28 Nov

Engaging Residents in Energy Efficiency: Park Terrace Gardens’ Green Committee

Betsy Harbison aerators, efficiency, energy management, tenants Tags:

Park Terrace Gardens

Want to reduce your energy and water costs in your cooperative or condominium?  Tired of ongoing energy and water issues clogging up your email inbox and board meetings? Or are you just not sure where to begin?

A few years ago, Park Terrace Gardens in Upper Manhattan decided to form committees that focused on specific issues. This sparked the creation of their Green Committee lead by four passionate women – Osi Kaminer, Kim Schwab, Bev Solow, and Leslie Zema.

What Does a Green Committee Do?

It’s a group of residents that…

  • Serve as a resource and contact for the board, shareholders, property manager, and super to address residents’ energy efficiency and sustainability needs.  
  • Understand the building’s energy needs.
  • Research and enlist energy and water management experts, like Bright Power.
  • Assess savings opportunities and the best next steps in collaboration with experts, building staff, and board members.
  • Collaborate with the coop management, elect to move forward with a plan of action, implement savings measures, and keep the board up-to-date throughout the installation.
  • Review project success and savings with the board and shareholders once the project is complete, including a way to ensure ongoing savings year after year.
  • Continually learn from other buildings’ energy initiatives.

Green Committee Goal: Keep residents comfortable while keeping energy costs down.

Park Terrace Gardens Green Committee at Work

Through completing their own utility benchmarking, Park Terrace Gardens became aware of the building’s needs to reduce inefficiencies. Needing to comply with local energy auditing laws, the board, by recommendation of the Green Committee, brought on Bright Power to complete a comprehensive energy audit that dug deeper into the property’s opportunities to find sustainable savings. The energy audit report helped elucidate and pinpoint long-term issues and allowed the board cost-effective options to implement energy and water savings measures. The Green Committee was critical to the success of this project and overall process, coordinating with the energy experts while collaborating with the board and shareholders to ensure smooth sailing. As a result, the measures below were completed at the property and the savings are monitored using EnergyScoreCards.

Upgraded boiler and balanced the steam distribution system

The Green Committee counted over 80 windows that were left open during heating season! Since the upgrade, the Green Committee used portable temperature sensors to educate residents on the changes they can make in their unit to get the most out of the retrofit, like moving furniture or heavy curtains away from radiators.

Weatherstripped exterior doors and in-unit AC systems

To tackle this effort and get the return on their investment, the Green Committee created gift bags for each resident complete with weatherstripping designed for windows with A/C units, detailed installation instructions, and handwritten personalized notes to each resident.  The committee saw huge success with this campaign and are sure the personalized touch made all the difference. This measure has greatly reduced the amount of air infiltration coming into the building, minimizing the amount of energy wasted in both heating and cooling seasons.

Installed LED lighting

The board sponsored a giveaway of 5 LED bulbs for each unit in an effort to attract shareholders and reduce energy costs. The Green Committee set up the building’s conference room with different types of LED bulbs to demonstrate to the tenants that LED lights can have the same – or often times better – lighting output as other energy-intensive bulbs.  Through education and live demonstration, the committee changed the opinions of shareholders. In tandem with a common area lighting retrofit, the building saw the lighting retrofit reduced 15% in electricity cost reductions in the first year!

Installed faucet aerators

The Green Committee shared with the building shareholders how and why they were making the change – using the audit report as a crutch to validate the investment opportunity (payback was under 6 months!). Supplemented with informational flyers and thank you notes, the committee was able to make a big impact.

Advice From Park Terrace Gardens on Starting Your Green Committee

1.  Regularly educate and communicate with board members and residents.
Committee member, Osi Kaminer, says that their commitment to consistently educating the board is the key to their success.  She also says that having a committee member serve as a board member to liaise between the two groups is crucial.  This ensures the committee gets in front of the board regularly and can continue to push forward the Green Committee’s agenda outside of meetings.

Osi attributes their success with residents to the constant communication and open access to committee members. The committee created a group email for shareholders that would forward to the Green Committee and the property manager.  They also publicized their phone numbers and welcomed regular contact.  This personal communication reminded the other shareholders that the committee members were residents themselves, making shareholders more receptive to the Green Committee’s suggestions.

2.  Don’t shy away from shareholders who complain.
Osi is clear: the committee’s goal is to ensure everyone is as comfortable as possible.  While they know they may not be able to make everyone happy, they can make everyone comfortable.  

Investigating a shareholder’s complaints about a cold unit sparked a visit where the committee learned that a previous tenant had removed a radiator from the unit.  And, in discussing this with the shareholder, the committee learned that there were other units facing the same issues.  If they had simply said “the boiler is set above the temperature required by law” and moved on, they would never have learned about the missing radiators in multiple units.  

3.  Understand the Board’s Goals.
Have the committee start with a list, provided by the board, of items they may want to explore and address. Let the committee investigate and share back their findings with the board.  Keeping your goals aligned will be a constant reminder – you are both on the same side with the same goal.

4.  Look to Others’ Success.
This Green Committee attended many workshops and connected with other buildings that completed or were undergoing similar projects.  By learning from those who already have gone through the process, the Park Terrace Gardens Green Committee knew about potential roadblocks before they hit them.  And, they were able to show what a project might look like on the other side, exciting the board and shareholders.

Read more detailed information about the steam system upgrades in this Building Energy Exchange case study

See the survey the Green Committee used to help our engineers understand residents’ behavior when it comes to heating and cooling their apartment here.

