Louis Maltezos (Ameresco)

Future Cities Series: Louis Maltezos, Executive Vice President at Ameresco

An exclusive interview with the Executive VP of Ameresco, the first-ever solely renewable energy company in history to offset a whopping 50+ million metric tons of CO2 emissions and be valued over a billion dollars.

Executive Vice President Louis Maltezos has been a senior executive of Ameresco since the company acquired Exelon’s energy savings performance contracting business in 2004. He’s responsible for Ameresco’s Central and Northwest Regions in the United States and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ameresco Canada Inc.

With nearly 30 years of industry experience, Lou provides senior management oversight to all sales and operations activities and is responsible for developing and executing its growth strategies. He earned an M.B.A. degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

In his free time, Lou enjoys cooking for family and friends, reading, and spending time outdoors, which is one of the reasons why he does what he does, to ensure that there’s a future in nature for generations to come.

Louis Maltezos (Full Interview)

* * *

What inspired you to get into renewable energy?

I’d always been attracted to the physical sciences and always enjoyed and appreciated nature and wildlife. When I was a kid, I loved watching any documentaries on television about nature or science.

After receiving my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and, later, an MBA, I was lucky enough to be working for the electrical utility in Chicago when they first started launching a new, unregulated business based on energy efficiency and distributed generation. I knew immediately that is what I wanted to do and I asked to be transferred to that part of the business.

Developing and delivering energy efficiency and renewable energy projects is the perfect opportunity for me to apply my technical and business education and experience in a way that contributes to preserving and protecting the environment and all the natural beauty in it. It sounds corny, but that is the truth.

One of your most significant projects was to provide smart LED lights to a population of more than 2.7 million people in the City of Chicago. What are the impacts of this change? And how does it affect the future of the city?

The immediate impact of a project like the Chicago Smart Lighting Project is a 50%, or greater, reduction in the street lighting system’s energy consumption which, of course, reduces the City’s carbon footprint and their utility costs. In addition, the longer life of the new LED fixtures combined with the smart street lighting management system will greatly improve the reliability of the system and the efficiency of the City in managing the system.

Over and above the energy, environmental, and financial benefits resulting from the new smart streetlighting system, the higher quality light provided by LED technology will improve visibility and safety in Chicago’s neighborhoods. As if all that is not enough, the smart street light control system infrastructure can be leveraged by the City in the future for other smart city applications if they wish.

Why is it important for people to pay attention to decarbonization?

I don’t think any reasonable person can look at the scientific evidence and deny the link between carbon in the atmosphere and global warming which, in turn, impacts every living thing on the planet.

On a personal level, I have children of my own, and we love spending time together outdoors. I think we all need to do what we can to protect and preserve that precious resource for generations to come. To whatever extent we can decarbonize, it helps to ensure that there is a future on this Earth for my children and for my children’s children and so on.

I am excited and optimistic that we have come to a point where decarbonization is now a mainstream business issue taken up by major corporations around the world and, perhaps even more importantly, an issue of importance to the individuals and financial institutions that invest in those corporations. So, I would say that even an environmental cynic should pay close attention to what is going on in the area of decarbonization because of the economics.

Another one of your solutions includes turning gas boilers into geothermal energy, including for a school in Ontario, Canada. In which ways does geothermal energy stand out versus traditional gas?

I think you are talking about our project for the London District Catholic School Board in Ontario, Canada which involved making their John Paul II school (JPII) the first carbon-neutral school in Canada. This is one of the most clear-cut examples of how Ameresco is addressing and mitigating carbon emissions with our customers. Geothermal heat pumps stand out in this regard since they often replace traditional boilers which, in many ways, are the most visible part of a building’s carbon footprint because they literally burn hydrocarbons and spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Geothermal energy, on the other hand, does not involve burning or consuming fuel of any kind. It uses the difference in temperature between the earth and the conditioned space to heat or cool as needed. In the case of the JPII project, in addition to the geothermal heating and cooling system, we installed a solar photovoltaic system and battery energy storage system all tied together by a microgrid. In this way, the electricity required for the school (including the power needed for any pumps, fans, etc. related to the geothermal system), is also carbon-free allowing the school to achieve complete carbon neutrality.

Sticking to the topic of alternatives for natural gas; choices like geothermal energy produce significantly lower greenhouse gases, but they still do. Which zero-emission options, if any, is your organization exploring?

There are several economic options for zero emissions. The easiest and least-cost approach to lowering greenhouse gases is to consume less energy. At Ameresco, energy efficiency is our bread and butter. By reducing energy consumption and demand in our customers’ facilities they save money on their utility bills and reduce their carbon footprint.

Other options include solar and wind, either on their own or paired with battery energy storage. For example, at our Beale Hill Windfarm project in Ireland, we utilized wind power to generate carbon-free electricity. Another great example is combining batteries with solar photovoltaic as we did at JPII and elsewhere. Through this model, batteries are charged by the solar energy generated from the sun and provide a dispatchable source of energy that’s completely carbon neutral.

Here’s a trivial question; how many pounds of CO2 emissions do all Ameresco projects combined reduce annually? And why is this a number to celebrate?

I would argue that this is the opposite of a trivial question as we are proud to show a significant impact in this area. Since 2010, Ameresco’s renewable energy assets and customer projects have delivered a cumulative Carbon Offset equivalent to 50+ million metric tons of CO2. On an annual level, we know that our 2019 Carbon Offset was 11,167,978 metric tons of CO2. To put this into perspective as a number to celebrate, the 2019 number is equivalent to removing the greenhouse gas emissions from 27 billion miles driven by the average passenger vehicle.

