As someone who would like to believe she is relatively aware of what it means to conserve and be energy efficient, my experience at Bright Power, albeit brief, has shown me that there is still plenty to learn. Growing up with an extremely practical father who worked as an electrician, I was constantly reminded, if not scolded, for turning on unnecessary lights, or leaving lights on when I left the room. I was taught that LED’s not only save energy, but significantly reduce the electric bill. I was taught to recycle and to consume responsibly, but I was never exposed to the deeper knowledge base that serves as a framework for this entire industry. In other words, being “green” is a little more complicated than the choosing between paper or plastic that most assume it to be.
As an outsider looking in, the question isn’t what does a company like Bright Power do, it’s where do I start? There’s a procurement group that strategizes on how and when to buy energy. There’s a team of developers who build software that consumes energy-related data and a team of analysts that actually digests it. Their insights aid our teams of engineers (yes, that’s three teams of engineers) who get their hands dirty designing solutions and overseeing their implementation.
I’d say the most important revelation I’ve had since starting here is that there is no endpoint in energy efficiency. A project isn’t done after the energy audit is completed or even after a major steam balancing effort. Our analysts need to re-enter the equation by tracking building performance after a project is completed because sticking around and making sure these measures work is the only way to truly manage energy.
Here I thought energy efficiency was about putting up solar panels or getting certifications. It’s a bustling environment full of people who collectively build the energy management experience.
I’ve learned a lot about the industry in my short time here, but one thing is revealing itself rather quickly: energy efficiency is an industry that never sleeps and that’s because it can’t. Bright Power’s long-term approach has shown me that in order to really be effective and cutting edge in energy efficiency, you have to be in it for the long haul.
It’s time to start getting your buildings ready to look and feel good…for the rest of their lives.
I don’t know about you but every January I tell myself things are going to be different this year. The new year inspires us to set goals for healthy living, financial success and lasting relationships. In fact, there is an entire industry of resources and technologies focused on making our goals easily attainable. Running your building is no different.
We look at thousands of buildings across the country each year and hear the same problems. Even worse, we see the same short-term solutions implemented year after year. If tenants are complaining about their apartment being too cold, crank up the boiler. If the hallway lights are dim and they keep burning out, replace them with the same light bulb. Every year we end up paying more and more for electricity, gas and water because the approach to energy management just isn’t evolving anywhere near as quickly as consumption is growing. However our dependency on energy, and the price we pay for it continues to climb.
Just because your building was built in the 1900’s doesn’t mean you have to operate it that way. Energy was less expensive when these buildings were built and conservation was not a goal or a necessity. Times have changed! This year, it’s time to bring your building into the 21st Century. There are simple ways to start managing energy that will help you provide your tenants with a healthier space to live and work, reduce your operating expenses and keep happy tenants in your building for years to come.
The first step is to measure your usage. Whether you are trying to lose weight or earn more money, knowing where you stand is crucial to success. This will also help you understand how your building uses energy and where you should focus your time, money and effort. This is a fundamental metric that is imperative to evaluating and recognizing your success.
Now it’s time to make some changes! But like any resolution, start small and build up throughout the year. Here’s a simple change that can produce big results: upgrade your lights. Most of the buildings we see still have incandescent lighting, which is the same technology that Thomas Edison invented…in the 1800s. Even fluorescent lamps are outdated; you can typically achieve a 40%-50% energy reduction by switching to LEDs. By leapfrogging straight to LEDs, you can quickly reduce operating costs, maintenance costs and will usually increase light levels, making your building safer.
Lastly, and here is the most important part, you have to watch the results – good or bad! Proper energy management can’t be done by installing new devices alone because set it and forget it doesn’t work. You think losing ten pounds is tough until you realize what you have to do to keep it off. Your building’s energy health is as much a journey that needs monitoring as your own.
To bring your building into the 21st Century, the most important advice to follow is to be strategic. Working with a personal trainer is effective because it means having a long-term plan and someone who can hold you accountable. Set goals for your building or your portfolio and work with a strategic partner that will help you achieve what you set out to do. You don’t need to stick to old tactics just because your building is old. New, strategic approaches to operating will help create healthier, more profitable and longer-lasting buildings. So let your building’s six pack fly free this summer. Start now to make 2015 the year you finally see results, because with buildings, it’s beach season all year long!
