At long last, our net zero energy home is moving from conception to reality.
Deciding to go for net zero energy was the easy part of building a home. My work at Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) and my husband Tom’s strong interest in sustainable building made it a natural choice. We knew the additional upfront costs of building with more insulation, better windows and high efficiency equipment was a smart investment that we’d recover in lower monthly energy bills, increased comfort, and someday higher resale value.
But making it through all the “usual” hurdles: securing financing, buying land, working with the architect and builder, getting permits and navigating local politics has been more intense than Tom and I could have imagined. That, and the added twist that our house is being featured as the Boston Magazine Design Home of 2014.
The State of our Schools
April 8, 2014 is National Healthy Schools Day. Coordinated by the Healthy Schools Network, National Healthy Schools Day is meant to raise awareness of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues affecting our schools’ faculty, staff, and students.
Each weekday, 55 million children and 2 million adults—roughly 20% of the entire U.S. population—spend their day inside a school. Yet, many of our school buildings still contain harmful environmental health hazards such as asbestos, lead paint, mold, heavy metals, pesticides, and other volatile organic chemicals. This need not be the case.
Efficiency Vermont has added another piece to their ‘Energy Efficiency as an Investment’ repertoire. This infographic clarifies one of the most apparent benefits of energy efficiency, the ROI tends to be high!
As we’ve noted before, energy efficiency is a solid investment. New lighting, equipment, and processes all have upfront costs that are paid off over time through reduced energy bills. So, what kind of return do large businesses in Vermont see for their investment in energy efficiency? The graphic below shows a healthy return of 167% - even after taking their contributions to the energy efficiency charge into account.
Energy Efficiency has an impediment when it comes to being recognized as a climate solution – it lacks oomph appeal. It doesn’t have Solar energy’s dazzling solar arrays glinting in the brilliant radiance of the sun. Nor does it have Wind energy’s elegantly arching wind mills, so sophisticated and alluring so as to capture the mind of Don Quixote. It doesn’t even have Hydropower’s ferocious tumble and roar of water. Nope, it has none of that. What does it have? It has regulations, excel spreadsheets and technological advances. Energy efficiency is full of abstraction – at best it has cold data.
“Energy efficiency needs to go from a ‘hidden fuel’ to a ‘first fuel’ as it exceeds the output from ANY OTHER fuel source.”
But guess what? Climate change is knocking at our door. Deniers troll the internet, Congress has been reduced to a sideshow of an all-nighter, and the international treaties are a stalled frustration. Meanwhile, in the face of all that nonsense, energy efficiency is getting the job done. The United Nation’s Environmental Program launched a new initiative, ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SE4ALL), and will be relying heavily on Energy Efficiency as one of their main pillars for success. Voluntary efficiency programs, such as ENERGY STAR under the Environmental Protection Agency, have saved 1.9 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the past two decades. So, those excel spreadsheets end up looking pretty impressive.
It’s 4:15 A.M. It’s dark and well below freezing in Boston as I sleepily make my way to Logan for a 7am flight. I board the plane, lift-off, and in a few short hours I land in the overcast, gem of a city that is Austin, Texas. As I exit the terminal, a smile takes over my face as the warm Texas air is such a welcome relief from the bitter cold of the Northeast. I board the bus from the airport ($1.50 to drop me off 2 blocks from my hotel—what a steal!), and I can’t help but get excited about the days to come at the Smart Energy Summit.
Look at all those savings!
You know what we need? An app to help manage the weather! Does that exist? No? Well, even if I can’t dial up the heat-waves emitted from the sun, I can manage the temperature of my home, along with all other electricity-consuming devices, remotely. This burgeoning technology referred to as Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) has enormous savings potential that lays wait in a barnacle-covered, sunken chest, just waiting to be pulled to the surface!
Caitriona Cooke took some time out of her schedule to extol the benefits of better building design during an era riddled with more extreme weather patterns and to inform us of a great conference, Building Energy 2014, happening right around the corner in Boston.
Will you allow me a brief rant, if I share uplifting tales below? Here’s our problem: Mistakes are inevitable . . . but we have no excuses for repeated muck-ups.
As complex systems within an even more complex system—the environment—building designs are prone to lots of mistakes. I find it hard to understand why so many professionals make the same mistakes repeatedly. Why this resistance to change? We have the information to avoid many of the mistakes that have proven so costly to our fellow citizens and the environment.
