Happy Earth Day 2015

April 22, 2015 by

earth day 2015Today we commemorate the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day! This year’s theme, “It’s Our Turn to Lead” reminds us we all must work together towards environmental sustainability.

Check out what’s happening for Earth Day 2015 at earthday.org/2015.

Drought Impacts California’s Energy

April 20, 2015 by

With California in the grip of an epic, multi-year drought, Governor Brown recently called for funding relief and critical water infrastructure projects and directed the first ever statewide mandatory water reductions.

California hydropowerOne aspect of the drought that isn’t being talked about is the effect on California’s energy. According to the California Energy Commission, the state’s water and energy resources are inextricably entwined. The most widely recognized aspect of the water-energy relationship is hydroelectricity production.

Energy is needed to pump, treat, transport, heat, cool, and recycle water. This accounts for nearly 20% of the electricity used in California and 30% of non-power plant-related natural gas consumed in California. However, some smaller publicly-owned utilities (irrigation districts) rely heavily on hydroelectricity and are more detrimentally impacted during drought times.

When the state is experiencing less rainfall, less snowpack in the mountains, and earlier snowmelt, less water is available to generate hydroelectricity. Also, reduced snowpack that is melting earlier could lower the amount of water that generates hydropower during the summer months, when electricity demand and prices are highest.

With less water available to generate hydroelectricity, natural gas and renewable energy supplies are used to make up the difference. Natural gas is more expensive than hydropower and produces greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. While renewable energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions and costs continue to decline, there are capital costs associated with new renewable energy capacity. Given that hydropower is one of the least expensive sources of energy and has zero emissions, substituting these other types of energy to make up the difference can definitely affect energy costs and carbon emission goals.

The drought’s impact on hydropower generation and California’s electricity supply is continually being monitored and assessed via the Energy Commission, who is part of the interagency Drought Task Force appointed by Governor Brown.

For more information, check out the California Energy Commission’s FAQs: Drought Impact on Hydropower and Facts on California’s Use of Hydroelectricity.

Energy Efficiency is a Top Priority for U.S. Mayors

April 11, 2015 by

Despite the challenges of capital funding and budget constraints, U.S. mayors are making energy efficiency a top priority for their cities, with most planning to increase spending on energy efficiency projects over the next five years.

This is according to a recent survey of nearly 300 cities representing all 50 US Conference of Mayorsstates titled Energy Efficiency and Technologies in America’s Cities. The survey was performed by Philips and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,398 such cities in the country today.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • Nearly 3 in 10 cities are making LED/energy-efficient lighting technology their top priority over the next 24 months, and 1 in 5 cities are focusing on solar technology systems
  • LED/energy-efficient lighting was overwhelmingly rated (82%) as the most promising technology for reducing city energy use and carbon emissions, with solar electricity generation (54%) coming in second and green building (53%) placing third
  • 67% percent of mayors anticipate further growth in the deployment of new energy technologies in their cities over the next 5 years
  • Public buildings (83%) and outdoor lighting (54%) are identified as the two top priorities for cities in improving the energy efficiency of city infrastructure
  • Cities deploying all-electric vehicles increased to nearly 23%, up considerably from the previous survey in 2011
  • Most mayors expect to use their own local resources, as well as seek partnership with the private sector, to finance their energy efficiency projects
  • Three-quarters of the cities have developed an energy emergency response plan that maintains key municipal services during power outages
  • 54% of mayors are creating programs to engage local residents in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as their priority among other community-wide engagement initiatives

The results of the survey seem to confirm that U.S. mayors are seeing that investing in energy efficiency efforts benefits taxpayers, businesses, and their communities as a whole.

Be sure and read the complete survey, Energy Efficiency and Technologies in America’s Cities, for more detailed facts, figures, and information.

Solar Carports are Cool

April 4, 2015 by

Solar CarportsSolar carports are an exciting renewable energy trend that have been slowly gaining popularity. Historically only seen as a niche market, in the last few years average system prices have come down; incentives have expanded the customer base; and certain states such as California and New Jersey have helped mature the market. Together these factors have broadened the appeal of solar carports and are helping elevate them to a more mainstream status.

So what exactly are solar carports and why are they so cool? Well, they are pretty much what they sound like – existing city parking lots that are covered with a raised canopy of photovoltaics. The solar panels generate power that can be leased out or sold, used to offset electricity costs, or even used to power electric vehicle charging stations!

The panels provide shade, which not only protects the parked vehicles from the harsh effects of the sun but keeps the cars cooler and more comfortable for the owners. This also contributes to increased vehicle fuel efficiency (according to the EPA and DOE) because the shade minimizes radiant heat transfer. This means the car requires less energy from the air conditioning to cool down when owners return.

A solar carport design will maximize leasehold improvements and aid in energy reduction and independence with minimized expenses. Other benefits of a solar carport can include:

  • A simple and economical solar alternative to ground mount and roof mount solar systems
  • An efficient way to utilize existing parking areas to generate power

Solar carports today are found most prevalently at schools, universities, and government facilities. This is mainly because state-level incentives tend to favor these entities. However, solar carports seem to be gaining popularity with large companies because they can afford them and they can provide an impressive display at their corporate campuses. Hotels and sports fields are also getting in on the action.