See an example of a flyer the Green Committee posted thanking residents for their participation in NYSERDA’s Energy Reduction Plan here.

How might you recommend a Green Committee for your coop or condo? Share your story with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or email us at info@brightpower.com!

 

16 Nov

State of Multifamily Energy and Water Benchmarking 2017

Jon Braman benchmarking, energy management

Energy and water benchmarking is a simple concept that can mean very different things to different people. For some, the phrase conjures a burdensome and impractical requirement – especially the collection of resident utility data where providers don’t make it easy. For others, benchmarking seems like an almost magical catalyst that can unleash a future of high performance, low-carbon buildings. The reality includes both. But whatever your perspective, it’s safe to say that in the last decade benchmarking has gone from “cutting edge” to a mainstream practice of the multifamily real estate world. Still, we’re just getting started.

Launching EnergyScoreCards platform in 2009, Bright Power has been a leader in multifamily benchmarking for some time, continuing to work with visionary real estate companies, publish research and share best practices ever since. In this post, I draw on that experience to shed light on this rapidly evolving real estate practice and answer common questions.

Who is Benchmarking?

By summer 2017, 18 cities and one state now require multifamily buildings over a certain size to benchmark, and sometimes publicly disclose energy and often water consumption (Source: http://www.buildingrating.org). That’s big, and between California’s requirement taking effect next year, the expansion of the NYC law to include buildings 25k – 50k SF and HUD’s new benchmarking rule in development, the number of properties benchmarking annually is set to increase dramatically in the next year. To give a sense of scale, in terms of square footage and CO2 emissions, covered multifamily buildings in NYC alone represent 1.5 Billion square feet and 7.5 million megatons emitted annually CO2. In Chicago it’s 260 million square feet, emitting 1.9 million megatons of CO2, Seattle has 100 million square feet of benchmarking multifamily buildings, Boston 66 million, Philly 5.4 million square feet – and the list goes on.

These numbers, understate the total multifamily properties that benchmark their energy and water consumption, since many do it voluntarily – including the 112 of the 345 partner organizations (that is portfolios, not buildings) that have signed up for the Better Buildings Challenge, or a number of 250 members of the Global ESG Benchmark for Real Estate (GRESB), an investor-led sustainability reporting framework, which includes some of the country’s largest multifamily owners and managers. In other cases, lenders like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or housing agencies like NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (NYCHPD) or the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) require that borrowers, or at least those accessing green programs, benchmark their energy consumption, adding to the number of participating owners.

Bright Power's EnergyScoreCards Grading Regions

While benchmarking policies undoubtedly include some owners who have been reluctant and may do as little as possible to avoid a fine, the success of voluntary programs shows that leading multifamily owners are now doing it on their own accord; they’ve reached the conclusion that benchmarking provides real business benefits and is necessary to proactively manage their properties and stay competitive.

How Does It Work and Where Do I Start?

Utility bill-based benchmarking rarely requires any new hardware to be installed to collect consumption data, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. While even just getting owner-paid data for a large portfolio can require collecting at least 12 months of historical data for hundreds or thousands of utility accounts, the real elephant in the room for multifamily properties is tenant data, which is needed in one form or another to assess whole building consumption and spending, usually required for compliance with local laws. Some utilities have made it easier by providing aggregate whole building data and integrating with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, meaning owners may comply with the laws without having to manually type in utility data, or pay a service provider to retrieve and transfer it.

For other utilities, however, getting tenant data requires the laborious process of getting individual authorizations from residents and then collecting data from the utility, often extrapolating a whole building estimate from a (hopefully) representative sample. Even when working with utilities that integrate with Portfolio Manager and provide whole building data, a building owner still must set up the connection to Portfolio Manager (which often involves some amount of troubleshooting), and collect and enter property information (including square footage, units, bedrooms, information on commercial spaces, etc.). Fortunately, the EPA posts a searchable list of the utilities that offer automatic data integration, HUD has created a helpful benchmarking toolkit, and many cities with benchmarking requirements also provide a benchmarking hotline or other resources to help with compliance.

While some building owners have the time and interest to take on benchmarking DIY, most prefer to seek assistance from specialized software or service providers to collect, curate, clean and analyze the data. The good news is there are now several options for getting help, including:

  • Signing up for a multifamily benchmarking service such as Bright Power’s EnergyScoreCards service (which for full disclosure I helped create and oversee) or WegoWise.
  • Utilizing a bill aggregator or bill-pay service to transfer data to Portfolio Manager such as Ecova, AUM, NWP, Conservice; or others.
  • Using a more broadly-focused sustainability reporting services like Goby or Measurabl, which may include integration with Portfolio Manager.

If you need to or want to benchmark and you don’t want to go it alone, there are many companies now ready to assist, some of which have now been running for years, gaining in experience and capability, offering better service and value. Given a range of different offerings, getting an apples-to-apples comparison between providers is critical.

What Can I Do With Benchmarking Data?

Too many conversations about benchmarking begin and end with talking about data. Insight and action are the goals – not just data collection. No one ever saved a kWh or made a building better just by staring at numbers on a screen – no matter how quickly they arrived there or how engagingly they were presented. Translating data into insight and action can be done in dozens of ways, from peer comparisons to identifying candidates for building upgrades, to watching trends and tracking progress toward goals, to measuring the impact of specific energy and water saving projects. Unfortunately, benchmarking laws, and even some benchmarking data services, seem to trust that once building owners collect the data, getting value from it will just happen automatically.

