Have a Red, White, & Green Fourth!

June 30, 2015 by

Energy Tips for July 4thIt’s July 4th holiday and the summer is really starting to heat up – literally! Are you ready to declare your independence from the heat of high energy bills?

If so, here are some tips from ENERGY STAR specifically for building managers to improve operational efficiency and environmental performance, save money, and reduce energy waste all year long. Have a wonderful and safe Independence Day holiday everyone!

Hot Tips for Building Managers:

Give Your Building a Tune-Up

Regularly examine building equipment, systems, and maintenance procedures to make sure your building is operating as efficiently as possible. Tune up heating equipment; inspect ducts and windows and seal any leaks; calibrate thermostats and set them at appropriate temperatures; insulate hot water tanks and piping throughout the building; inspect and clean/change air filters.

Improve Lighting Systems

Lighting consumes 25% to 30% of energy in commercial buildings. Improving lighting systems can reduce electricity consumption and improve the comfort of occupants in the building. Compare the lighting schedule with building uses to look for opportunities to turn lights off; replace incandescent bulbs for task lighting with ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulbs; use automatic controls to turn lights off or dim lights in naturally lit spaces.

Take a Look Inside and Out

Reducing the amount of energy used by inefficient office equipment and other products can save energy and money. Purchase ENERGY STAR qualified office equipment whenever possible. Don’t waste conditioned air — install window films and add insulation or a reflective roof coating to save energy.

Upgrade Fan Systems

Air-handling systems move air throughout a building and therefore directly affect the comfort of building occupants. Fan systems can be upgraded and adjusted to optimize the delivery of air in the most energy-efficient way. Properly sized fan systems add variable speed drives, and convert to a variable-air-volume system

Raise the Bar for Heating and Cooling Systems

Heating and cooling systems are large consumers of energy in buildings and offer great opportunities for saving energy and increasing the comfort of building occupants. Once you’ve followed the steps above and reduced the building’s cooling loads, retrofit or install energy-efficient models and upgrade boilers and other central plant systems to energy-efficient standards.

Is Indoor Environment Quality in Schools Being Ignored?

June 20, 2015 by

Poor IEQToday’s students spend an average of six hours a day, five days a week, 40 or so weeks a year, for a minimum of 12 years in classrooms. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research, their indoor environment quality (IEQ) can play a major role in their health and academic performance.

Key environmental factors such as heating and cooling, ventilation, cleaning processes and products, and other maintenance issues have been proven to trigger a host of health problems that increase absenteeism and reduce academic performance. For example:

  • Children in classrooms with higher outdoor air ventilation rates tend to achieve higher scores on standardized tests in math and reading than children in poorly ventilated classrooms
  • The presence of dampness and mold increase the risk of asthma and related adverse respiratory health effects in homes by 30-50%
  • Evidence shows modest changes in room temperature affect student ability to perform mental tasks requiring concentration
  • Schools without maintenance backlogs have a higher average daily attendance (ADA) by average of 4 to 5 students per 1,000 and lower annual dropout rate by 10 to 13 students per 1,000

Despite these findings, a recent article in Sourceable is suggesting that critical IEQ problems in schools are being overlooked. According to the article, while IEQ in commercial office buildings tends to get most of the press today, poor performing IEQ has the biggest implications in schools.

ASHRAE 62 recommends a maximum 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 for indoor environments. However, recently measured levels in some schools are far exceeding this number.

“There have been a number of schools where we have measured carbon dioxide levels (as a proxy for ventilation effectiveness) at approximately 3,000 ppm. These have generally been occupied classrooms, often in winter, where the classrooms are closed off and clearly not adequately ventilated,” sites Jack Noonan, senior consultant at technical risk management consultancy CETEC

Another study in 2002 of 120 classrooms in Texas found that 88% of classrooms exceeded 1,000 ppm and 21% exceeded 3,000 ppm.

This is very alarming because a 2012 report — Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance — found:

  • Levels of 1,000 ppm to 2,500 ppm significantly decrease performance, and in some cases task performance was classified as “dysfunctional,” at levels of 2,500 ppm
  • The impact of 2,500 ppm of carbon dioxide is roughly equivalent to a 0.08 alcohol concentration — the same as the limit for driving in the U.S.

And, data compiled from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, OSHA, NIOSH, and ACGIH found that even 1,000 ppm levels increase the number of headache, fatigue, and eye and throat irritation complaints. It also notes that levels between 2,000 ppm and 5,000 ppm and stagnant, stuffy air are associated with widespread headaches, sleepiness, poor concentration, loss of attention, increased heart rate, and slight nausea.

Poor ventilation also attracts other indoor air contaminants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. VOCs are found in a range of building and maintenance products used in classrooms. The toxicity of VOCs vary — some are just irritants while others are known to cause cancer. Studies have also shown that in addition to significant health effects, there are cognitive declines associated with exposures to VOCs.

