Back to School for Energy Efficiency
It's back to school for those left unemployed by the recession, and lots of people are signing up for green job training. Plus: Schools are turning out one textbook case after another of energy efficient buildings. And some buildings are so intelligent, they're teaching themselves how to be more energy efficient.
September 15, 2010
Program Notes & Transcript
We're back from summer break -- and the "Building Priorities Briefing" radio show and podcast has changed its name to "Energy Priorities" to reflect a broader scope of informative content about sustainable energy. We'll still have a boatload of commercial green-building pieces, plus more on other topics like residential, renewables, transportation, and energy policy. Enjoy our first show of the fall season! Here's the transcript...
Green job training programs & funding
We don't build for 10 years. The commercial industry might. We build for 100 years..."
--Juan Ontiveros, Executive Director of Utilities and Energy Management, University of Texas
Mike Denbe: If I teach people energy efficiency and get them knowing that stuff cold, they can take one of many different paths.
Denis Du Bois: GREEN JOB TRAINING PROGRAMS HAVE BEEN IN THE NEWS EVER SINCE THE STIMULUS BILL WAS FIRST ANNOUNCED. THAT GOT THE ATTENTION OF THE UNEMPLOYED, UNDEREMPLOYED, AND UNHAPPILY EMPLOYED.
Denbe: And what we've seen is that there's a lot of people that are looking around in this business. They're looking for something. They like the idea that green careers is hot now. But they don't know what to do.
THAT'S MIKE DENBE, FOUNDER OF DENBE ENERGY, A COMPANY THAT TRAINS ENERGY AUDITORS.
You know, what I see a lot in the industry is, besides confusion, what I see is solar is sexy. It has a sexy image. Wind doesn't have near as sexy an image. So, I don't have a lot of people saying, "I want to get into wind."
But solar has that image.
"SEXY" IS AN IMAGE THAT DECIDEDLY DOES NOT GO WITH ENERGY EFFICIENCY. AND THAT, HE SAYS, IS WHERE THE OPPORTUNITIES ARE -- EVEN IF YOU WANT TO END UP AS A SOLAR CONSULTANT, OR GET CERTIFIED IN GREEN BUILDING.
Energy efficiency is an incredibly important part of the solar business because you need to be able to make those homes more efficient so that the solar panels can actually work better for them, or that the solar hot water can work better for it. And so, energy efficiency is like a core fundamental. Same thing with wind,
BASICALLY, LEARNING ENERGY EFFICIENCY IS LIKE MAJORING IN ENGLISH. EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT PLANNING TO BE THE NEXT STEPHEN KING, IT COMES IN HANDY IN ALMOST ANY FIELD, AND IT DOESN'T CLOSE ANY DOORS.
If I teach people n energy efficiency and get them knowing that stuff cold, they can take one of many different paths.
And by taking that energy efficiency knowledge with them, they may not have actually do energy efficiency where they go, but they will certainly add value to their employer or to their career choice if they decide to start their own business doing these other careers.
SUPPOSE YOU DO WANT TO FIND A JOB IN ENERGY EFFICIENCY, OR START YOUR OWN BUSINESS -- AS AN ENERGY AUDITOR, LET'S SAY. IS THERE MONEY TO BE MADE?
SETTING ASIDE A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION WHO ASPIRE TO GREEN-NESS AT ANY COST, CONSUMERS AND BUSINESSES SPEND MONEY ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY WHEN THE BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE INVESTMENT. A BIG FACTOR IN THAT EQUATION IS WHETHER THERE ARE INCENTIVES AVAILABLE TO PAY PART OF THE COST.
And the incentives are a huge tell-tale of what's going on in this industry right now. When you look at the incentives you go to like the DSIRE database, the incentives are, they're in the thousands when it comes to renewable energy and energy efficiency. And for me that's a real tell-tale of where this industry is going, because that is where the state, the government, the federal government, the local government, the utilities, even non-profit groups, are throwing their money and their efforts.
And then on top of that, you look at things like the Home Star legislation. Last I heard it's throwing eight billion dollars at energy efficiency.
SPEAKING OF MONEY, WHO'S WRITING CHECKS TO PEOPLE WHO WANT GREEN-COLLAR JOB TRAINING?
There is a bunch of different financial aid out there. There are a bunch of programs, Workforce Investment Act Programs ... The stimulus bill threw out some money; Department of Energy is throwing out money here and there for job retraining.