At Bright Power, we’ve seen that while a few owners are adept at translating data into action, most need help from an expert. There are a dizzying number of possible ways to slice and dice and crunch utility data, so performing the right analysis to answer your questions, and then knowing what to do with the answers is difficult. Even simply comparing energy usage between two properties to see which is more efficient is not a simple task: Given differences in geographies, building and equipment types, ages, different metering configurations and other factors, a reasonable expectation for consumption varies from property to property. Buildings are complicated and a meaningful peer comparison is a complex and evolving field (see our recent blogs and whitepaper on the EnergyScoreCards grading model). Providing analysis and insights from data is really the driver of success for real estate companies.

Insight and action are the goals – not just data collection. No one ever saved a kWh or made a building better just by staring at numbers on a screen.

There are no one-size-fits-all answers on how to use energy and water data, but one long-term Bright Power client may spark ideas for how to use benchmarking in your own portfolio. This client, a large portfolio spanning 23 states, began benchmarking several years ago as the key to satisfy GRESB reporting requirements and show their investors they take sustainability seriously. In the last few years, our Energy Analyst and Account Management teams used property spending and consumption data from EnergyScoreCards to identify the sites with the greatest potential for energy and water savings, and target those that could benefit from specific technologies like lighting upgrades or combined heat and power.

We then overlaid project feasibility and savings potential with eligibility for utility and state incentive programs across the country, and identified sites that could receive the largest subsidies for new equipment or more detailed energy audits. Using this strategic, data-driven approach, our engineering and installation teams completed 19 energy audits and over 30 installation projects ranging from common area LED lighting retrofits, to comprehensive whole-building energy and water upgrades, to combined heat and power (CHP) installations. Where work has already been completed, we are tracking month-to-month consumption to ensure expected savings materialize, and the owner can rest assured that we are ready to troubleshoot if things don’t go as planned.

What’s Next?

In 2007, Bright Power collected data the old-fashioned way and performed a lot of our analysis using spreadsheets. There were no benchmarking disclosure laws and no national multifamily score from ENERGY STAR. There were bill processing companies but few if any who had meaningful analytics for multifamily. Multifamily benchmarking has come a long way in the last 10 years. If current trends continue, we can count on benchmarking to grow as a practice among real estate owners, and the process continuing to get easier, as more utilities provide whole building data and more service providers hone their methods for capturing, storing and analyzing the data. More owners will also successfully follow their own version of the process described above, moving beyond data collection to use the information to drive significant portfolio-wide projects to save energy and water, cut operating costs, improve resident comfort, access millions of dollars in incentives and improve the value and longevity of their properties.

The next big frontier in multifamily energy and water data may dive deeper into the data, looking at interval or “real-time” information that tracks consumption on a daily, hourly, or even 15-minute basis, allowing owners to more quickly catch problems and enabling a much deeper level of analysis than possible from monthly utility bills.

Many companies are working on devices and platforms to capture and analyze this type of data, although most remain rather expensive for the typical multifamily building. This more granular data may already make sense for applications like catching leaks, monitoring large HVAC systems, or participating in demand response programs with onsite generation technologies like CHP and batteries. Sometimes, this data is already available from new utility smart meters; in others, it will require installation of new hardware, but the costs appear to keep coming down and capabilities expanding. Really, if you’re interested in understanding how multifamily buildings use energy and water – things are just getting interesting.

 

Thanks to Apollo Engineering for featuring Jon’s article in their Summer 2017 Watts Hot Newsletter.

31 Oct

Ocean Bay Redevelopment is Underway in New York

Betsy Harbison Resiliency, solar

Ocean Bay Apartments

Our hearts go out to those who were affected by multiple hurricanes over the past months. We know that the road to recovery is long and daunting, as we are still rebuilding after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy five years ago. We also know that you can bounce back stronger and more resilient than before.

Take Ocean Bay Apartments – a 24-building, 1,395-unit complex located in Far Rockaway, New York –  which was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and began redevelopment this year. Among major energy efficiency and storm resiliency measures, over the next year, Bright Power will install a 575 kW solar PV system across 20 buildings.

MDG Design + Construction LLC tells the amazing recovery story in this video.

24 Oct

Update to New York Local Law 84

Betsy Harbison benchmarking, LL84 Tags: , ,

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.

Required buildings failing to report their energy and water data will receive a violation from the Department of Buildings and be fined $500 for each quarter of non-compliance, up to $2,000 per year.

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.

 

 

28 Sep

Hot for the Bronx: An Interview With Aaron Koffman, The Hudson Companies

Danielle Brocker efficiency, new construction, the Bronx

The Bronx is quickly becoming New York’s favorite borough for new multifamily affordable housing developments. Bright Power sat down with Aaron Koffman from The Hudson Companies to dig deeper into why.

(Bright Power) How did Hudson Companies come to develop affordable housing projects in the Bronx after much of the firm’s historic affordable housing development activity had been in Brooklyn?

(Aaron) Hudson’s been around for 31 years now.  Early on, we did work with Housing Partnership to build home ownership units in various places all over the city.  Hudson built a lot of two story walk-ups, low-rises, side-by-side kind of developments that were 80-100 units, in the Bronx, Brownsville and even in Fort Greene. It was a great way to bring stability to the communities, since in many cases the land was vacant or underutilized. Then Hudson took its focus toward market-rate housing in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. We did a lot of deals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I came on board in 2008 and ever since we’ve focused more heavily on affordable housing. Personally, I really wanted to get us back in the Bronx. The Bronxchester RFP was announced in 2013, and we loved the site. It was mostly vacant, in a great neighborhood next to the subway and all the shopping. And so we went after it, and formed the team for La Central. Thankfully we won and have been going to the Bronx ever since.