Domestic energy sources have been subsidized in the U.S. for almost as long as we’ve been an independent nation, dating all the way back to 1789 when our new leaders first implemented a tax on the sale of British coal. Today, the debate surrounding federal support for the energy industry is as contentious as ever. The months leading up to Congress’s passing of the Fiscal Year 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bills have been filled with an excess of rhetoric, half-truths, and whole-lies regarding the different ways that our government supports the energy sector. Instead of adding more fuel to the fire, here we will present empirical data detailing where and how much our government subsidizes energy and the future implications of federal support of the renewable energy sector.
The table below is the result of a study that analyzed the distribution of subsidies among the many ways in which the federal government has supported energy development for the entire industry from 1950-2010. The study estimated that federal support for the energy industry over that 60-year time period totaled over $837 billion (in 2010 dollars). Their findings show that the coal, oil, nuclear, and gas industries have been the major beneficiaries, having received close to 80% ($666.5B) of federal subsidies since 1950; while hydro, renewables and geothermal comprise the remaining 20% ($170.7B).
While these numbers seem to tell us that government energy subsidies heavily favor fossil fuel production, things start to look differently when we dig a little deeper. When we take into account the amount of energy that is actually being generated relative to the amount of subsidization received, renewables in the U.S. technically receive 25 times the subsidy that fossil fuels do. In the United States in 2010, in order to generate a billion BTUs of energy, the renewable industry received $1,724, while the fossil fuel industry received just $68.72. To that end, it would appear that renewables are more federally-favored than we thought. Considering the fact that we are comparing markets that are in completely different states of maturity, the future of the renewable sector may be more dependent in its ability to match the fossil fuel industry’s infrastructure, rather than federal subsidization.
Even still, federal support of the renewable energy sector is working. The cost of renewable energy has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, especially over the last 5 years, as we are now buying solar and wind energy for prices lower than coal. As for future policy, the road ahead looks positive but it would be a mistake to expect drastic reform in the ways that we subsidize our energy in the near term. One thing is for certain; the U.S. has an opportunity to deliver reliable, affordable, and environmentally friendly energy that we can’t afford to miss.
We applaud the thrust of David Bench’s November 10 article on ArchDaily.com “The Other ‘Green Way’: Why Can’t New York Build More Quality Affordable Housing?”, but take issue with some of his conclusions. Via Verde has been a smashing success in delivering high quality affordable housing that’s also remarkably sustainable, and New York should be building more quality affordable housing like it. But the fact that more could be done shouldn’t blind us to the quality affordable housing development going on around us. Bench opens with, “Two years after the completion of Grimshaw and Dattner’s acclaimed Via Verde (“Green Way”), no successors have even been proposed for this supposed model for the design and construction of new affordable housing.” Not so!
For those of you who think nothing innovative has been happening in quality and sustainable affordable housing, keep reading. Sustainable affordable housing is on the rise even as rental apartment construction in New York City hit a 27 year high last week. One needs to look no further than the La Central development on the Bronxchester site literally next door to Via Verde. La Central is a 985 unit, 5 building complex that is 100% affordable. Developed by Hudson, BRP, The Kretchmer Companies, and Common Ground with FXFowle and MHG as architects, La Central will draw upon many of the celebrated features of Via Verde including a green roof and photovoltaic (PV) array over 5 times the size of Via Verde’s. La Central pushes innovation further by incorporating the PV array into a resilient microgrid complete with batteries and cogeneration – all of which pays for itself and enhances the economics of the development while providing tangible electrical and HVAC services to residents in the event of an outage. The courtyard and rooftop landscape design by Future Green Studio stands to continue the ribbon of landscaped attractive outdoor space that began at Via Verde. Not convinced?
La Central is far from the only innovator – Bright Power’s roster of projects includes affordable housing projects pursuing the Passive House Standard, which typically reduces energy use by 80% when compared to typical code-minimum developments. Via Verde and Dumont Green, two icons of energy efficiency of the past decade on which Bright Power worked, comparatively saved 30% and 26% respectively. Or look to Essex Crossing, a mega development currently under design located in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side that will include 1000 units of housing, of which 50% is affordable. Essex Crossing won an Affordable Green Communities award at Greenbuild 2014 in recognition of the 9-building neighborhood development’s groundbreaking achievements in establishing a vibrant and equitable neighborhood, and is projected to be 20-30% more energy efficient than the typical building under today’s codes. These are just a few of the dozens of projects Skye Gruen, our Director of New Construction & Sustainability, and her team here at Bright Power are actively working on in an effort to to improve the quality and sustainability of new affordable housing development.
