Our Top Picks for Energy Cinderella Stories
Every year there’s one small team that slowly but surely rises in ranks, winning upset after upset, while facing off against the biggest names in basketball. The same can be said for certain energy conservation measures which are often overlooked in favor of flashy, high-tech projects. But sometimes, it’s the smallest changes that make the biggest impact. Let’s take a look at our top five picks.
These simple devices are so easy to buy and install we’re not sure why they’re not on every faucet. By restricting the flow of water that comes out of your faucet, aerator implementation is a simple and cost-effective water conservation measure that can also result in major cost savings, especially across a portfolio. (Note: Low flow doesn’t mean crappy – we sometimes refer to the aerators we recommend as “engineered flow”, because they don’t get you any less clean, they just use less water.)
Where to start? Caulk has many useful applications. You probably think about caulking around the tub and countertops as preventing leaks into the floor below, but it also prevents mold and preserves indoor air quality. Caulking around your windows, doors and A/C sleeves keeps indoor air in and outdoor air out. So if you’re feeling the chill on a cold winter night, or when you receive your heating bill, feel around for air infiltration and try a fresh bead of caulk to keep you cozy and warm.
Energy efficient lighting has got to be one of the easiest upgrades out there with the most bang for its buck. The cost of the bulbs themselves are quickly recovered in short payback periods and improved quality of life. That’s right, efficient lighting also means comfortable lighting. Gone are the days of flickery twisty CFL bulbs – get yourself some of the new LEDs and enjoy beautiful light, much longer bulb life (10x fewer bulb changes) and much less unwanted heat, leading to a balanced indoor environment and budget.
If you’ve ever accidentally backed into an uninsulated pipe, you’ll surely understand the value of pipe insulation. Pipes get hot, really hot, and that’s exactly what they’re made to do. What they’re not made to do is retain that heat. This is where pipe insulation comes in. Attaching insulation around every heat and hot water pipe is not only an important safety measure, it also significantly cuts down heat loss, meaning you’ll have lower heat and hot water bills.
Control Your Controls
Sometimes the biggest savings are right under your nose. Many building owners implement building controls of some form. But more often than not, once the controls system is in place, it’s left to operate on its own without much oversight. Checking in on your controls is the best place to start when something isn’t working, but it’s an even better practice to check in when everything seems to be working fine. You never know what you might see. After all, a proactive approach to energy management is the real Cinderella story every year.
Passive House, or PassivHaus as you may have seen it written, is an innovative new approach to energy efficient design and construction practices. We’re excited to see it popping up across the United States more and more. There are plenty of well-covered examples of these projects – their potential impact on residential energy conservation efforts is unmatched. But what are people really talking about when they say Passive House? And more importantly, should you be considering it for your next development?
What is Passive House?
Passive House is a recently-developed German building standard that takes energy efficiency to the next level.* Buildings that are designed to this standard are called “Passive Houses,” but they aren’t just single family homes. Passive Houses can include multifamily and commercial developments, too.
Passive Houses require less energy to heat and cool, and are up to 90% more efficient than the existing building stock. Insulation and superior air sealing are the primary focus of Passive House design. The goal is to design an extremely air-tight building envelope, limiting outside air coming into the building. This allows for the ventilation to be managed mechanically, which dramatically improves indoor air quality without consuming unnecessary energy.
What are the benefits?
Passive Houses are built to exceptional standards, and the benefits follow suit. The fine-tuned control over indoor air quality and temperature make Passive Houses extremely comfortable for residents throughout changing seasons and across climates. An added perk of the focus on insulation is that they are also much more sound-proof than traditional buildings – something our friends in NYC and other bustling cities across the country certainly covet.
Additionally, Passive House is a smart financial investment. Because the buildings are so well insulated, their heating and cooling systems can be dramatically smaller, which helps offset some of the costs of higher quality envelope. The highly efficient design reduces energy usage and operating costs dramatically, making up any additional construction cost within a few years.
And, of course, these buildings are good for the environment.
How do I know if it makes sense for me?
