Meet Jamil Ellis, Chief Technology Officer.
What are some of the things you are excited about in your new role at Bright Power?
I always look to use my technology skills for good. I want what I do to have an impact and push the needle on creating more healthy buildings. I’m excited about the opportunity work with people who are passionate about using their skills to make a positive impact on the planet. I find that technology is better used when there is a real impact on the physical world and a big bonus if it saves the planet.
Tell us about a project or accomplishment for which you’re proud.
One of my first leadership experiences at Major League Baseball comes to mind. I worked to rebuild the entire video experience in one off-season. The deadline constraints coupled with my love of baseball made it especially rewarding.
What’s something people might not know about you?
I speak Ukrainian at home with my wife and daughter. My daughter is trilingual – she speaks Ukrainian, Spanish, and English. I’m also working on two podcasts in my spare time. Take a listen here and here. I also love karaoke and organize this Meetup group.
What’s the future of technology look like at Bright Power?
The future of technology at Bright Power will be guided by everyone here at the organization. I want to start a continual conversation about what the future will bring. Technology is always changing and is not one size fits all. It will take all of us working together to get the right solutions for our business.
What are some trends that you are seeing in the industry that excite you?
Everything going on with smart buildings, sensors, and meters is game-changing. Specifically getting new data streams and using that data as another tool will allow us to even more effectively deliver the right solutions for each building.
It’s not easy to buy the low, but make sure you don’t buy the high.
The Bottom Line
Right now, the market and pricing are telling us that a two or three year fixed rate agreement is the safe and smart choice. Going long, as in buying longer-term fixed rate contracts, is the safe bet right now. With third-party supplier pricing for electric and gas still comparing favorably to 2017 and winter 2018 rates, many customers are pulling the trigger and capturing a near market low, before the tide changes.
What to know about 2018
Today’s prices are low, based on high levels and efficient natural gas production in the US. However, there is a serious concern that the upcoming hot summer may cause higher demand for electricity to power additional air conditioning. This would reduce the amount of gas we have in storage for later use and cause market volatility. If this happens, gas prices may rise this summer and impact winter prices as well. If you have contracts expiring in 2018, we recommend evaluating your future contract now!
Why Act Now
Many property owners and managers are risk adverse. It’s better to capture a 5% guaranteed year to year cost savings than take a risk that could result in a 30% cost increase! We help our clients choose the right plan for their budgets and their risk levels. Right now, the market and pricing are telling us that a two or three year fixed rate agreement is the safe and smart choice.
We’re proud to announce that Bright Power has been selected as a Rising Star in New York Construction at the 2018 New York Construction Awards, Presented by Anchin.
In cooperation with the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York (ACEC-NY), the American Institute of Architects – New York Chapter (AIA New York), the Subcontractors Trade Association (STA), and Willis Towers Watson, Anchin will recognize other leaders in New York Construction at their awards dinner held on June 14.
Learn more about the event here.
UPDATED April 30, 2018:
The City has extended the May 1, 2018 deadline for benchmarking buildings. The new deadline is December 31, 2018.
Benchmarking provides key insights on how buildings are performing at a specific point in time and how their performance compares to historical data. When paired with a service like EnergyScoreCards, benchmarking becomes a strategic tool that unlocks areas of opportunity for energy and water efficiency optimization and savings. It also sheds light on how a building’s performance compares to similar buildings in the same region.
February 20, 2018:
The City has lifted the May 1, 2018 deadline and mandate for benchmarking buildings between 25,000 and 50,000 sq ft but also strongly recommends complying anyway. While the deadline has been lifted for this May, the City will require submission in 2019.
We will benchmark any 25k to 50k buildings that have been identified in collaboration with our clients – not only will they have baseline data ahead of their peers, but they will be prepared should the City require submission later in 2018.
October 24, 2017
For the first time, owners of mid-size buildings above 25,000 square feet in New York will be required to submit their annual benchmarking reports. The Greener, Greater Buildings Plan approved this legislation last October and will go into effect next submission deadline, May 1, 2018.