While high quality and sustainable building qualities is seeping into the fabric of New York’s affordable housing development, building better affordable housing is just the beginning. The key to sustainable buildings isn’t just building them right – it’s about tracking their energy use from the start and proactively managing them throughout their lifecycle, too. We disagree with David Bench – sustainable, affordable housing is getting built. The real challenge – a challenge Bright Power is tackling now – is how to make sure today’s cutting-edge buildings continue to perform after construction wraps.
Bright’s Sam Weisenberg teaches maintenance staff in the field
Streamlined building operations and maintenance means fewer surprises – the bad kind of surprises – the ones that cost time, money and resources. The last thing you want is to find yourself paying out of pocket for a steam pipe burst on Christmas Eve, only to realize it could’ve been avoided. These things happen! Well, Bright Power and Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) believe that they happen a lot less with an operations and maintenance staff that knows what to look for.
In May 2013, SAHF and its members launched the Big Reach initiative with the goal of reducing portfolio-wide energy and water use by 20% by 2020 – a goal they see as an important step to reaching the ultimate goal ofaffordable housing preservation. This initiative, paired with the Better Buildings Challenge, strengthened their commitment to achieving and maintaining energy and water efficiency throughout their portfolio. They soon realized that streamlined operations and maintenance was a key strategy for achieving these goals, and Bright Power was happy to help them pursue them.
Bright Power partnered with SAHF to develop a Mutlifamily Energy and Water Management Toolkitwhich includes practical, free resources for O&M such as checklists, references and tip sheets. We’re also collaborating on a series of nation-wide trainings for SAHF members on energy- and water-efficient operations and maintenance. Each city will host Bright Power’s trainers and local O&M professionals for a two day session that includes lectures in the classroom and hands-on experience in the field.
So far this month, SAHF and Bright Power have held trainings in Washington, DC and Boston. Trainings were attended by staff from Homes for America, the National Housing Trust, Preservation of Affordable Housing(POAH), The Community Builders and Volunteers of America. The DC training was held on-site at a National Housing Trust property, the St. Dennis Apartments. Attendees walked through the site with Bright Power trainers Mark Pando and Jon Braman, identifying energy and water savings opportunities in the property before delving into a curriculum focused on small HVAC maintenance. In Boston, POAH’s historic Kenmore Abbey hosted a training focused on central heating.
Attendees shared insights into their processes for dealing with maintenance headaches at their site and learned about the many ways their work affects energy and water savings. The curriculum deals not only with maintaining specific systems like heating, DHW, HVAC lighting and water, but also the communication practices and tracking systems that get to the core of O&M, preventing problems before they arise and making sure they’re quickly solved if and when they do come up.
Take a look at some of the topics covered:
Building maintenance staff are on the front lines of energy and water efficiency. They have the power to make their buildings run like a well-oiled machine or let things fall apart. They have to take care of tenants, manage vendors, respond to their bosses, make sure buildings pass inspections for HUD, etc. It’s a tough job! We’re focused on empowering them with skills and knowledge to keep them in the driver’s seat when it comes to energy and water use in their buildings. With a more managed, proactive approach at the building level, SAHF is well on their way to hitting their energy and water goals across their portfolio.
Bright Power is extremely proud to have worked with L+M Development Partners on the Arverne View (previously Ocean Village) revitalization project. See the video below for an in depth look at the amazing journey.
Mayor Bill De Blasio’s One City: Built to Last plan has been a positive step forward for New York City’s energy landscape. By 2050, New York City greenhouse gas emissions will be slashed by 80% if all goes according to plan. Achieving that goal will require a huge effort and the implementation of many innovative ideas and technology, and one that we applaud is the addition of solar panels in New York City schools. More specifically, $28 million will be put towards solar installations in 24 schools in New York City, in addition to the 300 city buildings with solar in their future. It’s a plan that De Blasio calls “ambitious, but necessary” and we couldn’t agree more.