While existing buildings can be retrofitted to these standards, Passive House is most common for newly constructed single family homes, multifamily buildings, and commercial real estate developments. If you have an upcoming construction project, Passive House is an excellent option to explore if you want to maximize comfort and minimize utility costs. The key is to incorporate it into the design process as early as possible for an easier transition to high-performance design.
Developers, architects, and owners with NYC HPD-financed projects are required to complete HPD’s Healthy Homes training in order to achieve Enterprise Green Communities certification. The trainings, held quarterly, cover healthy building practices for construction projects.
Upcoming training sessions will be held on the following dates:
Thurs., March 17, 2016, 9am-12pm
Wed., May 11, 2016, 9am-12pm
Tues., June 14,2016, 1pm-4pm
Thurs., June 16, 2016 1pm-4pm
If you’ve got multifamily properties in Southern California, now is the time to take advantage of the new SoCalREN program. The program provides $550 – $1200 per apartment for an energy and water retrofit project that achieves 10-30% in projected savings. Best of all, SoCalREN will also pay for an initial assessment fee, so there is no upfront cost to get started.
Bright Power’s engineering team is currently in the process of bringing over 30 properties totaling over 10,000 apartment units through this program. We are finding all kinds of opportunities: ultra low-flow toilets, domestic hot water recirculation controls, LED lighting, variable speed drive pool and spa pumps, and managed irrigation programs. Thanks to the SoCalREN program, these projects have a very attractive return on investment of over 25%.
By taking a portfolio-level approach, we are able to work through a portfolio of properties all in one shot. Both Bright Power and our clients benefit from the economies of scale, making the project financials more attractive and reducing the overall time required from our clients.
As is true with all incentive programs, funds are limited so you must act fast.
For more information, contact Greg Sherman at email@example.com
CHP has never been a better deal in NYC! Con Edison is partnering with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to reduce electric demand in parts of Brooklyn and Queens (BQDM) by deploying a series of combined heat and power (CHP) projects. Even more exciting is that, for a limited time (applications are due February 29th, 2016), Con Edison and NYSERDA together will pay for up to 100% of project cost. Sounds great, but how do you get in? Let’s break it down.
What is BQDM?
Brooklyn Queens Demand Management, or BQDM, is a Con Edison initiative put in place to reduce the electricity demand in specific Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods. See above map. To delay building a new substation to meet growing electricity demand, Con Edison is providing a series of initiatives to reduce electricity usage during peak times.
In short, it’s extremely efficient. Combined heat and power (CHP) or ‘cogeneration’ is a way of producing electricity and useful heat, at the same time. A CHP system consists of a natural gas-fired electric generator, plus a system to capture the heat that is always produced and typically lost, and put it to productive use. The heat can be used for heating domestic hot water, hydronic and warm air heating and even, in some cases, air-cooling. The CHP systems we recommend always provide back-up power (or “black-start”) during grid outages.
Plus, it’s extremely cost-effective. The electricity produced by a CHP system is directly related to the cost of natural gas, without any of the charges for electricity distribution that you pay for conventional utility power. While an electric generator can reach a maximum of 45% efficiency, a CHP system with heat recapture can reach 80% efficiency. The result is an electricity price of 8 cents per kWh throughout the lifetime of a CHP system.
Furthermore, running the CHP system during summer days relieves stress on the grid, lowers peak demand and reduces overall fuel consumption.
How do I know if I’m eligible?
Just ask! Bright Power can verify your building’s eligibility for this program. We will help you evaluate your building based on the program’s criteria:
- significant annual energy consumption for both electricity and heat (e.g. an electric utility bill of $5,000 or more per month and a gas bill of $3,500 or more)
- access to natural gas (to be confirmed by National Grid)
- sufficient space to accommodate a CHP system with reasonable access to electricity and natural gas infrastructure (typically a minimum of 200 square feet)
Our team of energy experts are available to go over these requirements with you to see if your building is a good fit for the program. Don’t hesitate to reach out – the time is now!
The hunt is on for two extremely dangerous men who broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility nearly two weeks ago. It’s estimated that this manhunt is costing New York over $1 million dollars per day and we’d just like to point out that some strategically deployed energy management probably could’ve nipped this in the bud well before the escape itself.