Where we can do great work in the Bronx, we would love to do it. Of course, theBronx has become very hot so now there are areas of the Bronx that are not affordable for affordable housing, which is a problem. So we’ve known about it, and then should’ve done more, didn’t do enough, and now we’re back doing a lot.

La Central, 430 Westchester Avenue, Bronx, NY

(Bright Power) How does developing affordable housing in the Bronx differ from other areas of New York City?

(Aaron) From an economic perspective, the difference is very minor, if at all, between affordable housing in the Bronx and affordable housing in Brooklyn. Taking the economics out, there are more cases where the Bronx has better train access. We were focusing on Brooklyn so the Bronx feels new to Hudson – even if some of our fellow developers have been doing great work in the Bronx for years.

I like that it’s new to us. We keep trying to do more deals in Queens, but for one reason or another it hasn’t worked out, and so the Bronx is still sexy. Though, we love all of our boroughs equally, I love the community groups, elected officials, the incredible amount of pride, and the people and their stories in the Bronx.

(Bright Power)  What role does the Mayor’s housing plan play in the increased attention on affordable housing development in the Bronx?

(Aaron) I think it’s always important when government makes a statement that they want to invest in communities. There’s an energy there that trickles down to the agencies and staff level where clearly, when the Mayor does make it a priority, the City does its best to execute that priority. For that reason, it’s great that Mayor de Blasio has made it more of a priority to put more investment into the Bronx and so has the Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr.

The Borough President tells a great story about how his son just graduated from college, and he and his friends moved to upper Manhattan but he wants him to move back to the Bronx. He wants his Bronx kid back in the Bronx, working as an engineer and living in the Bronx, and his son wants to be there. So the Borough President is really championing investment in the Bronx, and the Mayor is too. And so everything kind of follows suit with that energy, that’s a lot of tailwind for us.

I do think the City showed their cards a little early regarding the Jerome Avenue rezoning and brought some speculators into the market that drove land cost up considerably. Not trying to criticize the administration, but that seems to be what happened. Now you have market-rate developers like Chetrit who does great work but, in the South Bronx? You know what I mean: all of a sudden, where you wouldn’t have seen a market-rate developer, there they are.

(Bright Power) Congratulations on your success on winning the Spofford RFP! What do you think differentiated your proposal for the local officials, community and the City to choose your team?

(Aaron) Obviously I can’t speak as to how we were selected, but we crafted a team for The Peninsula that was first and foremost of the Bronx. We have incredible community partners, including Urban Health Plan – one of the largest employers in the South Bronx – and The Point CDC.   And I think the great retailers, in part, joined our team because of our community partners, including Spring Bank, which already has a few branches in the Bronx, and a supermarket.  We can activate it at night, because Hunts Point Brewery and Bascom Catering will be there and we can cater events in our open area. We want to try to bring more people in; it’s about inclusivity.

On the development side, I love our team. Our non-profit partner, MHANY, owns many properties across the street on Spofford so they know the neighborhood and certainly have expertise in affordable housing. Hudson brings even more expertise in affordable housing and ULURPs. Gilbane has an incredible depth – they’ve been around for 130 years as a construction company and are trying to expand their New York development. And I will give a shout out to the architects BLA and WXY – they did a beautiful job designing the project. We’ve all been there before, even on the non-profit side. And when you put it all together, that’s what made us so attractive.

(Bright Power) Do you think that implementing sustainable design strategies was a big differentiator?

(Aaron) I do, it’s about sustainability, there’s no question, and it’s also about resiliency. I don’t know if Hurricane Sandy resonates in the Bronx as much as it does in Brooklyn or the Rockaways, but resiliency plays a role.

We’re in a different world where people are more cognizant of their utility use. People understand that power is polluting.  Community leaders want to see that their neighborhood has the most sustainable and resilient development in the area. I’ve heard many elected officials boast about the green elements of these projects. And it is meaningful to people. I have talked to tenants of ours on other projects; they’re happy to brag about this.

At Hudson, it’s not just about us saying that we’re about the sustainable stuff, it’s that we’ve actually done it before. We know solar, passive house, cogen, and yet we still want to do one better. Also, we’re sustainable in a smart way – affordable housing depends on finite resources and we must weigh cost premiums to make sure we are doing it in an intelligent fashion.

(Bright Power) Hudson Companies was one of the first affordable housing developers to commit to implementing solar energy on their affordable housing projects.  How has your view of solar energy changed over the years?

(Aaron) We’ve gone from solar being an interesting idea to solar being a no-brainer. We’ve done some great work with Bright Power in the solar and sustainability department, and the economics have only supported more investment in solar. It saves the development money, which makes the project more sustainable and allows us to put more investment back into the development.

I wish at Dumont Green we’d done a bigger solar project. Still, we’re putting in-ground and tree lighting to enhance security at night, which could happen, in part, because we’re taking electricity savings and putting it back into the building.

We see solar success every day at Gateway. I hear from a lot of Gateway tenants how proud they are when they drive down Flatlands Avenue and they see all the solar arrays up on Elton Street and they know that they live there. They are very proud that it feels state of the art. To reach 1 million watts of solar power generated at Gateway was a proud moment for our team.

We were drinking so much Kool-Aid on the solar at Gateway, which The Related Companies was a partner on, that Related has just now installed their own solar array on the Related Gateway mall.  A big company like Related is always looking at the bottom line, so for them to buy in on the retail side is quite the testimony for solar.