Solar installation with a view at NEST in the Lower East Side
As we look forward to the city’s solar expansion, we’d like to acknowledge some of our clients who have long since adopted this idea. In the Fall of 2012, the School Construction Authority (SCA) spearheaded a Resolution A project to bring solar installations to schools using a grant from the Manhattan Borough President’s Office. Resolution A projects are school-specific capital improvement projects designed to enhance the learning environment. Projects can range from security camera systems to library upgrades, and when solar was proposed, we were happy to pitch in.
First things first, three different schools were chosen in the West Village, Lower East Side and Harlem as candidates for installations. Bright Power worked with Dattner Architects to perform feasibility studies on four different schools to evaluate the solar potential of each site. While solar technology is a valuable addition to a building, the fact of the matter is not all buildings are created equal when it comes to solar readiness. Many factors must be taken into consideration like roof space, sunlight obstruction and wind exposure. In the end two schools were chosen as viable candidates, NEST in the Lower East Side and PS 154 in Harlem.
Over the following two years, we worked with the SCA,Dattner Architects and the schools themselves to design and oversee construction of the systems. Combined, both sites are home to 251.6 kW-DC ballasted solar arrays featuring a total of 770 Sunpower 327W panels. In one year, each system will produce 146,000 kWh of electricity which will offset 15% of NEST’s annual usage, and 25% at PS154.
PS154’s system is up and running along with an interactive monitoring system providing energy production data from a yearly basis down to 15-minute intervals. Through this tool, users can see that the system has produced 8,760.985 kWh so far in the month of October and that it has offset 227,114.78 light bulbs for an entire day. These metrics are helpful educational tools for understanding the value of renewables, and PS154 has made the information available to all students with a lobby display showing the system production, savings and benefits.
A piece of PS 154’s dashboard shows kWh produced so far this month
The installation at NEST is set to turn on in the coming weeks and we look forward to seeing how this school, dedicated to New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math will incorporate the system into their rigorous academic curriculum, and of course, we are excited to see the savings achieved here and in the next 24 schools to get the solar treatment.
For those unfamiliar, New York City’s Local Law 87, authored in 2009, is an ambitions piece of legislation which requires all buildings over 50,000 square feet to have an energy audit and retrocommissioning performed once every 10 years. A younger member of NYC’s family of green legislation, the law is an extension of Local Law 84, which requires buildings to submit energy data to the city annually.Last year (2013) marked the first year of filings, many of which came in a mad rush towards the end of the year as real estate stakeholders became aware of the new requirements. With deadlines looming, Bright Power submitted the very first Local Law 87 submission to the City, followed by roughly sixty-five more like it. Almost a year later, The Department of Buildings (DOB) has completed its first round of reviews; meanwhile, Bright Power and other providers are rushing to submit the next wave of buildings. So what did we learn?
We Have Seen Local Law 87, and It Is Good
By the latest count, 13,466 buildings fall under the umbrella of Local Law 87. That means that over the next 10 years, every single one will have someone crawling through the basement, flipping switches, and asking, “Does this work? Can I make it better?”. Conversations with clients have shown that there is a diverse range of Local Law 87 providers offering a wide range of costs and subjecting buildings to widely different levels of scrutiny. But make no mistake: for many of those thirteen thousand buildings, this is the first time those questions will be asked. And that makes a difference, at any level of service.
Local Law 87 Saves Energy
We can’t speak for the city overall, but an analysis of our data shows that for our first year’s portfolio, there was a 6% reduction in total energy use after retrocommissioning work was completed. It’s hard to control for much more than weather and different fuel types (which we did), but it’s an encouraging data point, and over the next few years we’ll keep watching to see what happens. For most of those buildings, a 6% energy savings equates to a two-year payback on the cost of retrocommissioning – or less. What made the difference? It was mostly simple measures: insulating pipes, turning off lights and air conditioning in mechanical spaces where it wasn’t needed, replacing steam traps, and turning down excessive heating and domestic hot water set points. It wasn’t complicated. Someone just had to look.
Local Law 87 Is Going To Get More Expensive
In the last few months, we’ve gotten DOB’s official comments on several of our submissions, as well as the opportunity to work with their technical reviewers to understand the standard of care they’re looking for. When the Law (and clarifying Rule) were published, they left providers with big questions – and the responsibility of interpreting the law for their clients. Now we’re getting some answers, and the trend is towards an even higher level of attention to all aspects of buildings. The comments we’ve seen send the message that DOB is serious about implementing this law, and will be looking for thorough, rigorous performance testing down to the level of individual sensors and circuits in buildings. They reserve the right to stop accepting submissions from providers who don’t meet their standards. What does this mean? Immediately, providers will have to raise fees for local law compliance, or be forced out of the market. While some may see this as a financial burden, our experience so far gives us hope that with the support of DOB, we can take a deeper dive into building systems throughout the city and expand on the success of our first year.