We monitor over 18,000 buildings across the country, identifying anomalies in energy usage that can indicate glitches. Sometimes that means there’s a broken or faulty system like a pipe leak or, as we’ve seen rather frequently, human interference. Let’s say the soon-to-be escapees were plugging in power tools in a remote section of the prison every night for 3 weeks. That activity can absolutely be captured by granular data collected through sub-meters. We’re working with companies like Enertiv, a sub-metering firm out of New York, to help clients capture this data to inform operational decision-making every day, but we would be wise not to underestimate the variety of uses for this kind of information. An anomaly can even set off an alert to a building owner looking to monitor consumption or, let’s say, a prison staff member charged with knowing where inmates are at all times.
Imagine if at the Clinton Correctional Facility, they’d installed sub-meters throughout the facility to make sure there weren’t any unusual spikes in energy. Granted, we don’t know the details of the equipment used in the escape, but you can be sure we would have immediately noticed if there was a handsaw or drill plugged into an outlet in Cell Block D at 2 AM each night!
Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas extraction (a.k.a fracking) has definitely become a mainstream discussion topic across many parts of the US. The fracking boom has reinvigorated the energy industry in the US, moving us from a country with a rapidly declining energy supply to a potential large scale net energy exporter. While many fracking debates have focused on serious concerns around waste water injection and the potential contamination of drinking water, less focus seems to be put on the potential for fracking to cause earthquakes, at least until now.
A recent report by the US Geological Survey (USGS) appears to have tied fracking to increases in earthquakes for the first time. While the report hedges considerably with blanket statements such as “USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes”, the data supports a fairly clear picture of the impact. Using Oklahoma as an example, a recent New York Times article included glaring evidence of the connection between fracking operations and earthquakes. The two maps below document the rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma between 2004 and 2014, an increase of more than 8000% since the region’s uptick in fracking. As the data continues to support the connection between fracking and earthquakes, the industry once again finds itself pegged as a serious threat to public health and safety.
Fracking operations cover many square miles and in some states impact a very large portion of the whole state. Oklahoma’s politicians are seemingly at a loss for a solution to the earthquake problem, given that their only recourse is to restrict future permits or put an outright ban on fracking – options that amount to political suicide for many of them. The entire fracking situation makes me wonder, if toxic drinking water and earthquakes aren’t scary enough to force action, what possibly could be?
Today’s interconnected, tech-enabled world has unleashed a powerful wave of optimization in most sectors of the economy. However, much of the energy and building operations infrastructure, particularly in the multifamily realm, is still ripe for innovation. In 2015, it’s hard to believe that some utilities still get away with employing human meter readers and sending bills by fax, but we see it every day!
The energy management landscape is primed for technology disruption. Who are our favorite companies doing just that? Read on for our list of companies to watch as the energy industry embarks on an age of transformation.
LogCheck‘s app connects maintenance staff to upper management more efficiently than ever before. The digital logbook modernizes the way maintenance staff run buildings on a daily basis by allowing them to create and maintain records, review historical data and easily share that information with building management, bringing operations and maintenance into the 21st century.
Geli, short for Growing Energy Labs, Inc. provides software and business solutions to design, integrate, network and economically operate energy storage and microgrid systems. At its core, the Geli Energy Operating System (EOS) is a software platform that brings together energy storage, distributed generation, EV charging and building controls as part of the Internet of Energy. Their EOS can even make decisions on when and how to run different energy assets. For example, based on the current price of power and energy, Geli’s software automatically makes decisions on when to sell energy back to the grid, to ensure you’re getting the best possible value.
Enertiv is a new breed of electricity monitoring company. Their software platform allows you to see real-time energy performance and provides actionable insights. Using a combination of proprietary meters and sensors, as well as by integrating with existing building systems, Enertiv makes real-time energy consumption in buildings 100% transparent down to the equipment level and provides round-the-clock access to fine-grained data. By helping owners, operators, occupants, etc. visualize and digest their consumption, Enertiv empowers change in an unprecedented way.
Urjanet addresses a fundamental market need for quick and easy access to uniform utility data. By providing an automated data feed of detailed and structured utility data to energy service and software providers, Urjanet eliminates manual energy data collection and cleansing for these companies and allows them to focus their time and resources on analysis and action. It’s hard to underestimate the value of reliable, structured utility data, especially when you realize that there are 35,000 different utility companies worldwide, each with their own utility bill format!