This critical issue is also linked to the spread of viral and bacterial infections, with mold being a big contributing factor. Mold increases the prevalence of chronic health conditions such as asthma, allergies, and other sensitivities. In fact, asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in U.S. school children.

According the article, this is a worldwide problem and references a 2015 report from the World Health Organization (WHO). Their study found poor indoor school environments to be a particular problem in many countries in the WHO European region, with issues including stuffy air, dampness and mold, uncomfortable temperatures, and poorly functioning toilets.

“Our analysis shows substantial environmental problems in schools, which are largely overlooked. We hope that decision-makers take stock of the evidence and make sure that existing norms and regulations are implemented,” said Dr Marco Martuzzi, program manager, Environmental Health Intelligence and Forecasting at WHO/Europe.

It’s crucial that we put a stronger focus on IEQ improvements and maintenance in schools for the health, safety, and development of our children. However, we know most schools in the U.S. — and everywhere — struggle to obtain funding for these types of facility projects and often have to postpone upgrades due to decreased revenues.

Luckily, there are building maintenance providers who specialize in helping schools make the critical infrastructure improvements and technical system upgrades they need to better manage IEQ. Through creative financing options and retrofit packages, specialists such as ABM Building and Energy Solutions allow schools to fund these projects through future guaranteed energy savings and often times general fund relief. There is no upfront capital required, and no impact on the existing education budget.

For more details on this subject, read the complete Sourceable article. For more information on ABM’s innovative solutions for schools and the benefits these schools have received, click here.

Can the U.S. Transition to 100% Renewable Energy?

June 13, 2015 by

Clean, Renewable EnergyIt’s ambitious…but technically and economically feasible! At least that’s what a new study in the Energy & Environmental Science journal, spear-headed by Stanford scholar Mark Z. Jacobson, concludes. The study is summarized in recent a MSN.com article as well as in an article in Phys.org.

In the study, Jacobson and his team of engineers outline roadmaps for how each of the 50 states’ power demands could be met using only energy from wind, water, and solar (WWS). The roadmaps detail how 80% to 85% of existing energy could be replaced by 2030, and 100% by 2050.

Jacobson and his colleagues started by taking a look at the current energy demands of each state, and how those demands would change under business-as-usual conditions by the year 2050. To create a full picture of energy use in each state, they examined energy usage in four sectors — residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation.

For each sector, they then analyzed the current amount and source of the fuel consumed – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables – and calculated the fuel demands if all fuel usage were replaced with electricity.

WWS graph“When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39 percent reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050,” Jacobson said. “About 6 percentage points of that is gained through efficiency improvements to infrastructure, but the bulk is the result of replacing current sources and uses of combustion energy with electricity.”

The strategy also calls for no more construction of new coal, nuclear, natural gas, or biomass fired power plants — only clean energy plants. This is a challenge because wind and solar power plants have a lower capacity factor and produce a much lower percentage of energy. To compensate, we would have to build lots and lots of new WWS power plants to expand generation capacity fivefold in 35 years.

Jacobson also said that if the conversion is followed exactly as his plan outlines, the reduction of air pollution in the U.S. could prevent the deaths of approximately 63,000 Americans who die from air pollution-related causes each year. It would also eliminate U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases produced from fossil fuel, which would otherwise cost the world $3.3 trillion a year by 2050.

According to the study, the resulting land footprint of renewable energy is manageable, reliable, and would create more jobs than would be destroyed in fossil fuels. And, it says that several states are already on their way to making the clean energy transition a reality including Washington state, Iowa, South Dakota, California, and New York.

Meant to be more of a benchmark vision of what can be, of course the roadmaps are aggressive and would require sweeping infrastructure and social and political changes. To produce the necessary changes in energy technology and practices, the study spells out policy recommendations for each of the sectors.

The recommendations would require an unprecedented level of government activism — including incentives, mandates, standards, and laws — that would have to take place in the next five to 10 years.

“The main barriers are social, political, and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible,” said Jacobson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy. “By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation.”

Mark Z. Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and is known for his ambitious work on renewable energy. In 2001, he and Mark A. Delucchi published a two-part paper on “providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power.” In 2013 he published a feasibility study on moving New York State entirely to renewables, and in 2014 he created a plan for California to do the same.

Download the complete report or check out the MSN.com or Phys.org articles for more detailed information.

2015 U.S. City Energy Efficiency Scorecard

June 8, 2015 by

aceee logoAccording to the ACEEE’s (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) 2015 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, U.S. cities are continuing to embrace energy efficiency as an innovative resource for driving local economic and community development. In the process, they are saving households and businesses money, creating jobs, and making their communities more resilient.

The ACEEE report is intended to provide a roadmap for local governments aiming to improve their city’s energy efficiency, and ranks 51 large U.S. cities by five key policymaking areas including local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.