You hear a lot of the programs out there for retraining and you talk to the people who are doing the retraining and it's a drip of activity compared to the onslaught it was supposed to be.
76 MILLION HERE, 100 MILLION THERE, IT ALL ADDS UP -- BUT IT DOESN'T AMOUNT TO A HILL OF BEANS IF IT'S NOT BEING DISBURSED. DENBE SAYS IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO FUND YOUR OWN EDUCATION...
Our lowest priced program is like 250 bucks. You can make that back on your first audit; your first audit you can charge $250 to $500.
The other programs that are out there, that we've actually teamed up with a handful of them, one of the standard programs, about $1,500. When you're done with that program you can either get a job or you can start your own business doing these audits and 1500 bucks, that's easy to make back.
Is it really worth waiting for those outside sources to come or should you just take the initiative and make the next step happen?
A LITTLE RESEARCH, A LITTLE TIME, A LITTLE OF YOUR OWN MONEY -- THAT MIGHT BE ALL IT TAKES TO SET YOU ON A NEW CAREER PATH IN ENERGY.
And you know that is not going to go away any time soon.
I've been doing this energy efficiency training and marketing side of it for the last three years and it's really clear to me that, at the core of it, you've got a fundamental piece that says energy and green job growth is only getting bigger. It's not going away and it's a central piece to where things are going to be in the next 50 years.
School Energy Retrofits
SCHOOLS WERE EARLY ADOPTERS OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES, LONG BEFORE THE GREEN RENAISSANCE.
THE POTENTIAL IS LARGE, BECAUSE SCHOOL FACILITIES ARE ENERGY HOGS. THEY'RE OPEN EARLY EVERY MORNING, AND OFTEN HOST COMMUNITY EVENTS LATE INTO THE EVENING.
SIMPLE CONSERVATION MEASURES, LIKE REDUCING LIGHTING OR CHANGING THE THERMOSTATS, POSE A UNIQUE PROBLEM. THERE ARE WELL-ESTABLISHED CORRELATIONS BETWEEN LIGHTING, COMFORT, AND OCCUPANT PERFORMANCE.
IN A BUSINESS, LESS-THAN-OPTIMAL CONDITIONS LEAD TO A FALL IN WORKER PRODUCTIVITY. BUT WHEN STUDENT TEST SCORES DECLINE, SCHOOLS RISKS LOSING FUNDING -- FOR PROGRAMS, AS WELL AS INFRASTRUCTURE. IT'S A DANGEROUS BALANCING ACT, AND ONE THAT STATE BUDGET CUTS ARE FORCING MORE SCHOOLS TO PLAY.
SO, EVEN AS THE PRIVATE SECTOR LARGELY SITS ON THE SIDELINES, WAITING FOR THE ECONOMY TO IMPROVE, THE EDUCATION SECTOR CONTINUES TO TURN OUT TEXTBOOK CASES OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY RETROFITS.
ERIC BLOOM IS A RESEARCH ANALYST WITH PIKE RESEARCH. HIS FIRM HAS STUDIED THE POTENTIAL AND TRENDS IN SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES.
Eric Bloom: In our research and our analysis we've identified that in the U.S. the annual energy cost savings for K-12 education is about $750 million a year, and for higher education it's slightly smaller than that. It's about $500 million a year. So we can see that there's a great deal of potential to reduce the energy costs in K-12 and higher education buildings.
Today many public buildings are already seeing energy savings of 20 to 30% in the wake of a retrofit. That's the kind of thing that's only likely to grow with additional financing for buildings and also just greater knowledge of the way buildings actually perform in the wake of retrofits.
PIKE RESEARCH FOUND THAT K-THRU-12 SCHOOLS ARE FOCUSING ON A HANDFUL OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES, THE SAME ONES THAT REPRESENT THE EASIEST WAYS TO CUT ALMOST ANY BUILDING'S ENERGY USE...
Weatherization and lighting are two of the areas that have shown the best payback and therefore are the cornerstones of retrofits from the K-12 space. Ventilation and thermal comfort are also major concerns,
The next frontier would be net-zero-energy buildings that reduce energy consumption to the point that most of the demand at the building site can be addressed with on-site renewables. That's the next frontier.