Learn more about the changes here.
Other cities and states with local benchmarking policies can be found on Building Rating.
Have a building above 25,000 square feet that needs benchmarking? Reach out to your Account Manager or contact us as soon as possible so we can ensure you are in compliance.
The weather hasn’t warmed up, and neither have gas prices. This is a good time to buy electricity and natural gas.
Shoulder months such as April, May, October, and November are often the best times to buy energy. The volatile winter is behind us and pricing has been in a favorable range. But summer weather ahead will bring price volatility. Pricing has been down despite lower storage amounts of natural gas, which may impact the market as we get closer to Summer.
The Bottom Line
Current third-party supplier fixed rates still compare favorably to 2017 utility rates and present opportunities to reduce costs through both fixed and variable supply contracts. Many customers who were hurt by high variable pricing this January and February would benefit from a cost reduction and budget certainty.
What to know about 2018
Today’s lower prices may be temporary. In April, valid weather forecasts for the summer are released and they predict a hot summer. This would increase demand for burning natural gas to create electricity for meeting higher air conditioning needs. The chain effect is higher pricing for the near future, summers, and winters. If you have contracts expiring in 2018, you may want to price them early and evaluate your timing on completing your supply contracts. If you are receiving energy procurement services from Bright Power, we are already planning this evaluation for you.
Why Act Now
The mix of upward price pressure from a larger storage deficit and downward pressure from record levels of production are creating an uncertain future. Look to protect prices this summer and to prepare to capture the winter prices when the market is favorable.
How do affordable housing organizations lower operating costs while keeping tenants comfortable? The obvious solution: upgrade buildings to use less energy and water and deliver better comfort. But it’s not so easy to secure funds to pay for efficiency upgrades. Even with incentive funds that are available from utilities and the government, owners have to get creative. With the “Pay from Savings” financing model, owners can complete efficiency improvements when they are needed most, rather than waiting for refinancing or taking out a secondary loan.
Mercy Housing: A Case Study
In 2016, Mercy Housing, one of the largest affordable housing nonprofits in the country, sought out assistance in upgrading its California portfolio of nearly 100 properties and 6,500 units.
As Mercy Housing’s energy and water management partner, Bright Power first used EnergyScoreCards, our cloud-based energy analysis and benchmarking platform, to understand areas of waste and underperformance. Then, we completed comprehensive onsite energy audits to identify the best opportunities for improvement. Mercy Housing, Affordable Community Energy Services Company (ACE), and Bright Power prioritized phases of work based on factors including building performance, location, and available government and utility incentive programs like California’s Low Income Weatherization Program (LIWP). The first phase, which consists of six Mercy California properties, wrapped up the installation at the end of 2017.
The three organizations partnered on an innovative “pay from savings” financing approach, which gives Mercy Housing the ability to complete the upgrades and use project savings to pay for the upgrades over a 10-year period. In order to help finance the upfront cost of these projects, ACE recently secured funding through the Reinvestment Fund.
To ensure project returns, Bright Power will actively track and verify savings through EnergyScoreCards and engage with site staff to help optimize operations and maintenance. The efficiency upgrades being deployed across Mercy Housing’s California portfolio include new LED lighting in common areas and resident apartments, innovative heat pump hot water heating systems, low-flow fixtures on faucets and showerheads, domestic hot water controls, and pipe insulation.
Pay from Savings
ACE’s “pay from savings” approach is groundbreaking because it allows owners, like Mercy Housing, to take the savings generated from their energy and water efficiency upgrades and use them to pay for the upgrades over the next 10 years. That means while Mercy Housing is conducting business as usual, their efficiency upgrades will be paying for themselves.
Paying for the project in this way requires careful tracking of the energy and water savings pre- and post-retrofit. Bright Power’s EnergyScoreCards breaks down consumption and spend by end use to allow Bright Power, ACE, and Mercy Housing to monitor savings at the building and portfolio level. This rigorous monitoring was an important factor in securing the “pay from savings” financing for these projects.