Gateway Elton Street, Solar PV System

(Bright Power) Have you noticed tangible benefits or received feedback from residents about sustainable design elements of your buildings?

(Aaron) La Central is going to be the first affordable job where we’re doing VRF (variable refrigerant flow) HVAC systems. I’m really excited to move those tenants in, even though it will not be complete until 2020, and have them find out that the air conditioner is remote controlled, it’s already installed, and their windows are as big as possible – you get all the light!

I like to ask our tenants, “You know that new apartment smell, that smell of a freshly painted apartment?” And of course they immediately say yes. Then I tell them, “Yeah, unfortunately that smell is actually bad for you. That’s off-gassing.”  When they walk into our apartments, they don’t smell anything. Then, it immediately hits them – oh, these guys are doing it better. Whether it’s no VOC paint, no vinyl, or putting dishwashers in the apartments (major water savers), I see that tenants are happy to be in our developments because we’ve taken steps that give tenants respect. That speaks volumes to how Hudson does business.

 (Bright Power) Many of your development projects, including La Central and Spofford, are joint ventures with non-profit housing providers. What do you look for when selecting your development partner/s on a project? Can you describe the benefits they bring to your developments?

(Aaron) Non-profit partners are essential to every affordable job that we’ve done. What do we look for? We want a real partner. We are not an 800 lb. gorilla for-profit developer. We want collaboration. We want feedback and criticism. The non-profits in NYC are incredibly sophisticated, and we want their knowledge to help inform our projects. We look for that feeling of collaboration, competency in a particular field of social service depending on the building program, or general knowledge of services/neighborhood –  if we can find all three, the better.

 

 About Aaron Koffman: As Principal, Aaron heads Hudson’s affordable housing pipeline and portfolio totaling over 3,600 units and ~$2 billion in costs. At 797 kW and spanning nine buildings, the Gateway Elton solar project is collectively the largest solar installation on an affordable housing development in New York State. Aaron is the project lead on several large affordable housing/mixed-use new construction developments in the city, including: the 992-unit La Central development in the South Bronx, the 740-unit Spofford Detention Center Redevelopment in Hunts Point, the 659-unit Gateway Elton development in East New York, and a 56-building affordable preservation portfolio in several Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.

Prior to joining Hudson, Aaron was a Project Manager with Forest City Ratner Companies, focusing on the 6,400-unit Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) residential development. In addition to serving on the Boards of the NYU Furman Center, Coro New York and the Center for Urban Pedagogy), Aaron is an Adjunct Professor of Affordable Housing Finance at NYU. Aaron received a Masters of City Planning degree from MIT and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UC Berkeley.

Andy McNamara, VP West Coast Operations at Bright Power (left) with Aaron Koffman, Principal at Hudson Companies (right) at Gateway Elton’s solar PV system unveiling.

01 Sep

Fault Detection and Diagnostics: How To Find Energy-Wasting Problems

Mike Brusic energy management, software

In an effort to save energy, reduce maintenance costs, and leverage investments in existing building management system, more and more facility managers are beginning to research and deploy fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) software platforms in their facilities.

The 411 on FDD

FDD platforms consist of three major components: a way of acquiring data, a set of algorithms for processing it, and a means of displaying the results. If that sounds similar to a building automation system, don’t be surprised: Most FDD systems are designed as add-ons to an existing building management system, though some standalone platforms do exist. The difference is that, while modern BAS collect and store vast volumes of data, creating actionable results from that data is a time-consuming and difficult task. As anyone who has spent hours poring over building trend charts trying to figure out why they always get a particular alarm at 2 a.m. can tell you, this is a task worth automating. But to really save time and money, FDD systems must accurately identify real problems and provide an easily digestible idea of how to resolve it, if not an outright diagnosis. Getting it right is no easy task.

As with many cutting-edge software products, not everyone means the same thing when they talk about FDD. Generalizations are difficult, as even a single vendor’s FDD product is often infinitely configurable. No two software platforms are identical. At worst, FDD software may be nothing more than a fancy way to create alarms and trend plots, albeit with much more functionality than is built into most BAS.

Trending features can include plotting multiple time series of overlapped data, which may help determine the causes and effects of a problem by plotting one BAS point as a function of another, or plotting a mathematical expression based on multiple BMS points. True FDD systems attempt to detect and diagnose equipment failures by applying a sophisticated rule-base — what a computer scientist would call an “expert system.” Such a rule-base contains both general knowledge (“there should be little to no flow in a chilled water loop if the chilled water pump is off”) and knowledge specific to the facility in which it is deployed (“the chilled water loop delta T should never be greater than 12 degrees F or less than 4 degrees F”). From this embodied knowledge the system can make sophisticated deductions. Some FDD platforms come with this rule-base predefined and uneditable. Others allow users to modify or add to it, though often with a steep learning curve.

When the right steps are taken, FDD can be a huge success, speeding the diagnosis of subtle problems that might otherwise have taken months or years to discover. As FDD becomes a more regular add-on or feature of BAS, and as the costs of hardware and data storage continue to decrease, FDD may see wider and deeper deployment. Operator training and trust, and the ability of FDD software to provide targeted information with explanatory context, will continue to determine the success or failure of future FDD systems.

See full article here.

