and sponsored electric vehicle infrastructure for the community. In return, Rackspace is sharing its culture with a group of CPS Energy’s emerging leaders.

“CPS Energy has helped us increase our infrastructure reliability, understand our rate structure and partnered with us to create better long-term planning models,” said Gray.

“It’s been great for the CPS Energy employees on the team to learn how Rackspace promotes their culture,” said CPS Energy analyst Jonathan Tijerina, part of the cross-company team. “They have 3,500 employees there, and that means they have 3,500 ambassadors for the brand.”

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As part of CPS Energy’s automated demand response pilot program, Rackspace agrees to reduce power use during the handful of hottest summer afternoons, when the state’s electrical grid is most stressed.

As political, business and civic leaders gather today at Rackspace headquarters for a frank and necessary discussion about air quality in the San Antonio region under the umbrella of the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum, both Rackspace and CPS Energy hope their partnership can serve as a model for action.

Stakes are high.

Edging out of compliance

Recent violations of the federal air quality standard for ozone call for action so that San Antonio avoids having the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designate the region in non-attainment. Ozone is also a health hazard.

Peter Bella, natural resources director with the Alamo Area Council of Governments, and one of the forum’s speakers, says there’s still time for San Antonio to head off more onerous federal demands.

“So we’re pushing for change now,” he said, “which means we have to raise awareness, much as has been done with water issues.”

The Clean Tech Forum is hosting the gathering, which features Bella, Judge Nelson Wolff, and CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby, with Robert Rivard moderating. Since 2008, the Clean Tech Forum has brought together local leaders on more than two dozen topics, from nuclear power and the impact of the Eagle Ford shale to water, energy efficiency and the coming smart grid.

Gray said it made sense to hold the luncheon at  “the Castle,” as Rackspace’s headquarters is affectionately known to the thousands of Rackers who work there.

“We prefer to be proactive” she said. “By engaging the right business and civic leaders, we can find ways to solve these challenges.”

Commitment leads to change

Rackspace’s interest in local air quality is driven by its commitment to SA2020, the ambitious, community-driven initiative to improve San Antonio by 2020. Weston serves as one of the tri-chairs of the broad strategic plan for San Antonio.

CPS Energy and Rackspace are both leaders when it comes to reducing emissions.  Rackspace purchased 30 percent renewable energy in 2012 and hopes to increase it to 35 percent in 2013. 

CPS Energy, while producing more power to support a growing San Antonio, has decreased the production of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and carbon dioxide it emits, in a variety of ways.

The city-owned utility has also reduced demand and emissions as part of its Save For Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP.

Last year, residents and businesses saved 139 megawatts of power through energy efficiency programs under STEP. That brings the total saved so far to 318 MW. The goal is to save 771 NW by 2020, enough to delay building the next power plant – because the cleanest power by far is power that doesn’t need to be produced.

So when Rackspace approached CPS Energy, it was natural that the two powerhouse companies team up.

First, as part of a ‘check up’, CPS Energy analyzed Rackspace’s energy use and found that it had ‘outgrown’ its rate class, saving the company money on its utility bill. The team also identified the need for a new transformer to accommodate growth, which CPS Energy replaced.

Rackspace also took advantage of CPS Energy’s electric vehicle charging station program, installing four stations in a spot that would allow the community to use them.

(Image) Anyone can use the charging stations CPS Energy installed at Rackspace.
Anyone can use the charging stations CPS Energy installed at Rackspace.

Finally, Rackspace has enrolled in a pilot program CPS Energy has launched to automate its demand response program.

Currently, businesses enrolled in the program agree to reduce demand when CPS Energy calls, which happens several times a summer, in exchange for a rebate.

Under the new program CPS Energy will reduce demand remotely and almost instantly, while still offering an override option for the company.

Savings available to all

The partnership between CPS Energy and Rackspace is unique; in addition to the energy-related measures, the companies formed a team with members from both companies to share best practices and leadership development.

Such steps taken by Rackspace to reduce cost and increase reliability are available to any CPS Energy business customer.

“If you’re a large company, and it’s been a while since you’ve checked in with your account manager, you definitely should,” said Al Alexander, a commercial energy manager at CPS Energy. “Are you at the right rate? Have you taken advantage of programs like demand response, or one of our commercial retrofit rebate programs?”

If not, he said, a company could be missing out on significant savings — and the region could be missing out on significant emissions reductions.

“The collaboration between Rackspace and CPS Energy is a great example of two committed companies working together on a common goal,” said CPS Energy’s Tijerina.

“We hope the partnership will serve as a model, as motivation for other companies in the area to look at how they’re using energy, and how through some simple actions, they can reduce demand, save money and help San Antonio meet its clean air goals.”

Tracy Idell Hamilton

Tracy Idell Hamilton was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

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