Like all EnergyScoreCards clients, Mercy Housing is paired with a dedicated Energy Analyst to monitor their savings. Caleb Smeeth, Bright Power’s Energy Analyst for Mercy Housing said, “I pay close attention to the monthly performance of each project to ensure savings are consistently achieved. If the data begins to trend in a different direction, Bright Power has a hands-on approach to engage with the site staff to diagnose the issue remotely and deploy our California team for additional on-the-ground insights.”
Beyond tracking savings for financing purposes, Mercy Housing can also use this information to see which measures make the greatest impact. This allows Mercy Housing, Bright Power, ACE, and the Reinvestment Fund to forecast projects that will yield strong energy savings and maximize tenant comfort.
The Results from Phase I (6 Properties)
In just four months at 6 properties, Mercy Housing has seen:
- 29% decrease in gas usage
- 9% decrease in electric usage
- 4% decrease in water usage
- 7% decrease in carbon emissions
After Mercy Housing expands these upgrades to nearly 100 properties—representing the majority of their California portfolio—they will see impressive estimated annual consumption reduction:
- 2.1 million kWh electricity – equivalent to 234 homes’ annual electricity use
- 23,000 therms natural gas – equivalent to driving across the US over 111 times
- 32 million gallons of water – equivalent to over 48 Olympic sized swimming pools
“Combining the LIWP incentives with the ACE ‘Pay from Savings’ offering, we were able to achieve deep levels of retrofit at these properties in a way we could not have otherwise done. We hope to replicate this approach with more California incentive programs at other properties in our portfolio,” says Caitlin Rood, Mercy Housing’s Environmental Sustainability Director. “It’s a model in which everyone wins—investors, subsidized housing owners, ACE and its partners, and, ultimately, our residents.”
With a model like this, affordable housing organizations can secure funding to meet the needs of their residents, improve tenant comfort, and reduce their carbon footprint. Caitlin couldn’t be more right—everyone wins.
For more information on Affordable Community Energy Services Company (ACE), visit affordablecommunityenergyservices.com
For more information on Mercy Housing, visit mercyhousingblog.org
For more information on Reinvestment Fund, visit reinvestment.com
We’re proud of the intelligent, passionate, and hardworking people that make up the Bright Power team. Each month, you’ll get a chance to meet one of them, understand how they contribute to the organization, and what makes them excited to come to work every day.
Meet Jamie Fales, Field Engineer, Audit & Feasibility.
What are some of the things you like most about working at Bright Power?
The culture. Bright Power is filled with really smart people and we support each other in taking advantage of opportunities to learn. Everyone has the drive to prevent climate change. It’s even written in Bright Power’s mission.
What advice would you give a property manager looking at energy efficiency projects for the first time?
Ensure your site staff are on the same page and speak the same language. It’s important to keep logs from maintenance rounds that note what changes were made and why they were made in the first place. It will give you better insight into resolutions to tenant complaints, continuing issues and what the site staff is struggling to control. Added benefit – logs can create a proactive maintenance culture.
What’s the one service offering we have that you think is the most beneficial to clients and why?
Commissioning and Retro-Commissioning, no question. You can install the most efficient equipment, but if you don’t set it up correctly you might as well have not installed it at all! It can be incredibly frustrating for an owner to have paid for new high-efficiency equipment and not see the results he or she was promised. Commissioning and retro-commissioning can save energy, extend the lifetime of HVAC equipment, and reduce tenant complaints.
What are some projects and accomplishments you’re most proud of?
All of the Local Law 87 (LL87) work I do for our clients is something to be proud of. It starts as helping owners comply with a law, but these audits turn into something more. We’ve found major issues at buildings and fixed them. It’s amazing that you can change one thing and save the building a ton of money while lowering energy consumption.
