Category: energy

22 Jun

Avoiding Energy Scams

Ben Wallack energy, procurement, utility 0 Comments

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 0 Comments

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.

31 Jan

Reflecting on “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy”

Jeff Perlman Economy, energy, politics 0 Comments

Just before leaving office, President Obama wrote in Science magazine, about the “irreversible momentum of clean energy.” Just look at the employment trends: “~2.2 million Americans… currently employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services… [compared] with the roughly 1.1 million Americans who are employed in the production of fossil fuels and their use for electric power generation.” We’ve seen evidence of this ourselves at Bright Power, where our staff has more than doubled in size since the last election and in 2016 alone our revenue grew over 70% — not a lot of conventional energy companies can say that. Insofar as the 2016 election was a referendum on jobs, President Trump should want to support the largest areas of employment in the energy sector (hint: they’re not coal mines).  And equipment costs for renewables and energy efficiency, especially for solar energy and LED lighting, have been on a steady downward trajectory, which means that they are increasingly less dependent upon government subsidy.

All of this is good news for the real estate industry. We have a growing set of tools we can use to deliver more value to you, across your portfolio. Finding opportunities to lower energy usage and costs, fixing buildings to make them more comfortable and more efficient, and following them on an ongoing basis to reduce headaches for you and your maintenance staffs…all of this continues to work for you, no matter who is in office.

While the Clean Power Plan (CPP) itself now seems doomed, the electricity sector has already nearly achieved the 2030 carbon goal today (we’re at 27% carbon savings and the 2030 goal is 32%). So as long as we don’t start forbidding the use of renewables in favor of coal (really, Wyoming?), we should far surpass the CPP goals even without the CPP.  And while the recent executive orders in support of oil pipelines mean that they will likely get built at some point in the future, it is a small enough amount of oil and far enough in the future that it’s not likely to have a major impact on prices.

Plus, energy policy has always been made primarily at the state level anyway. Rather than anything resembling unity across the states, support for renewable energy and energy efficiency is likely to become even more of a patchwork with even deeper contrasts – defined state-by-state, municipality-by-municipality.  It is more than a full-time job keeping up with the constant policy and program changes, but there’s gold there if you do.  Just ask the dozens of properties in California that we’ve helped access funds to pay for 80+% of our energy and water improvements.

Furthermore, despite all of the attempts to confuse the public on the issue, even after November’s election, more than two-thirds of Americans support action on climate change.  This means that  the President needs only to listen to the people on this one.  But even if he doesn’t, we’ll keep moving forward either way.

21 Apr

On the Brink of Collapse: Modern Day Easter Island

Kurt D'Angelo carbon, energy 0 Comments

Easter Island

Many people are familiar with the iconic stone head sculptures which are perched on the shores of a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. At first glance, they appear to be evidence of a glorious civilization and a statement the prosperity which defined its golden age. But beneath this façade there lies a dark tale of disastrous proportions…

The tragic story and plight of Easter Island parallels the most glaring problem facing modern day society: climate change. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond asserts that Easter Island is the “clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources.” Diamond aptly labeled this self-destructive behavior “ecocide”.

Widespread deforestation, unsustainable farming practices and overhunting exhausted vital resources and the population began to die out, along with the island’s plant and animal life. A civil war emerged as tribes fought over remaining resources. Internal conflict and violence turned into anarchy.

By the time Easter Island’s people realized the trajectory of destruction, it was too late. At its peak, the island civilization supported a prosperous society of up to 30,000 people but by the time European explorers visited the island, the population had dwindled to a mere 700 people.

Tragedy of the Commons: Can We Learn From The Past?

The collapse of the Easter Island civilization can be described by a socio-economic phenomenon known as the “tragedy of the commons”.

“The phrase tragedy of the commons, first described by biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968, describes how shared environmental resources are overused and eventually depleted. He compared shared resources to a common grazing pasture; in this scenario, everyone with rights to the pasture grazes as many animals as possible, acting in self-interest for the greatest short-term personal gain. Eventually, they use up all the grass in the pasture; the shared resource is depleted and no longer useful.”

This same failure model applies to the carbon culture of today and the global climate change crisis. Today’s shared “resource” is the atmosphere, and we are exhausting it, just as the people of Easter Island did centuries ago to their terrain. The consequences of global self-interest become more and more real everyday.

Climate Change

Earth’s Climate: A Shared Resource

Our abuse of the climate is a global problem which transcends physical borders. At the heart of climate change is our thirst for fossil fuels and the resulting production of CO2 emissions, which pollute and diminish the shared atmosphere.

The people of Easter Island cut down acres of trees, stripped the soil of nutrients and hunted animal species to extinction. Today, we proceed to ravage the Earth for carbon-rich fossil fuels and spew their gaseous by-products into the atmosphere to bolster gross domestic product (GDP) and increase our (perceived) standard of living without any real consideration for the impact on the climate.

Self-interest motivates nations and individuals to skirt responsibility. Sustaining our current way of life (i.e. refusing to prioritize climate action) is simply too difficult, and often very profitable for those with the power to enact change. There is a resistance to any change that is perceived to be disruptive and painful, but as we’ve learned from Easter Island, without any disruptive preventative action or sweeping reforms, the demise of human civilization becomes a much more plausible scenario.