 

22 Jun

Avoiding Energy Scams

Ben Wallack energy, procurement, utility

Over the last few years, energy consumers and building owners have been confronted with several internet and phone scams. An “agent” will impersonate a utility company, or reaches out representing an unqualified Energy Supply Company (ESCO). These methods have been successful, in part, because these agents can be quite convincing and often use energy jargon to appear knowledgeable and reliable.

Identifying the Utility

A New York City client of Bright Power recently received a phone call from someone claiming to represent Con Ed, a local utility company. As our client describes, “We had past experience with Con Ed concerning overdue or misapplied payments. This made the extremely aggressive demand for a $2,000 cash payment to prevent a power shut off in less than an hour, actually sound plausible. Our first response was to seek the immediate and helpful assistance of Bright Power, who quickly investigated and confirmed the paid status of our accounts. The administrative assistant, who received the original call, confirmed thereafter that there was no shutoff pending with Con Ed.”

We were able to quickly identify the scam and avoid a $2,000 false charge. To help protect your business from these claims, here are a few basic red flags:

  1. Be wary of requests for Tax IDs, credit card numbers, utility account numbers or protected information.
  2. Question sudden or pressured monetary requests. Utilities and most reputable businesses do not operate this way.
  3. Verify employee IDs prior to providing information or payment. Con Ed employees, for example, are required to have company IDs accessible.

Buying With a Reputable ESCO

There are many trustworthy Energy Supply Companies (ESCOs) that Bright Power works with that prove to be valued business partners in controlling energy costs. On the other hand, there are many unreliable ESCOs and energy brokers that use tactics that inevitably cause consumers to pay more in the long run.

Recently, a Bright Power client was approached by an ESCO and convinced to sign up for “a great rate for three years” over the phone.  The client asked us to review the contract after the fact, and we identified some major issues. Luckily, we were within the three day cancellation window and assisted our client in withdrawing from the costly supply contract. We then locked them into a better rate via a transparent and market-based bid process, resulting in a savings of $18,000 from the original phone contract.

Always be careful with any phone call from an unfamiliar ESCO or energy broker. Unscrupulous agents have been pushing clients to contract their accounts through recorded sales calls and rushed decisions. Some will even enroll the account without your consent, a practice also known as “slamming.”

Pressing pause on an energy purchasing strategy until you feel confident and knowledgeable in your direction will lend to a favorable outcome.

How to Protect Your Accounts

  • Designate one or two of your employees, who are well informed, to discuss all energy matters with the utilities or ESCOs.
  • Consider using experienced and reliable consultants or brokers that can provide guidance, support, and clarity in this jargon-filled and continuously changing energy supply world.
  • Check out Con Ed’s #STOPSCAMS for more helpful information on protecting your energy accounts.
01 May

Exploring Citywide Energy Usage Part II

Sarah Newman benchmarking, data, energy, LL84

HOW HAS CITYWIDE MULTIFAMILY ENERGY CONSUMPTION CHANGED?

In a recent blog post, we explored how energy consumption varies geographically across New York City using the publicly disclosed Local Law 84 data from 2015. In this follow-up, we look at how energy use has changed in the years that the benchmarking law has been in place. Using publicly disclosed data for the last four years and data provided by the NYC Office of Sustainability for the first two, we are able to assess how the law continues to shape New York City buildings for the better.

Data Cleaning Methodology

In this analysis, we use weather-normalized Source EUI1 as calculated by Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager software, which will just be referred to as “EUI” in the remainder of the blog. Given that the first year’s data (2010) reduces the overall dataset size by over half and is the most suspect in terms of data quality, we opt to instead include only the last five years of energy disclosure data. In addition, we require that buildings have a valid EUI for each of the last five years and remove buildings that vary in their reported square footage by more than 10% between any two years or in their EUI by more than 60%, either of which would indicate that a data entry error is likely. We also remove the top and bottom 1% of EUIs from all years pooled together. This leaves a total of 2,282 multifamily buildings in our dataset.

Change in Median Source EUI

After cleaning the data, we analyze the change in the median EUI over the last five years (see figure below), fitting it with an ordinary least squares regression. The best fit model implies a decrease in the median EUI of 1.3 kBTU/sqft/yr each year (or 1%/year), with a total decrease in EUI of 5.2 kBTU/sqft/yr over the full 5 years. This linear model has an adjusted r² value of 0.75, indicating a robust fit.

This change in the median EUI can be thought of as how much the average building population is changing its consumption overall. We can also look at the median change in EUI from 2011 to 2015 (6.0 kBTU/sqft/yr or 4.6% over the five-year span), which is more representative of how a typical building has changed over those five years.

Table 1 shows the median EUI for each year. It is important to note that these values vary somewhat from those published in NYC’s Benchmarking reports as the former are derived only from buildings with valid data in all five years.

Table 1. Median Source EUI from 2011-2015

    Year     Median Source
EUI (kBTU/sqft/yr)
2011 129.9
2012 126.3
2013 125.8
2014 124.2
2015 124.4

Looking Across All Six Years

If we instead include all six years of data, the decrease in median EUI is a bit larger (1.7 kBTU/sqft/yr/yr), but as noted before, this reduces the overall dataset size by more than half to only 808 buildings. The histogram below shows the distribution of 2015 EUIs for three different data subsets, as well as the median for each subset (vertical dashed lines):

  • Buildings with data in years 2012-2015
  • Buildings with data in years 2011-2015 (the dataset used throughout this blog)
  • Buildings with data in all 6 years

While there is not a large difference in the total number or distribution of EUIs for the first two groups, the subset including only buildings with data in all six years has a much higher median EUI for the overlapping five years (127.8 vs 124.4 for 2015), meaning that buildings that complied in the first year have on average higher EUIs than those that didn’t.

