Cambridge City Council Passes Building Energy Usage Disclosure Ordinance

Last night, during a special meeting of the Cambridge City Council that ran for more than six hours, through the night and into the next day, the Cambridge City Council approved a Building Energy Usage Disclosure Ordinance.  What brought the meeting beyond the midnight hour?  Continue below to find out…

First Things First: What is Building Energy Benchmarking?

Building Energy benchmarking is the process of tracking an existing building’s energy usage over time and comparing the results to similar buildings OR the same building as measured at a different point in time/modeled during design.

Portfolio ManagerBuilding, utility, and fuel data from at least 13 months of usage are collected and uploaded into a tracking software, the most popular of which is the U.S. EPA’s ENERGYSTAR Portfolio Manager. Portfolio Manager normalizes energy data inputs according to weather records and generates a statement of performance that details a building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI). Additionally, Portfolio Manager will compare a building to similar buildings nationwide and assign a score from 1-100. Those buildings achieving a score of 75 or more are eligible for ENERGYSTAR certification.  Studies show that such certification positively impacts market value of a building.

More than 260,000 buildings, or 40% of the total U.S. commercial building space, has been assessed using portfolio manager.

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The Utility of the Future: Shifting Regulatory Paradigm, or Demise of the Grid?

Massive grid defection could happen in the near future. A speaker at New England Electricity’s 141st Restructuring Roundtable, “The Electric Utility of the (Near?) Future; and The Promise of Storage for Renewables,” presented on the economic benefits of going off the grid, sending ripples through the packed audience that lined the walls and filled the overflowing room.

A commercial solar array on top of an office facility in Fall River MA, System installed and commissioned by Solar Installation LLC

A commercial solar array on top of an office facility in Fall River MA, System installed and commissioned by Solar Installation LLC

Clearly, this was a big deal. As a Public Policy Intern at NEEP, a meeting in Boston with the who’s who of the New England energy scene discussing major changes is the height of excitement. The June 27th Roundtable was moderated by Dr. Jonathan Raab of Raab Associates Ltd., and hosted a star-studded panel of energy leaders, whose presentations are available online.

The way we interact with the energy grid is evolving; the regulatory changes state governments make to create a modern Utility of the Future are crucial, as this is an issue that affects everyone on a daily basis.

Jon Creyts, a Managing Director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, began the morning by jumping into this highly contentious issue with his presentation entitled “The Economics of Grid Defection.” The goal of Creyts’s study was to establish a fact-base for where and when solar power coupled with battery storage hybrid power systems can compete with traditional utility service.

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How the Liberal Arts and a Semester in China Brought Me to Energy Efficiency

Lauren headshot

Lauren Vunderink, photographed near her hometown of Austin, Texas

“The future is coming fast,” Susan Coakley, founder and executive director of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) told us in a recent staff meeting. That statement reflects the atmosphere here at NEEP, a forward-thinking group of people helping to organize, guide, and standardize energy efficiency information, legislation, and codes on both a regional and national level.

I am spending the summer in Lexington, Massachusetts as NEEP’s public policy intern, and have barely skimmed the surface of the vast amount of material and initiatives that NEEP is responsible for – the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region is a busy place for efficiency. I am assisting this active organization in any way I can, including reading and summarizing proposals, attending and summarizing meetings, and helping with new data organization software.

As an Anthropology major at Connecticut College, I find the production, use, impacts, and perception of energy sources to be fascinating aspects of modern societies, shaping their environments, economies, and public health. I have always been drawn to environmental issues; the Anthropology major and liberal arts education has allowed me to study a variety of topics, like history, economics, art, and science, encouraging the development of  multiple lenses through which issues can be understood. It struck me that changing our energy sources and the way we use energy can have positive economic, environmental, and social impacts.

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Intrigue, deal-making, and a happy ending: Delaware passes landmark efficiency bill

What a cliff hanger! In the fight to expand energy efficiency in Delaware, we had an uphill battle, a gritty gang of advocates, steadfast civil servants, a reluctant lawmaker. And somewhere in there, some extraordinary legislative maneuvering. Maybe not ready for Hollywood, but for those of us who have been toiling away to bring ratepayer-funded efficiency programs to Delaware, this victory is sweet.

Seal_of_Delaware In the wee hours of the morning of July 1 as the 2014 session drew to a close, Delaware’s General Assembly surprised and delighted efficiency supporters, passing a bill to enable ratepayer-funded programs and allow utilities to deliver those programs to their customers. Continue reading

Energy Efficiency: A True Boon to Businesses

IMG_0201 resizedAt the tail end of October 2013, I hit the ground running  as NEEP’s new Public Relations Manager. I quickly learned about NEEP staffers, their roles, and how they all connected together to make our projects move forward. I studied NEEP whitepapers, workshops, and business plans. I looked up acronym after acronym. I met (via email, phone, and in person) scores of NEEP partners and sponsors.