The results show that in 2015 Boston is at the forefront of cities with strong energy efficiency policies, and others like New York and San Francisco are closing the gap. Washington, D.C. made a substantial jump from the 2013 City Scorecard ranking and moved into the top five. Los Angeles and Chicago also were among the most improved.

ACEEE City MapSome cities that had lower scores last time — most notably Charlotte and Jacksonville — also dramatically improved their scores in 2015.

The leading cities in the area of energy utilities are Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis, and Chicago, where utility energy efficiency programs offer high levels of savings, and consumer engagement and access to energy data are productive. For water utilities, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Atlanta, Fort Worth, and El Paso are the leading cities tackling efficiency in their water systems.

However, despite a lot of positive progress among the cities, energy efficiency scores across the board demonstrate significant room for improvement in the future. Boston was the only city to earn more than 80 points, and only 13 cities earned more than half of the 100 points possible.

“Our findings show that cities continue to be laboratories of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency, with many pushing the envelope for more energy savings in the last few years. Cities are also improving their approaches when it comes to tracking and communicating their efforts to save energy,” said David Ribeiro, ACEEE research analyst and lead report author. “By capturing these efforts in the Scorecard we hope local leaders from cities of all sizes can learn best practices from each other and deliver the benefits of energy efficiency to their communities, such as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment.”

The challenge going forward for many communities is to prioritize energy efficiency activities that will have the greatest impact. The report provides some general recommendations for cities looking to improve their scores including:

  • Lead by example by improving efficiency in local government operations and facilities
  • Adopt energy savings targets
  • Actively manage and track energy performance and communicate progress towards goals
  • Adopt policies to improve efficiency in new and existing buildings
  • Partner with energy and water utilities to promote and expand energy efficiency programs

Of course each city needs to develop or refine its own plan for advancing efficiency based on its own needs and priorities.

Overall, the ACEEE 2015 City Scorecard proves that many local governments around the country are committed to energy efficiency and are working hard to adopt and implement initiatives that will provide visible benefits for residents and directly improve the communities where they live and work.

For the complete results, download ACEEE’s second biennial 2015 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard report here.


Top 3 Barriers to Industrial Energy Efficiency

May 30, 2015 by

industrial energy efficiencyThe U.S. EPA shows the industrial sector is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) worldwide. Unlike most of us consumers, however, energy efficiency does not seem to be top of mind for the executives of these organizations.

But with just a 10% improvement in energy efficiency, commercial and industrial buildings would save $20B, and the level of GHGs prevented would be equal to the emissions from about 30M vehicles!

Given these numbers, you might wonder why aren’t these business and industries prioritizing energy efficiency? According to a recent article in Clean Technica, there are three main barriers in the industrial space that are inhibiting the energy efficiency push needed to make a real difference.

So what are the top three barriers to energy efficiency in the industrial space and how can we overcome them?

1) Regulatory Uncertainty

Because efficiency standards and emerging options for clean and renewable energy sources are constantly debated and revised, businesses hesitate to make significant changes or investments in energy efficiency for fear they might not meet future regulatory standards. Confusion, red tape, and mixed messages are costly to business and slow the adoption of more efficient technologies.

The market needs clear long-term signals, rational expectations, and opportunities for a reasonable return on investment — as well as the right balance between government incentives and regulations — to get to the next level of energy efficiency in the industrial setting.

2) Lack of Market Demand

New technologies can be more expensive and increase short-term operating costs. So despite a growing awareness, the priority for using precious capital is not usually on energy efficiency but rather quicker ROI, revenue-generating projects. This contributes to the slow adoption of new energy efficiency technology in the industrial sector.

The market must be better educated to recognize the long-term value and benefits of energy efficiency technologies and reprioritize capital for investing in these vital projects.

3) Addressing Local Climates

Energy efficient buildings are key to cost savings for companies in high ambient climates. Barriers to low energy efficiency in extreme temperatures include the lack of well-defined energy design concepts adapted to severe climate conditions, high costs for construction and maintenance, incorrect estimates that do not show true costs, and the lack of suitable products on the market.

Ensuring systems perform their best in cold and hot climates requires specific design and construction methods that are different from those used for traditional construction. The general principles of low industrial building energy design are to minimize heat loss and reduce energy consumption, maximize solar and internal heat gains, and substitute the energy required in the building with renewable energy.

The Key to Industrial Strength Efficiency

The industrial sector offers tremendous opportunity for energy savings, and a significant opportunity to instill the principle of energy efficiency within facilities that, in turn, employ and influence millions of people. Because of this, industrial leaders should work together to meet and beat these challenges and bring cost-effective, energy-efficient, and safe products to the market ahead of regulation for the benefit of customers, the environment, and the industrial sector itself.

And, overcoming energy efficiency barriers in the industrial space, coupled with employee engagement, could help the U.S. reach the Energy 2030 goal faster.

Read the complete Clean Technica article here for more details.