Original article is published in forbes.com by Suparna Dutt D’Cunha, September 6, 2016

American entrepreneurs Charles Blaschke and Chris Burkhardt don’t have anything against cleaner burning fuels or Dubai’s bright-lights, big-city image. They just think businesses – and the buildings they operate in – should be using less energy.

“Our focus is to help people reduce their energy consumption because that can have a huge impact,” both economically and environmentally, says Blaschke, the founder and managing director of Dubai-based Taka Solutions.

Worldwide, the market of cutting back on energy waste is growing and is now worth at least $310 billion, reports the International Energy Agency (IEA). According to the United Nations Environment Programme estimates, buildings use about 40% of global energy, so smart technology is a crucial part of any country’s energy-saving strategy.

The young company that retrofits buildings to leverage energy savings was founded with exactly that goal in mind in 2013.

Although the renewable energy sector is growing and gaining traction in all its modalities – last year saw record worldwide investment of $286 billion, with solar energy accounting for 56% of the total and wind power for 38% – Blaschke feels these resources are being “misappropriated”.

“If the ultimate goal is to reduce energy and carbon emissions, then the most cost-effective and simple way to do that is energy efficiency,” he says.

“Energy efficiency is called the first fuel because it can achieve the same effects as new supply, at 75% cheaper than renewable energy. Most importantly, it can be done by every individual around the world,” adds Blaschke.

To help make energy efficiency easier, the company uses cloud-based analytics, Building Information Modeling (BIM), energy simulations and engineering to identify energy-saving opportunities in buildings.

“We pay all project costs, including engineering, equipment, technology, contractors and ongoing operations and management, and we are only paid a fraction of the savings we generate. If they [the buildings] don’t save money on power bills, they don’t pay anything to us,” says Blaschke.

“Our plan is to reach as many buildings as possible, and reduce UAE’s energy consumption by 30%,” he adds. At present, the country has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world.

This year, their pay-as-you-save business model for energy efficiency was a global finalist in The Venture competition, a social entrepreneurship competition that rewards startups that use business to create positive change, with $1 million as the grand prize. This year the competition was judged by, among others, actress Eva Longoria and comedian Trevor Noah.

Although Taka Solutions, the winner of the Gulf region, missed out on a place in the finals held in New York in July, Blaschke says it was a “great experience” nevertheless.

“The Venture has been a whirlwind from day one. It was an honor to represent the Gulf region. While we did not win as we had hoped to, that was offset by acquiring the skills and knowledge to drive growth in our business once we got home,” he says.

Now, to bring their energy efficiency strategy to the wider public, they are set to develop a mobile app for individual consumers. “We realized over the past two years that we were not getting down to the ones who consume a large portion of the energy, and need the help the most. To an individual, saving $500 per year is a lot, and when you multiply that by the six billion people worldwide it is a huge impact,” says Blaschke. According to IEA, 1.3 billion people around the world lack access to electricity.

Over the last decade, UAE’s gross domestic electricity consumption has more than doubled and is expected to grow even more rapidly over the next five years as the country undergoes substantial population and economic growth. The rate of increase in energy consumption in the UAE, Blaschke says, is exceeding its electricity generation capacity.

“The buildings account for roughly 70% of the country’s energy consumption and of those buildings that we have surveyed all could easily have a 30% reduction in energy consumption. Apart from the technical aspects, changing the behavior of users is important, and it’s not just about switching off the lights or replacing incandescent lighting with LEDs” he says.

Last year, Blaschke says, Taka Solutions’ revenues have grown by 500%. “We have tripled the amount of area under our management from roughly 100,000 sqm to 300,000 sqm and landed new clients for both our long-term energy contracts and our consulting work. We aim to invest $30,000,000 in building energy retrofit projects in the UAE over the next five years.”

It is an ambitious target but Blaschke and Burkhardt believe it can be achieved if the smart use of electricity becomes a priority for all. “It takes time to educate clients in what we do and put together a project, but seeing our efforts pay off and customers come back for more is a great thing for us,” says Blaschke.