With one client, they had installed a brand new air handler to cool the corridors. When I opened the access panels I found that the cooling coils had frozen over and nearly entirely choked off the airflow. This lead to overheated hallways even though the system was just replaced. We found that one issue early enough that the problem could be resolved before the cooling coils were permanently damaged or the room flooded. Thanks to LL87, the owner avoided a potential expense of thousands of dollars.
BFC Partners’ work with Marvel Architects and SAGE USA to develop the Ingersoll Senior Residences is making history. The property will not only be NYC’s first affordable housing development built for seniors with services for the LGBT community, but it will also be the nation’s largest!
We’re proud to have consulted with the development team as part of their successful response to an NYCHA RFP, overseen by Juan Barahona, the Ingersoll Project Manager for BFC Partners. Additionally, Bright Power is providing energy efficiency services including:
- Balanced ventilation for enhanced indoor air quality
- Airtight and high-performance building envelope
- High-efficiency HVAC system
- High-efficiency lighting and controls strategies to enhance the ambiance
- Solar PV design and installation
- Secured Enterprise Green Communities certification
Ingersoll Senior Residences will also boast green roofs with local, drought-resistant plants for residents to enjoy and utilizes active design to encourage physical activity for seniors. By focusing on the future residents’ needs, BFC Partners, Marvel Architects, and SAGE USA are creating a community that will be a model for future senior housing.
— Guest post from our partner, LogCheck —
A strong maintenance culture separates well-run buildings from the rest. Understanding the human element of facility management is critical if you want your building to perform at its highest level. Ultimately, your human assets determine the success of any initiative, so it’s fundamental that you make nurturing a healthy culture a top priority.
If you don’t have a strong maintenance culture in your facility, it’s time to get to work. Culture is constantly evolving, and with the right direction, you can improve it dramatically. Both Bright Power and my company, LogCheck, have seen this happen time and time again.
We’ll show you what good maintenance culture looks like and how making some simple changes, starting with your routine inspection rounds, can make all the difference.
Why culture matters
A healthy facilities culture is built on good communication, between all stakeholders, and a sense of ownership. Teams with a strong culture take pride in their building and recognize how their actions impact it. They work proactively to prevent problems and are always looking to improve how things get done.
Good culture requires teams to truly know their building. The overall system must be the focus, and knowing how any individual piece of equipment fits into that system is essential. This allows you to make connections that result in benefits across a facility.
Without a strong culture, most facilities get stuck in a cycle of reactive maintenance: something goes wrong, they fix it. While fixing unexpected issues is obviously important, reactive maintenance alone doesn’t prevent future problems or promote long-term efficiency.
Reactive maintenance without preventative maintenance leads to costly issues like excessive energy costs, safety concerns, and shorter equipment life. This arrangement pits management and staff against each other: rising costs frustrate management, and staff feels stuck on a neverending treadmill of problems.
Mike Brusic, Technical Director at Bright Power, agrees. In his experience, cultural problems often belie the issue he’s brought in to solve.
Mike Brusic: “Sometimes energy problems are fundamentally human problems.
“It’s the same story over and over again: money is tight and there’s a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Facility staff are stuck in firefighting mode. The facility manager is constantly getting angry phone calls and complaints. Nobody is happy. Live like that for a few years, and you end up with a culture of disenfranchisement. The consequences are severe, both for morale and for energy performance.”
Fortunately, culture isn’t set in stone. In fact, seemingly small actions can bring about profound culture change, as Bright Power has seen first hand.
Improving culture in unexpected ways
Bright Power originally integrated LogCheck into their energy management process to collect data. LogCheck replaces the paper logsheets used for routine inspection rounds and meter readings with a simple mobile app and web dashboard. Putting information in this format made it easy for Bright Power to:
- Quickly access relevant equipment and usage readings.
- Identify issues that may be overlooked.
- Learn how staff interacts with their building.