Resiliency “doesn’t just happen.”
A case in point: all the talk about reconstruction after superstorm Sandy. Rebuilding, in spite of evidence that both the frequency and intensity of storms is increasing— should at least make us consider whether it might be better to keep certain areas undeveloped. If we must rebuild, can’t we at least learn from our mistakes?
Posted in Guest Contributors, Uncategorized
Tagged best practices, Building Energy Codes, conference, Energy Efficiency, High Performance Buildings, NESEA, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, rebuilding, resilience, resiliency, sea level rise, The New York Times
NEEP’s Regional Energy Efficiency Database now includes program year 2012 data from nine jurisdictions in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions!
300,000? That’s a lot of homes…
The 2012 data reveals the continued strong performance of energy efficiency programs, with two REED states, Massachusetts and Vermont, achieving net annual electric energy savings exceeding 2% of retail electric sales. While 2% may not seem that impressive at first blush, this level of savings has a significant impact on energy demand, helping to offset load growth. Surpassing the 2% mark also represents a significant achievement for energy efficiency programs compared to the level of savings in years past. In total, the nine REED jurisdictions saved over 3,240 GWh through their 2012 energy efficiency programs, equivalent to powering nearly 300,000 homes for one year.
Thanks to Jim Merriam, and his team at Efficiency Vermont, for contributing this great piece comparing ROIs of some common investments with energy efficiency investments.
Jim Merriam, Director of Efficiency Vermont
When the Efficiency Vermont team works with our customers in businesses and homes, we acknowledge that the choice to use energy more wisely is often an investment. Sometimes it is as small as installing a 99 cent CFL bulb. Other projects are more expensive and complex, such as installing a variable frequency drive on a large motor, or working with a contractor to air seal and insulate an entire home. Understandably, the decision to move forward on those types of projects is not always an easy one.
Lately we’ve been thinking about other types of investments that people typically make, and how energy efficiency stacks up in comparison. Below, we consider the classic stock market investment – and, as it turns out, efficiency is the winner. Stay tuned for future posts where we see how efficiency investments play out for other home efficiency projects, and for businesses – with numbers that are even more impressive.
As NEEP bids farewell to the incandescent light bulb, and congratulates ten cities in the United States for their embrace of efficient lighting, Congress has, unfortunately, yielded to obstinate consumers. Congress’ recent budget deal denies the U.S. Department of Energy funding to enforce new efficient lighting standards for lamps, which have disqualified the traditional incandescent light bulb. Thankfully, the new efficiency standard for light bulbs established by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) will go into effect, even though DOE is restricted in its enforcement of that standard. This is disappointing given that energy and cost savings are lost due to stubborn consumers and their outdated preferences for incandescent bulbs.
I share my colleague’s belief in the winning recipe of ‘Innovation and Regulation’ to reduce energy consumption, fuel cost, and environmental degradation. By ignoring the advances made nationally and regionally, this attempted halt of EISA would only harm the United States economy. American manufacturers have moved on, and have already innovated and adapted to the new standards. However, with DOE unable to enforce this standard, Congress’ actions would leave less-stringent foreign manufacturers to flaunt the law. In fact, since California adopted EISA’s standards a year before it went into effect nationally, manufacturers have been prepared ever since. In a recent study by ASAP, efficiency standards are found to have no drawback on performance, features, or price (including electricity bill savings). Congress’ misguided efforts can only hinder that innovation and development, especially when the Northeast is a leader in energy efficiency.
Dave McMahon, Co-Executive Director of Dismas House
Energy costs can be an enormous burden to social service providers who typically operate on a shoe-string, and often in older, in-efficient facilities. Finding ways to save energy is crucial to stretching our budgets and increasing comfort for residents— while also reducing environmental impact of our buildings.
The Worcester Green Low Income Housing Coalition (WGLIHC ) has been creating substantial reductions in energy costs for participating agencies in Central Massachusetts through energy audits and partnerships with state energy efficiency programs to insulate, install new heating equipment, utilize capital funds, and take advantage of state solar credits. These savings, tracked by Wegowise software, are creating opportunities to reinvest into the housing infrastructure and strengthen the standing of agencies after four years of poor revenue growth in the state.