In a positive turn of events this century, what’s it like to work at one of the first-ever sustainable energy companies in history to be worth over a billion-dollars? And what insights can you share with sustainable startups that aspire to achieve similar results?

It is nice to see the affirmation in the market but that is not what drives us and I’m happy that it hasn’t changed the basic culture of the Company. I’ve been at Ameresco for over 16 years and I can honestly say that even though we’ve enjoyed a lot of success and become a significant presence in the market we still treat every customer and every project, no matter how big or how small, like it is the most important. That is what we had to do to survive in the beginning and that is still the way we operate.

So, even though we may be bigger now, we still have the same entrepreneurial spirit, relentless focus on customer satisfaction and tremendous work ethic that our founder and current CEO, George Sakellaris, instilled in us at the beginning. At its core, Ameresco is simply an exciting, innovative and invigorating company. Working with people wholly committed to our goal of “doing well by doing good” is rewarding in and of itself.

Recently, we were recognized in Forbes as one of the best mid-size companies, and it comes as no surprise to me. We come to work every day dedicated to improving not only the environment but the quality of life for local communities.

For us, it’s not about being bigger, it’s about always trying to be better. Regardless of the success, we come to work every day and focus on developing and delivering great projects that make a difference for our customers and the overall environment. That is the advice I would give to anyone starting up. Focus on the mission and not the accolades. When you give back and deliver value, results always follow.

Which future city ideas inspire you the most?

One of the great things about working for Ameresco is that many of our projects increase resiliency and public safety for the communities they serve, which is a foundation for all future city ideas. Once you have the infrastructure in place, because the foundation is reliant on making the best use of our resources, we can prioritize energy efficiency and use the data we collect to make better decisions.

For me, it’s not about any one specific future city outcome, but rather creating the broadest platform possible to enable these ideas to come to light.

If you could share only one of your favourite quotes, which would it be? And why did you pick that one?

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Although he had many flaws as a man of his era, I admire Roosevelt’s approach to life. In essence, Roosevelt’s saying here not to be afraid to have big dreams, but don’t forget that those dreams have to be rooted in reality. It also suggests that you should be humble while you strive to do great things.

I think the quote sums up Ameresco in a nutshell because we strive toward these wonderful ambitions, but it’s imperative to do so while considering the practical constraints of economics, technology, and customer needs. And, in keeping with the additional theme of humility implied by the quote, it is important to recognize the value of engaging with your customers and business partners in a win-win manner.

As the city with the lowest carbon footprint in the UK, Bristol has shortlisted Ameresco to pioneer their City Leap initiative. Why is it crucial for the fight against climate change to be a multinational effort?

Fighting climate change needs to be a multinational effort because we all live on the same planet. The decisions we make on one region of the Earth impact the other regions as well.

It’s important to view the fight against climate change as a global initiative that we all have a responsibility in helping to prevent. We’re all as much a part of the problem as we are the solution. The only way forward if we want to continue living on this planet is together.

Energy poverty is prevalent throughout the world. Many people have no access to modern energy and those who do spend a large portion of their income on bills related to heating and electricity. What are the best ways to make energy more accessible, sustainable, and affordable?

Off-grid solar is one of the easiest and most economical ways to deploy electricity to regions of the world without access to transmission lines or fossil fuels. Since many of these regions don’t have baseline dependencies on fossil fuels, off-grid solar provides an excitingly affordable and efficient source of electricity that wasn’t previously available. These local communities can then take the energy generated from the panels to simply power phone chargers or even provide students with access to lights for nighttime studying. It’s a life-changing experience when you can continue your studies into the evening and opens up a world of additional possibilities.

What role does Ameresco play in eradicating energy poverty?

Ameresco is very proud to be a long-term leader in providing green, sustainable, energy efficiency programs in social housing, also known as public housing. With over 30 years of experience in this sector, we’ve implemented projects with capital exceeding $750 million – most of which were paid from the resulting utility savings – and improved over 175,000 units of multifamily housing across North America.

For those who spend a large portion of their income on paying off electricity and heating bills, the greatest benefit we can provide to them is to lower those bills and improve their standards of comfort by introducing more efficient energy and water-efficient technologies, like low flow fixtures, indoor LED lighting, HVAC, and building automation systems, into their buildings. We’ve done an extensive amount of work in public housing in North America, including Chicago Housing Authority, New York City Housing Authority, Toronto Community Housing Authority, San Francisco Housing Authority, and the Boston Housing Authority, to name a few.

What excites you the most in the field of sustainable energy right now? And how do you anticipate things to play out by the 22nd century?

First and foremost, there’s a significant focus on sustainability right now that’s especially exciting because for most of my career it was not a common or generally accepted theme in the business community. Today, all eyes are on us. I think there is an opportunity for tremendous growth in our industry as more and more people realize the practicality and possibility of sustainability initiatives.

In addition, energy storage, the continuous improvements in processing speed, the reduction in the size of sensor devices, the ubiquitous nature of wireless networks and the introduction of 5G (and beyond) are all very exciting. These sorts of technologies are currently enabling, and will continue to enable, all sorts of applications and use cases for distributed generation and better management of energy consumption. While the extent of some of these technologies might not be fully realized today, they will continue to develop and become more practical in the future.

Please summarize your life in three words.

Work. Play. Love.

Last, what is the one thing you want everyone to know about Louis Maltezos?

I think the one thing that defines me most is that I love my family. Every major decision I make reflects my commitment to them or my concern about how they would view my choices. They keep me grounded and are quick to put me in my place if I ever start to get too full of myself and they also push me to be the best version of myself. I wouldn’t be who I am today without their love and support and without having them to love and support in return.

* * *

Richtopia menu background (mobile)