In order to generate this necessary data, facilities staff had to start doing rounds diligently. They walked through their building every day to inspect their equipment and take readings. LogCheck made sure facilities staff knew what needed to be checked and when. This clearly indicated what was expected, and because everyone could see what was or wasn’t completed, it instilled accountability that those inspections got done.
While the information itself was important, Mike quickly saw how committing to this process caused something to shift. Before long, one relatively simple change in routine – doing rounds – had a weird side effect of transforming staff culture for the better!
MB: “When we started out implementing LogCheck, we came at it from the perspective of energy managers. We weren’t interested in maintenance for its own sake – we just wanted the equipment to work, because you can’t optimize a broken air handler. So we set up daily rounds and preventative maintenance programs for our clients’ staff to execute. And we started to see this weird side effect – the staff were walking the whole building every day.
“Their managers saw how thorough the staff were being. When staff pointed out a leak or a broken valve or a stuck damper, it was there for everyone to see. It had to be responded to. And when the facility staff saw that their actions actually made things better, they started to take pride in what they did. There were fewer fires to put out and they had more time to spend on digging themselves out of that deferred maintenance hole. And eventually they did, and we at Bright Power got to focus on optimizing energy performance like we originally hoped. But along the way, we saw the culture totally change.
“Staff went from being reactive to being proactive and empowered. And that has far-reaching and profound implications for the performance of the building.”
This all makes perfect sense. When you force yourself to walk your facility, to get in front of your equipment every day, you know your building better. You start to notice things and identify ways to improve. Inspection rounds aren’t just about writing down temperatures and pressures, they’re arguably more about getting facilities staff to physically interact with their equipment and their building.
Since repeating this process with more facilities, the results have been astounding. Mike Brusic reports that three-quarters of the buildings where they’ve deployed LogCheck have undergone a profound cultural shift. No longer do they simply react when things break; these teams are finding ways to proactively avoid issues before they happen. These engineers and maintenance staff are proud of their facilities, and it shows.
Adopting and sticking to an inspections routine truly makes a difference. While you certainly don’t need LogCheck to realize the benefits of rounds, it can lower your barriers to success and make it much easier to stick to your plan. It has also provided a clear entry point for Bright Power to teach, correct, and help clients build complete maintenance programs.
Good culture doesn’t happen overnight, but sticking to a routine rounds process is a great start. Whether you want to be more resource efficient, maintain a safer facility, prevent future problems, or improve your building another way, addressing the human element of maintenance sets you up for success.
Bradley Short works for LogCheck, the easiest way to stay on top of routine maintenance tasks, inspections, and meter readings. To learn more, visit logcheck.com.
We live in a time of rapidly changing urban demographics, and as a result, housing needs. In New York City, changes in the economic makeup have proven a major challenge as pressure on the housing market causes entire neighborhoods to gentrify; resulting in evolving land use needs. In Boston, average household sizes have been decreasing for years as family households are replaced by students, young professionals, and the elderly.
Urban demographic change has international drivers as well. Today, global mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were 244 million migrants worldwide—the highest number ever recorded (2015 Global Migration Trends Factsheet). As droughts, famines, wildfires, and other natural disasters are exacerbated by the warming climate, more displacement and mass migration will result. This trend presents a challenge for communities to adapt, since the physical form of cities, building, and zoning codes, as well as other regulations that govern the architectural and construction industries, are slow to change.
As a professional working at the intersection of housing and sustainability, I want to better understand how forward-thinking communities around the world are responding to these trends in innovative manners. Specifically, how is the housing industry (including architecture, planning, and real estate development) responding to the needs for more flexible forms of housing, and what can we learn from these examples? Furthermore, how can we address the needs of lower-income renters who are more vulnerable to market changes than homeowners or higher income renters?
Case Study: Prefabrication & Expedited Construction
In 2015, Germany welcomed one million refugees into the country, resulting in acute housing needs in a number of German cities. In response, the State Office for Refugee Affairs in Berlin (LAF) has borrowed inspiration from the past and created a framework for the rapid planning and construction of refugee accommodations that has its roots in a mid-twentieth century prefabrication approach to housing development.