President Obama’s science and technology advisor, offered his thoughts on the future global climate landscape at the recent 2015 UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris:

“It is absolutely essential, if we want to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change, that we turn this problem around starting now” – John Holdren

The consensus is overwhelming. It’s time to slam on the brakes of this freight train. It’s time to right this ship.

Carbon Efficiency: Fortune Of The Commons

The United States is positioned to lead the effort to curb climate change, though meaningful progress is slow. The TRUE cost of energy should account for the cost of the commodity itself and the cost of the environmental impact. Making carbon as visible and explicit as possible is essential to educate end users on their contribution to climate change. Although reducing carbon emissions can be accomplished in many ways, I propose a solution which applies to the building sector.

We all receive monthly utility bills which show energy usage, whether it be electricity, natural gas, oil, etc. Why not have an additional line item for carbon emissions with an associated fee? The end user would effectively be penalized proportionally to the size of their carbon footprint. The calculations of converting the energy usage to carbon emission equivalent are not terribly difficult.

The city of Boulder in Colorado has already implemented a “Climate Action Plan Tax”:

2016-04-20 17_17_08-Image Viewer
Sample utility bill with Carbon Tax

Historically, energy costs have been the main driver for energy efficiency efforts. As the costs of fuel and electricity have increased in the past, so has the push for renewables and energy conservation. But what happens when energy is cheap? The natural tendency is for people to revert back to their original consumer habits. Buy a bigger car. Run the air conditioner longer. Forgo putting solar panels on the roof.

Insulated from the price volatility of the fossil fuel markets, a carbon tax would effectively act as an unwavering financial penalty. In general, the pounds of carbon per kilowatt-hour of electricity or pounds of carbon per therm of natural gas or pounds of carbon per gallon of fuel oil are not dependent upon the monetary cost of the fossil fuel commodity. Thus during times of cheap energy costs, carbon would likely become a main driver for energy efficiency decisions.

Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about energy efficiency in terms of carbon efficiency.

ESC
EnergyScoreCard showing carbon emissions

Just as people respond to incentives, people respond to disincentives, possibly even more so. A carbon fee (assuming it is large enough) would provide constant feedback to end users about their contribution to climate change and would hopefully have a positive impact on their consumption behavior. The initial step for reducing carbon emissions and avoiding excessive carbon fees would be to use less fossil fuel by implementing energy conservation efforts. But ultimately a transition to carbon free energy would need to occur. The timing of that transition depends upon the progressive structure of the carbon tax (how much the tax rate increases each year) as well as the maturity and affordability of renewable technologies.

Regardless of the specifics, it would be in the users’ best interest to reduce the size of their carbon footprint and consequently save money. Thus, the “tragedy of the commons” becomes the “fortune of the commons”.

The very real tragedy of Easter Island offers us valuable insight into human behavior and self-interest as a motive. It offers us tangible evidence of the consequences associated with resource exploitation and environmental destruction. It gives us a jarring glimpse of what could be our very own fate. But most importantly it serves as a call to action to change our ways before it’s too late.

 

 

 

22 Feb

What is Passive House and Why You Should Care

Leyna O'Neill efficiency, energy, passive house 0 Comments

 

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.

 

*There are several different standards by which to certify a building as Passive House, (e.g. Passive House International and Passive House US) but the philosophy and intent is similar.

20 Jan

SoCal is Hot for Multifamily Energy Savings

Greg Sherman California, energy, incentives 0 Comments
the-energy-network
Southern California Regional Energy Network

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 gsherman@brightpower.com

26 May

Shaking Things Up: Studies Show Fracking Contributes to Earthquakes

Dan Levin earthquakes, energy, fracking Tags: , , 0 Comments

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.

2004

Courtesy of the New York Times
Maps c/o the New York Times

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?

 Dan Levin

30 Mar

Will the Real Polar Vortex Please Stand Up?

Dan Levin energy, polar vortex, procurement Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

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.

heating degree day

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:

NYC Natural Gas Cash Prices Winter 2013/2014
                                     NYC Natural Gas Cash Prices Winter 2013/2014
NYC Natural Gas Cash Prices Winter 2014/2015
                                  NYC Natural Gas Cash Prices Winter 2014/2015

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.

winter comparison

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!

Dan Levin

19 Mar

Power to the Tenant

Caleb Smeeth energy, energy management, utility Tags: , , , , 2 Comments

photo 4 (1)A few months ago I moved into a new apartment. When I got my first electric bill, I was shocked. I’m pretty good about turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms and I always make a habit of unplugging any unused appliances to minimize vampire load. I work at Bright Power! There’s no way I could be an energy hog. If you can’t trust the data, there’s no way to tell whether or not your efforts are making a difference, and I couldn’t trust this data.

After some innocuous investigating on my end, I found that the utility could not get access to the meter room in my building and, as a result, was estimating my usage for that month by applying the previous tenant’s consumption history to my account. Time to shut it down. I immediately called the utility company to schedule a second meter reading for the following month.

When the next month rolled around, I received my new electric bill in the mail with a second estimated meter reading. Wait…didn’t I just fix this?! Time to kick it up a notch. I decided to submit my own meter reading to the utility. When it was verified by the utility, I learned that the previous tenant was being significantly over-billed for electricity no one was actually using, and so was I.

Please learn from my mistake! Reliable and accurate data is crucial for measuring energy performance in any type of building. This is just one small example of a larger problem the energy industry faces every day.

 Caleb Smeeth