At 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.
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.
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.
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.
Claiborne Pell Elementary School, Newport RI
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Along with being a trite yearbook quote, this phrase also describes the impetus behind NEEP’s workshop on the path to zero net energy buildings — buildings that generate as much energy as they consume annually. While we currently have the technology and knowledge to design and build these hyper-efficient buildings, we envision a future in which zero net energy construction is the norm instead of a case study.
As part of the 9th Annual Northeast Energy Efficiency Summit, NEEP’s Buildings Team will hold a workshop entitled Daybreak on Zero Net Energy Buildings: Illuminating Our Future with Comprehensive Strategies for the Built Environment. Over the course of the day, we will assess the opportunities and challenges facing the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region (and beyond) and draw cross-cutting connections between short and long-term strategies for realizing a zero net energy future. Policymakers, practitioners, utility program managers and real estate professionals will lead discussions exploring the public policies, technologies and innovations, and stakeholder partnerships necessary for realizing our zero net energy building future.
April 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.
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.
It happens to the best of us..
We’ve all attended events that brandish flashy titles and pithy tag-lines that turn out to be a few experts taking turns projecting their esoteric insights and aptitudes onto an audience that, in large part, are not in the right frame of mind to effectively accept and/or digest that information.
It’s not that what’s being said isn’t important or intelligent; it’s just that there seems to be an element missing from the delivery of the information which is absolutely crucial when connecting to the audience more often than every tenth word.
Certain amounts of novelty, variability, and excitement are necessary ingredients in order to translate inspired words into inspired listening.
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.
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