These are just a few of our favorites, who are yours? Tell us in the comments section below!
We at Bright Power read the news of Tesla’s Powerwall with unbelievable excitement. For years, energy efficiency has been treated as either an obligation or a lofty goal, both of which has made it difficult to adopt for consumers and businesses, but it seems we’re at a turning point. Like Nest did for the thermostat, the Powerwall makes batteries sexy, cool, desirable. The reason this product will succeed is at least in part because people will want it. That’s something the efficiency market hasn’t seen and it’s something we need. The mass production of renewable technology means we are finally at a point where efficiency meets desire.
Getting the public on board is a necessary hurdle which must be crossed in order to reach the decision-making building owners who often block out the energy company ‘noise’ because it’s complicated, it’s confusing and there’s just so much of it.
Luckily, the necessary pieces to make this a sound business decision are already in place. Like the Powerwall, Bright Power’s Resilient Power Hub deploys batteries, but combines them with solar photovoltaics (PV) and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) to provide instantaneous, long-term backup power. And it pays for itself over time! The Resilient Power Hub was designed for small businesses as a part of the RISE:NYC competition (which we won, by the way) but it’s scalable to multifamily and commercial buildings where waste is big and opportunity is bigger. Bigger fish, here we come.
Reeling from the icy burn of 2014’s Polar Vortex, everyone wondered how 2015 would compare. Twelve months later, now that it seems like the worst is behind us, we can finally get down to business and determine which winter hit us harder, from an energy perspective of course. To do this, we’ll look at three factors: heating degree days, natural gas prices, and electric prices.
When did we need more heat?
During which winter did New Yorkers crank up the heat more? We can find out by looking at the Heating Degree Days. Heating Degree Days is a measurement of required heating demand based on the daily number of degrees below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, if it’s 60 degrees outside, that equals 5 heating degree days. These add up over the course of the winter months. You can see in the chart below, in November 2013, there were 585 heating degree days. This measurement also makes an excellent guide for gauging the impact of a cold winter, or polar vortex, as we now call it. The table below shows the monthly heating degrees days for NYC for the past two winters.
What do we see? The short story here is that while we started the 2014/2015 winter on the milder side, February 2015 takes the cake for the highest heating demand over the last two winters. In fact, it was the coldest February on record in NYC and about 23% colder than the previous winter. 2014: 0, 2015: 1.
When did we pay the most?
The Polar Vortex isn’t just about cold temperatures. Businesses and consumers also paid a lot for natural gas and electricity in the winter months due to high natural gas demand and limited pipeline capacity. But which winter was worse? The impact on prices can be seen in the spot/cash market (the daily energy market) where energy is bought the day before it is used, where the volatility is most evident and where natural gas prices have a direct impact on electric rates. The two graphs below show the local spot/cash market for last winter and this one:
These local wholesale prices typically stay in the $2.00/DTH to $4.00/DTH (DTH = dekatherm) range, but under pressure from winter demand these price rose close to $120/DTH in January 2014 and only to about $40/DTH this winter. So even though February 2015 was colder in temperature, the winter of 2013/2014 was rocked by all-time high natural gas prices. We’re giving this one to 2014. It’s a tight race. 2014: 1, 2015: 1.
And what if we look at NYC electric prices? Well, what we find is that the electric prices echo the pattern we saw in the natural gas market. The graph below compares the NYC wholesale electric prices over the past two winters.
The chart clearly shows that winter 2013/2014 was much more expensive in terms of wholesale electric (energy only), with prices reaching over $0.20/kWh (kilowatt hours) while this year’s prices peaked at approximately $0.16/kWh. Like natural gas, the cost of electricity hit us hard in 2013/14, and we have a winner. 2014:2, 2015: 1
There you have it. Despite extremely cold temperatures this year, winter 2013/2014 actually cost us more and we’re dubbing it the true polar vortex. However, given the surprise snow storm last week, are we jumping the gun on this call? Did we leave out any factors that might swing the results? Tell us what you think!