Called Modulare Unterkünfte für Flüchtlinge (Modular Accommodations for Refugees), or MUF for short, these buildings provide urgently needed new housing for up to 450 individuals per development and can be built in as little as 46 weeks, including planning.
A core element of these new developments is a focus on flexibility. While each new site is based on a common design, the modular nature of the construction means that the developments can be customized as needed for each location without major structural redesigns. The dorm-like format allows for future uses as student housing or affordable micro-units in areas where housing prices are rising. With up to 10 new developments being construction per year in Berlin alone to keep pace with immigration, lessons learned from each development are incorporated into each new iteration of developments. For instance, a need for a variety of unit sizes has caused LAF to design units that can be combined for families or separated for smaller households and single adults as needed. LAF achieved this by adding lockable doors between units—similar to what you see in connecting hotel rooms—allowing site staff to quickly and easily transform two or more smaller units into one larger unit. In addition, more handicapped accessible units are being incorporated into future developments to better accommodate elderly residents and residents with disabilities.
Each development consists of three buildings in a campus-like setting. Two buildings are primarily residential and consist of individual units with shared kitchens and bathrooms on each floor. Since the residential units are relatively compact, common areas and amenity spaces are included in each building. Considerable attention is paid to the use and programming of these spaces to meet a variety of community needs, including study spaces, language learning classes, healthcare for women, recreational areas, childcare, and more. The third and only non-residential building consists of administrative spaces for the on-site staff, as well as laundry facilities. In the center of the three buildings is a semi-private recreational area, which provides activities for youth of all ages and encourages interaction between residents and other community members from the neighborhood, who may also use the recreational facilities.
While the developments are limited to six stories by Berlin’s building code, they strike an effective balance between space efficiency and compact design while also prioritizing the need for social spaces, on-site services, recreational uses, and the ability to foster community. Similar balances have been achieved by projects in New York like Via Verde, a 222-unit residential building in the Bronx developed by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses that includes live/work spaces, a rooftop garden for residents, open air courtyards, a health education and wellness center, bicycle storage, and a fitness center.
Lessons Learned and Takeaways
A number of lessons can be learned from the MUFs in Berlin. First, the design and construction approach provides a number of valuable takeaways. Prefabrication and the use of a common design allow for the construction of a permanent residential development that meets both current needs and anticipated future uses in less than a year. This design and construction technique can be applied to different settings where flexibility and/or expediency is a priority. Modular construction techniques are already being used in the US in some applications, and the trend is growing as labor and material costs continue to increase. The MUF approach demonstrates how this approach can be used successfully in a supportive housing project.
The material choices allow for expedited construction timelines while not compromising on energy efficiency. Concrete construction, radiant floor heating, natural ventilation, and high-performance windows allow for occupant control of thermal comfort while minimizing energy consumption. The result is a comfortable, quiet residence that stays naturally cool in the summer, requires little artificial lighting, and is energy efficient – outcomes that are aligned with New York City’s commitment to providing sustainable, high-quality affordable housing.
The dormitory style of this development could inform future student housing, senior housing, micro-units, and/or SROs in New York City where space efficiency is a priority. This campus style setting with a semi-private outdoor space surrounded by mid-rise buildings is a useful land use approach for balancing human scale with density.
While the design and construction techniques utilized on this site allowed the project to meet core objectives around cost, space flexibility, and timelines, the social element of the project has proven to be the most challenging. While some neighborhood residents have contributed resources and stopped by to volunteer their time, others were wary of the additional pressure on local infrastructure that new residents would entail. At town hall meetings, neighborhood residents expressed concerns about sufficient school capacity, public parking, and the availability of local resources for the influx of new residents. Looking back, site staff suggest that a more proactive public outreach strategy—coupled with an effort to actively address and mitigate common concerns such as parking and school seats—could improve community support for new developments.
Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I explore innovative approaches to existing building energy efficiency retrofits!