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Workshop over Whitepaper, Energizing the ZNE Industry

shutterstock_20389108 resized    I started in May, fresh out of my sophomore year at Dickinson College, as NEEP’s High Performance Buildings Intern without the slightest clue what that title entailed. After two weeks of playing catch-up on the wide array of energy efficiency issues tackled by NEEP, I found myself scurrying around at the Newport Hyatt at 7am helping NEEP’s Buildings Team set up for the Daybreak on Zero Net Energy Buildings Workshop at the 2014 NEEP Summit, or #summit14 as we twitter-savvy NEEPer’s called it.

Although I was excited to see the “big picture” after focusing my prior efforts studying specific issues such as energy benchmarking, I was nonetheless fearful that the ZNEB workshop would be as dry and confusing as the PDF documents I had painstakingly scanned through for information on energy benchmarking. With a liberal arts school student’s level of prior exposure to the field of energy efficiency (that is, none), I was expecting to be hopelessly lost in a sea of acronyms and hyphenated phrases. Luckily, my fears were short-lived.

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Building a Modular Net Zero Home: An Update from the Trenches

When I last wrote about our project building a super-efficient, solar-powered home, my husband Tom and I were exhilarated. After months of agony waiting for approval of our septic system and building plans, we finally closed on the acre of land in Salisbury, Mass. Meanwhile, factory construction of the modules at Keiser Homes was already complete.

We had closed on the land and construction loan on April 16. A week later, we were standing in the light rain around a gaping, muddy hole in the ground. As a small crew worked behind us, Tom and I posed for pictures with our architect, builder, town selectman and representatives from Boston magazine, Boston Children’s Hospital and National Grid. It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the magazine’s Design Home 2014, and we beamed like sunshine, despite the weather.

groundbreaking

Pictured, L – R:  Beth Lonergan, Ishaga Diagnana, and Dave Gendall of National Grid; Kristen Standish, Publisher of Boston magazine; Michael Bornhorst, Director, Corporate Initiatives at Boston Children’s Hospital; Tom and Natalie Treat, homeowners; Matt Silva, former Sales & Marketing Manager at Ridgeview Construction; Parlin Meyer, Development Director at BrightBuilt Home; and Freeman Condon, Salisbury Town Selectman.

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Getting into “Hot Water” is Exhilarating

The products that we use every day (Appliances, Electronics, Lighting, etc.) may sound mundane and not at all dangerous, but when accumulated, their electrical consumption contributes to climatic and environmental damage. One of those products that continues to draw large quantities of power is the home’s hot water heater. Up until recently we had no alternative – no opportunity to realize energy, financial, and environmental benefits. Now we have an opportunity to rebel against the status quo electric resistance water heater with an efficient Heat Pump Water Heater (HPWH). So go on. Be a rebel.

HPWH rebel

In past blogs we’ve suggested not to wait till the old water heater breaks down and to replace it with an efficient option.  We can assure you that taking cold showers aren’t very appealing in the interim. Purchasing a business-as-usual water heater could make the heating bills unnecessarily high. If you live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic, odds are your region or state offers rebates on Heat Pump Water Heaters.  HPWH, unlike standard electric resistance water heaters, function much like a refrigerator in reverse.  HPWHs pull heat from the surrounding air and force it, at a higher temperature, into a tank to hot water. So rather than generating heat, HPWHs extract heat from the ambient air and use it to heat water. This method requires less energy, which takes less money from you and is more environmentally-friendly.

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Sustained Excellence for Sustained Savings

POY_SustainedExcellence_2014April 29, 2014 was our night. This was the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Super Bowl for the Energy Efficiency industry. The ENERGY STAR Awards Ceremony was a tour-de-force event and it seemed like everyone was there.  The cheerful mingling, clinking china, and upbeat presentations made one wonder if the animated scenes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were inspiration for the event.

NEEP, and our Sponsors from New England and the Mid-Atlantic, were recognized for our collective outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through energy efficiency. In fact, the Northeast Retail Products Initiative, facilitated by NEEP, in conjunction with its sponsoring utility and energy efficiency program administrators, was awarded the coveted 2014 ENERGY STAR Award for Sustained Excellence –ENERGY STAR’s highest honor. When NEEP’s very own Executive Director, Susan Coakley, was called up to the stage to accept the ENERGY STAR Award, the room erupted into applause.

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Sweating the Small Stuff: Energy Efficiency Policy and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Energy efficiency policy work doesn’t always make for great conversation at dinner parties. Energy efficiency represents energy and money not wasted, so it’s less tangible than new solar panels or a natural gas well. And much of NEEP’s work is behind the scenes, spread across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states in regulatory proceedings that can be hard to follow, on topics that may not, on the surface, sound very interesting. The energy efficiency policies we follow certainly haven’t captured media attention the way that the future of the Keystone XL pipeline has. But an article in last week’s New York Times by Coral Davenport helps show just how important these proceedings on energy efficiency (and other aspects of energy and environmental policy) are to the future of our energy landscape and the Earth’s climate.

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