The Need for Accountability
Ambiguities in the law were a difficult challenge for Local Law 87 providers, who had to balance the interests of their clients on one hand against the unknown whims of the city. For many building systems prevalent in New York City – especially steam systems – no nationally recognized standards exist, and enforcement of the law was an every-firm-for-itself affair. The limited number of providers in the market and specialized nature of the corrective work required also brought up the question of conflicts of interest. The first round of submissions walked an ethical tightrope, at least for the more scrupulous firms. For all the real and potential good Local Law 87 has to offer, its first year put many providers in a tight spot. To that end, there is a strong need for advocacy from providers and clients. We must push the city to adopt standards, create standards where none exists, and clarify what their requirements are in a consistent manner. Ultimately, this will allow for accountability and consistency in the application of the law. That helps keep costs down for property owners, mitigates risk for providers, and simplifies DOB’s seemingly sisyphean task of shepherding thirteen thousand buildings towards a more efficient future.
Alongside more rigorous testing and the (hopeful) creation of consistent standards, there’s talk of expanding the law to buildings under 25,000 square feet, adding thousands of buildings and owners. Just how that might look is still unclear. Those who focus on the upfront cost of implementing the law need to refocus their attention on the value. As our own experience shows, this work, done right, pays for itself in energy savings alone. And that doesn’t even account for the benefits of extending the life of the equipment by running it better. Smaller buildings need this attention at least as much as larger buildings, and they need the expertise of our industry to keep them running cost-effectively and comfortably into the next few decades.
We at Bright Power applaud Mayor de Blasio for his ambitious plan – One City: Built to Last – to cut greenhouse gas emissions. For years, we’ve argued that while any effort to reduce energy waste is a step in the right direction, nothing beats buildings. If we’re really going to save the planet, we have to start by fixing the inefficient aspects of our built environment. Buildings account for 30% of the world’s energyconsumption and 20%-40% of that typically goes to waste. Addressing this clear and unnecessary performance issue is the obvious place to start the fight against climate change.
Ironically, energy use is the only thing you can reduce in a building that increases the comfort and happiness of the people who live and work there. Anyone who’s ever been in an NYC apartment in the dead of winter with the windowsopen because it was too hot inside knows just how true this is. My wife teaches in a City school and leads the class with her coat on, not because the heat isn’t on, but because they blast the air conditioning to cool the building back down after it’s been overheated — you just can’t make this stuff up.
This cuts to the most ambitious part of the Mayor’s plan: his commitment to retrofit every single city-owned building by 2025. At Bright Power, we love when we get the chance to help a client design their building to be “green” from the beginning but we still need practical solutions for the buildings we already have — 80% of the buildings currently built will still be here in 2050. Retrofits of existing buildings are the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach to reducing the impact of NYC’s building stock and the City will see real savings, comfort improvements, and significant emission reductions from day one. Even more importantly, in leading by example, the City is “putting its money where its mouth is” and will be able to show building owners throughout NYC that this stuff really works.
The one concern we at Bright Power have about this plan is the ambiguity surrounding how results will be tracked and verified — if we don’t watch the results both initially and forever, we could easily find ourselves back at square one in a few years. In our work, we track everything we do to improve buildings and use our database of benchmarking data — the largest database of multifamily energy use data in the country — to demonstrate the impact over time. Measuring is only the first step. If you don’t watch the measures after implementation, it’s inevitable that “creep” occurs and the benefits of your efforts gradually fade away.
That’s the tricky part of energy management. The plan alludes to a database the City will use to track its progress towards the goals and we are anxious to hear more about that. It’s a brilliant move to have complete transparency about this initiative because that will prove to the skeptics that the initiatives are actually working. Hopefully, this will be an independent platform as we know once the data is in spreadsheets, it can easily be massaged and manicured. If we do this right, though, the truth will stand on its own and we will have set a precedent of what’s possible for the rest of the world. If you can make it here…
Vice President of Sales and Marketing