LOWER ENERGY USE MEANS LOWER OPERATING COSTS FOR SCHOOLS. THE VALUE OF A RETROFIT INCREASES AS YOU MOVE FROM K-THRU-12 SCHOOLS TO COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. THAT'S BECAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE IN ENERGY INTENSITY.
K-12 schools have a low energy intensity, which is about $1 per square foot, while higher education buildings have more than double that at about $2.20 a square foot. Then when you look at specialized research facilities and laboratories, those costs can reach $4 per square foot or even higher.
So in some ways that points to additional opportunities in higher education versus K-12 to realize energy savings and to be assured a payback period, because the energy intensity of those buildings is so much higher.
THERE'S ANOTHER BENEFIT OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY FOR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, ONE THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ENERGY COSTS.
In particular, many universities are looking to implement broad campus sustainability plans to attract an increasingly savvy and environmentally conscious student body.
So having, say, one or two trophy LEED-certified buildings on your campus are something that's likely to attract those students that are sensitive to the environmental awareness of the campus that they're considering.
THERE'S ALSO THE FACT THAT SEVERAL STATES NOW REQUIRE PUBLIC BUILDINGS, INCLUDING SCHOOLS, TO ACHIEVE ENERGY STAR OR LEED CERTIFICATION WHEN THEY'RE NEWLY BUILT OR RENOVATED.
WHETHER IT'S THE OPERATING COSTS, OR COMPETING FOR STUDENTS, OR COMPLYING WITH MANDATES, PUBLICLY-FUNDED SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES FACE A COMMON CHALLENGE:
I would say that the main frontiers are the financing of energy efficiency, not the know-how or the technology. As an industry, we have a good sense of what the paybacks are for different measures, and many of them are very attractive. The question really remains how are we going to finance these projects?
ONE POPULAR APPROACH IS PERFORMANCE CONTRACTING -- WHERE THE COST OF THE RETROFIT IS PAID FOR OUT OF THE ENERGY COST SAVINGS.
K-12 in particular has been one of the main areas of development for retrofits in the U.S. When legislation first enabled performance contracting in public buildings, K-12 became the poster child for performance contracting because compared to other types of government buildings, school buildings are relatively old, relatively large, and the tenants are relatively stable compared to, say, government-owned office buildings, which creates an ideal environment for performance contracting.
Looking ahead, although there's been a lot of development in performance contracting in K-12 buildings, there's still a lot of untapped potential. There are about 7.5 billion square feet of K-12 space in the U.S. And although there has been development, not only are there more buildings that haven't been touched, but the opportunities to achieve deeper retrofits in those buildings, even the buildings that have been retrofitted already, is something that's being explored.
A MORE RECENT DEVELOPMENT IS THE AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT, ALSO KNOWN AS THE STIMULUS PACKAGE.
In the stimulus package, for example, there was a big program called the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, which were an annual appropriation of $3.2 billion, of which the majority, about $1.9 billion, was supposed to go to cities and counties. Within those, schools are certainly one of the areas that they can invest in best for energy efficiency.
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ADVANCEMENTS IN ENERGY POLICY, IT'S OFTEN USEFUL TO LOOK TO EUROPE, WHICH TENDS TO BE ABOUT A DECADE AHEAD OF THE US IN THESE MATTERS.
THE UNITED KINGDOM DEVELOPED AN AGGRESSIVE PROGRAM CALLED THE PARTNERSHIP FOR SCHOOLS, WITH THE GOAL OF RETROFITTING EVERY ONE OF THE UK'S 3,500 STATE-FUNDED SCHOOLS BY 2020.
GERMANY AND AUSTRIA HAVE ALSO IDENTIFIED SCHOOLS AS HAVING BIG POTENTIAL FOR ENERGY SAVINGS AND CARBON REDUCTION.
One unique thing about Germany and Austria is that there are organizations known as energy agencies, which are basically local institutions, typically on the city or regional scale, that involve both public and private involvement.
One of their benefits has been to pool together retrofits of buildings of varying sizes and descriptions into bundles that have a better time seeking funding for energy efficiency upgrades than any of those buildings would have been able to accomplish on their own.
Case study: District energy & cooling
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MAIN CAMPUS IN AUSTIN, THE 150 BUILDINGS ARE INSEPARABLE WHEN IT COMES TO ENERGY MANAGEMENT. THAT'S BECAUSE ALL OF THE ELECTRICITY USED THERE IS SUPPLIED FROM POWER PLANTS ON CAMPUS. ALL OF IT.