Comparing the Change for the Best and Worst Buildings

We can also see the shift in the EUI over the last five years by looking at the change in the normalized EUI distribution with time. The figure below displays the normalized EUI distribution (from a Kernel-density estimate) for each year, showing that the EUI distribution becomes narrower with a lower median EUI over time.

In order to confirm that this trend is not just year-to-year noise in building consumption, we want to see that the worst buildings are improving significantly and the best buildings are not getting worse. We can see this is the case in Table 2, which shows the median 2011 and 2015 EUIs of buildings in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th quartiles of buildings from the 2011 data.

Table 2. Change in Median Source EUI for 2011 Quartiles

2011  Quartiles 

2011 Median Source EUI (kBTU/sqft/yr) 2015 Median Source EUI (kBTU/sqft/yr) 2011 to 2015 EUI % Difference

1st

98.3 100.6

2%

2nd

120.5 115.6

-4%

3rd

140.7

132.4

-6%

4th 172.7 155.8

-10%

While the buildings in the best quartile have increased their usage by 2%, the remaining 3/4 of buildings have improved, with the worst quartile of buildings decreasing their usage by 10% – suggesting that overall, buildings in NYC are improving.

This reduction in energy consumption can also be evaluated with a paired t-test, comparing the distributions of EUIs in 2011 and 2015, which returns a p-value of 6×10−28, indicating that the distributions of EUIs in those two years are statistically distinct.

Excluding the Impact of Hurricane Sandy

Thus far in this analysis, we have not compensated for the effects of Hurricane Sandy which cut out power to many areas in NYC for weeks in 2012. In the figure below, we remove areas with prolonged outages (Red Hook, The Rockaways and Lower Manhattan) from the dataset and compare the EUI trend between that set and our main dataset.

The ‘Sandy-corrected’ group, which omits heavily affected areas, shows the same trend of decreasing EUI over time, albeit with an even steeper slope (1.45 kBTU/sqft/yr vs 1.3 kBTU/sqft/yr). The median EUI for each year is also slightly lower for the Sandy-corrected group (see Table 3), likely because buildings in lower Manhattan have relatively high EUIs (see interactive map in the following section).

Table 3. Median Source EUI for Sandy-corrected Data

  Year   

Median Source EUI
(kBTU/sqft/yr)
Median Source EUI
Sandy-corrected (kBTU/sqft/yr)

2011

129.9 128.7

2012

126.3

125.2

2013 125.8

124.5

2014 124.2

122.7

2015

124.4

122.7

ARE ALL PARTS OF NYC IMPROVING?

We can also explore how this yearly change in EUI varies geographically. Are all boroughs and neighborhoods in NYC improving at the same pace? Are some still getting worse?

2011-2015 Median Source EUI by Community District

The maps below show the median EUI for each NYC community district for each year from 2011 to 2015 as well as the absolute and % difference from 2011 to 2015. You can click on the tabs at the top of the map to switch years, and hover over a community district to see the median EUI and number of buildings.

From these maps we can see that energy consumption has decreased in most regions, and in those districts for which it has increased, there are often less than 10 or 20 buildings included in the dataset, indicating those numbers are likely not as reliable. On average, however, Brooklyn and Queens have improved the most with a median 2011 to 2015 decrease in EUI of 6.6% and 7.1%, whereas Manhattan and the Bronx have only improved by 3.9% and 2.5%, respectively.

WHAT ABOUT THE IMPACT OF LOCAL LAW 87?

From these maps we can see that on average most areas of NYC are decreasing their energy consumption, but we expect to see an even larger decrease for properties that have had to comply with Local Law 87 (requires a building undergo an ASHRAE level II energy audit and subsequent implementation of recommended retro-commissioning measures every 10 years).

Comparison of Properties with and without LL87 Submission

In the figure below we compare NYC buildings that had to comply with Local Law 87 in 2013 and 2014 (based on the block number) with those that did not. While the Local Law 87 buildings have around the same median EUI in the first four years (prior to and during the audit and retro-commissioning period), there appears to be a larger decrease in consumption for those buildings in 2015. Presumably, as data from additional years comes in, these buildings should continue to show improved performance.

ARE BENCHMARKED BUILDINGS BECOMING MORE EFFICIENT?

Based on this analysis of Local Law 84 benchmarking disclosure data from the last five years, energy consumption is decreasing in large multifamily buildings across the city at a rate of 1% per year (or 4% over five years). This is an encouraging trend! Our analysis is similar to the finding from NYC’s most recent Energy and Water Use Report, which reported a 5% decrease in energy consumption for multifamily buildings from 2010 to 2013. While the results differ slightly, it is based on data from different years, and as seen in this blog, the data cleaning process can have a large impact on the overall result, as including or excluding a certain year’s data can significantly change the composition of the dataset.

To summarize, the analysis here suggests that the worst buildings are improving the most, and buildings in Brooklyn and Queens are improving more quickly than those in Manhattan and the Bronx. Data for the most recent year also indicates that buildings complying with Local Law 87 have an even larger decrease in EUI than the rest of the large multifamily building population. Stay tuned as data from subsequent years could strengthen this trend. It’s important to stress that although NYC’s multifamily buildings have been decreasing their energy consumption since the implementation of Local Law 84, there could be many reasons for this besides merely the effect of benchmarking. These may include the effects of Local Law 87, energy prices, building code changes, the phasing out of fuel oil, incentive programs and the cost of rent. On the other hand, a recent paper published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), suggests that a majority of NYC large multifamily building managers are changing their operating practices and making capital investments in energy efficiency as a result of energy benchmarking. A more detailed analysis could explore the effects of these different factors on the energy consumption trend.