Top Solar Carport StatesSolar carports are more popular in certain states. According to GTM Research’s 2014 market research report, 57% of all carports are in California — that’s more than half the market. They are also springing up in Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York. For the most part, the report says, this is because these states offer an array of incentives and financial offerings to support their development.

Also, in areas like the Northeast where they have limited amounts of land, it’s much more preferable to build roof mount or parking canopy solar installations. So we are finding states such as Massachusetts are offering higher incentives for solar carports versus ground mount solar projects.

So Why Aren’t There More Solar Carports?

According to the GTM study, by the end of 2014 there were an estimated 600 megawatts (or $2.5B) worth of solar canopies installed in the U.S. However, in energy terms, this is not that big of a number.

So with so much pavement already available in U.S. cities (35% to 50% of urban surfaces are pavement and 40% of that is parking lots according to research conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), why aren’t there more solar carports? Cost.

Although the prices have fallen and there are more state-level incentives, solar carports are still relatively expensive to build due to the engineering, materials, and labor. However, the cost to install a solar canopy today is still less than the cost to install a rooftop system just a few years ago.

So the good news is that improved module efficiencies, lower financing costs, and increased scale and competition will continue to push prices down, and this will allow the market to expand into other states — meaning we should be seeing more of these innovative solar solutions in the next few years. In fact, GTM Research anticipates the total market value of the U.S. solar carport market will grow consistently to $843 million by 2016.

For more detailed information and statistics on solar carports, take a look at this great Washington Post article. Also, you will want to check out GTM Research’s latest report, The U.S. Solar Carport Market, 2010-2018, where they analyze the emerging market and identify growth opportunities across the United States.

Facility and Energy Improvements Save Hospitals Money and Enhance Patient Care Experience

March 23, 2015 by

hospital lightingHospitals have a lot on their plates these days. From the soaring costs of healthcare delivery to the Affordable Care Act and stringent regulatory environment, the healthcare industry is experiencing enormous change. To compound matters, Medicare and Medicaid continue to increase pay-for-performance measures that impact hospital reimbursement rates and revenue.

As a result, hospitals are consistently challenged to do more with less. Most available revenue is reinvested into medical equipment and technology that allows them to offer enhanced patient care. Because of these circumstances, facility needs are traditionally a very low priority for hospitals. Most “operate to fail,” only fixing or upgrading when something breaks or negatively affects patient or employee satisfaction.

However, more innovative hospitals are starting to change their approach to facility enhancements. They are realizing that upgrading their HVAC, lighting, and other facility maintenance can dramatically improve energy efficiency, which leads not only to reduced energy costs and budget relief, but also helps create a more comfortable, safe, and healthy physical environment that can enable better patient outcomes and help survey results.

According to an article in MCD (Medical Construction & Design) Magazine, hospitals rank among the most energy-intensive types of buildings. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says acute-care hospitals use more than 2.5 times the energy per square foot of a typical U.S. commercial building. Also according to the DOE, hospitals collectively spend more than $5B annually on energy, so a 30% improvement in energy efficiency would yield about $1.5B a year in value for the U.S. healthcare system.

While energy consumption can vary based on a number of factors, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that as much as 70% of a typical hospital’s energy use goes to lighting and HVAC. The good news for hospitals is that there are many energy efficiency measures for these areas that can be implemented with little to no upfront capital costs and can provide excellent return on investment, often paying for themselves many times over the life of a typical hospital. There are also creative financing solutions available that guarantee energy and operating savings that can then be used to fund the energy improvement project without impacting the existing budget.

Lighting and HVAC upgrades and integration

Indoor and outdoor lighting upgrades using LED technologies use significantly less energy, require less maintenance, and offer better lighting and increased safety. On average, lighting replacemehospital energy improvementsnt can reduce lighting costs by an average of 38% in a typical hospital.

More importantly, lighting upgrades have been shown to improve the care environment for hospital patients. Various studies show that patients with greater exposure to daylight perceive less pain, require fewer medications, and check out sooner than patients whose exposure to natural light is limited. Lighting automation and controls, such as daylight harvesting, can reduce energy costs as well as maximize the amount of daylight in patient rooms and common areas, and supplement outdoor lighting with artificial lighting to maintain consistent and ideal lighting levels.

HVAC also places large demands on a hospital system’s energy budget and can also play a critical role in creating an improved healing environment. Modern HVAC technologies can help hospitals maintain optimum indoor temperature, air circulation, and humidity levels and address such issues as indoor air quality (IAQ). The Center for Health Design found 120 independent studies linking IAQ and other physical factors to the incidence of hospital-acquired infections, which contribute to about 75,000 deaths per year in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control. Integrating lighting, HVAC, and automation controls allow these critical systems to work together to maximize energy efficiency and create an optimal indoor environment.

Energy Assessments

The MCD article suggests that hospitals looking to develop an energy-efficiency strategy should start with a comprehensive energy audit from a qualified energy services company. This will provide the hospital with vital information about building performance, uncover all energy-efficiency opportunities, and ensure the building systems are operating effectively and efficiently.

Saving energy by improving lighting and HVAC technologies and integrating controls provides an excellent opportunity to reduce costs; improve environmental performance; and create a better place for patients, medical staff, administrators and visitors.

Read the complete MCD article to get more details on how hospitals can raise the bar on energy efficiency and patient care through lighting and HVAC enhancements and integration.