Whatever the myriad reasons for the decrease in energy consumption, this is an ongoing process, which the city needs to continue monitoring each year. Building owners can play their part by tracking their buildings’ consumption on a monthly basis. We all have a role to play and we cannot be passive (unless it’s passive house!) about our actions. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis from the City, the Urban Green Council and CUSP. If this post has sparked any ideas, interest or questions, please reach out!

1 It is worth noting that in the previous blog post exploring Local Law 84 data, we chose to use Site EUI, since that metric is more representative of how energy is being used at a building, and the goal of that exploration was to compare trends in building characteristics and energy consumption. In this analysis, however, we are using Source EUI, since weather normalized Site EUI is not available in all six years of disclosure data.

30 Mar

Beyond Saving Energy + Water: Other Ways My Colleagues Better Our World

Jordana Viuker politics, Social

Bright Power’s mission is to “improve the comfort, health, and productivity of buildings and their occupants while eliminating their negative impacts on the planet.” It’s a mission that we take seriously and one that draws a lot of smart people who are trying to do right by the planet. But many Bright Ones (our affectionate pet name) not only bring value to our clients and their building portfolios, but also regularly do extra to make the world better.

Since I’m proud of Bright Power and the individuals that comprise our company, indulge me while I brag about my special coworkers.

CHARITABLE GIVING

Karl Haviland, a Senior Software Developer at Bright Power, is involved in Soccer for Charities, an organization started by Karl’s friend Zach Puga to raise awareness and funds for lesser-known nonprofit organizations through the love of soccer. Karl has helped organize and run the event for the past three years. In 2016, Soccer for Charities raised enough money to support two elementary school teachers in Cameroon and provide the class with uniforms through the Benekin Foundation. In past years, Soccer for Charities raised several thousand dollars for Crohn’s Disease and Colitis as well as the Hydrocephalus Association. Bright Power entered a team each of the past three years. In 2016, roughly twenty different Bright Ones participated together with friends and relatives.

In December 2016, Bright Power’s Energy Analysis Team organized the New York office’s participation in the New York Cares’ coat drive for the third year. In total, Bright Power employees donated thirty-eight coats this season.

REDUCING WASTE

In February 2017, Bright Power participated in the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s project to estimate the amount and types of food wasted in New York City. As the NRDC’s research proposal explained, “Assessing the amount of food that is wasted – and could potentially have been eaten – along with identifying some of the root causes of why food is wasted is a critical step in helping identify strategies to reduce food waste.” Bright Power participated in this food waste audit to promote research into this sustainability-minded pursuit.

Unrelated to the NRDC study, Bright Power began composting appropriate food waste in 2016. Our New York office currently has four compost bins. Crystal Sun and Stephen Walsh, two members of our Energy Analysis team, deliver roughly 20-30 lbs of our compost per week to GrowNYC’s Food Scrap Composting program via the Bowling Green Tuesday Greenmarket.

In Summer 2016, Bright Power received notice from the NY Department of Sanitation that the recycling laws for businesses were changing. While we always had recycling bins prior, the laws drew our attention to the need to be more diligent. As a sustainability company, we were eager to comply. Once we started paying more attention to our recycling process, however, we noticed that the building maintenance staff would combine our recyclables into their general trash. Mike Battle, Bright Power’s Office Coordinator, tirelessly coordinated efforts between building staff and management to comply with the new laws. Unfortunately, no change resulted. Taking matters into his own hands, Mike researched recycling vendors. This led Bright Power to contract an environmentally-friendly office cleaning company, Managed by Q, which partners with a separate recycling company to pick up all of Bright Power’s recyclables twice a week.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

There’s no doubt the reason Bright Power is a special company is its leadership. Jeff Perlman is a unique and visionary President. When Trump’s travel ban was signed, Jeff published his public reaction here. He also sent an email to our entire company that moved me to tears and made me very proud to work at Bright Power. To show you the personal and caring way Bright Power’s leadership approached the issue to us as individuals, I’ve included just the end of Jeff’s email here:

“Please know that I am going to do everything I can to provide all of you with a safe place to work, and have instructed the Ops team to do so as well. If anyone wants to talk to me or Katie about this, our doors are open. Our immigration attorneys are also available to connect with if/when you need. Another resource available to you is the free Confidential Employee Assistance Program which may be of help during this uneasy time.

And please support each other and your friends, families and neighbors. If you want to use the office for any meetings to help fight this, you are welcome to do so. We are stronger together.”

RESEARCH

Separate from Bright Power functioning as a for-profit business, we are committed to being an industry partner within the building sustainability space. As such, we have supported Enterprise Community Partners and the National Center for Healthy Homes (NCHH) in a long-term health study on the impacts of green buildings. Bright Power has also contributed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s efforts by providing resident engagement data and analysis. Additionally, we made our Local Law 87 (LL87) cleaning code open source to help align research efforts within the industry and make the data easier to understand and compare. Sarah Newman, a Bright Power Research Analyst, recently published a blog to share her stimulating analysis of the Local Law 84 (LL84) public data available.

 

I’m honored to be part of a team so fully committed to reducing our clients’ energy use, water consumption, and utility costs. But it warms my heart all that much more to do so every day surrounded by some of the best folks I know. I’m looking forward to witnessing and participating in all the good doing to come.