Juan Ontiveros: We produce 100 percent! We produce 100 percent of our energy.
THAT'S JUAN ONTIVEROS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UTILITIES AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN. FOR THE PAST 12 YEARS HE'S MANAGED THE PLANTS THAT POWER THE CAMPUS.
I'm basically a utility. We produce electricity, steam, and cooling, chilled water. I bill for that service, and so I'm like a utility.
UT AUSTIN HAS BEEN ENERGY INDEPENDENT SINCE 1928. THE CAMPUS IS CONNECTED TO THE POWER GRID ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES. IN RECENT DECADES, AS THE CAMPUS HAS GROWN, THE UNIVERSITY HAS MET THE INCREASED DEMAND WITHOUT ADDING GENERATING CAPACITY.
Our approach was focus on efficiency. We've got to meet this growth. Is there a way for me to do this in a manner that pays for itself?
A CLEAR EXAMPLE IS COOLING. ALL 17 MILLION SQUARE FEET OF BUILDINGS ARE COOLED FROM A CENTRAL CHILLER PLANT. FOUR PLANTS, ACTUALLY, WITH A PEAK COOLING CAPACITY OF 35 THOUSAND TONS. BY STEADILY IMPROVING THE EFFICIENCY OF THOSE PLANTS, UT KEEPS UP WITH CAMPUS EXPANSIONS.
EVENTUALLY, THOUGH, ONE OF THOSE CHILLER PLANTS HAD TO BE REPLACED. RATHER THAN BUILD A CONVENTIONAL CHILLER PLANT THAT WOULD THEN NEED TO BE MADE MORE EFFICIENT, ONTIVEROS CONVINCED THE UNIVERSITY TO BUILD A STATE-OF-THE-ART MODEL THAT WOULD MEET ITS COOLING NEEDS FOR YEARS TO COME.
We don't build for 10 years. The commercial industry might. We build for 100 years in our buildings, and so we try to build our infrastructure that way, and we try to build our outer structures that way. The inside changes, but the structure outside stays.
So what we try to do is we try to think long-term on how to do this. You can make some very big mistakes if you don't do that right.
THE STAKES ARE HIGH. AUSTIN GETS HOT. COOLING CONSUMES 30 TO 50 PERCENT OF THE ENERGY GENERATED BY UT'S POWER PLANT.
THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW CHILLER WAS INTEGRATED FROM DAY ONE. CAREFUL PLANNING WAS CRUCIAL.
These chillers that we're buying, they're 5,000-ton chillers. They're big machines. They're monstrosities, and it takes a year to fabricate them, just the chiller.
ONTIVEROS DECIDED THE PLANT WOULD BE ALL-VARIABLE-SPEED AND FLOW, A DEFINITE DEPARTURE FROM CONVENTIONAL DESIGN. IN A CONVENTIONAL PLANT, THE COMPRESSOR RUNS FULL SPEED. VALVES AND DAMPERS KEEP IT FROM OVER-COOLING THE BUILDING.
THINK OF IT THIS WAY: IMAGINE YOU DRIVE A BIG TRUCK AND IT DOESN'T HAVE AN ACCELERATOR PEDAL. YOU HAVE TO REV IT UP TO FULL SPEED AND PUT IT IN GEAR. THEN, TO KEEP YOUR SPEED UNDER CONTROL, YOU RIDE THE BRAKE. YOUR FUEL CONSUMPTION, NOT TO MENTION MAINTENANCE COSTS, WOULD BE THROUGH THE ROOF -- AND THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS IN CONVENTIONAL CHILLERS.
IN AN ALL-VARIABLE-SPEED PLANT, THE FREQUENCY OF EACH COMPRESSOR, MOTOR AND PUMP CAN BE MODULATED SO ITS OUTPUT EXACTLY MEETS THE DEMAND AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT.
If you look at a commercial building, if you look at wire-to-water efficiency, in other words, how many kW does it take to produce a ton of cooling, it is typically in the order of like 1.0 or 1.2. This is total. This is the chiller and the tower and the pump. It's one or 1.1+.
Our new chilling station with the technology that Optimum Energy has put in place, we hope that it's going to average that 0.5 kW per ton.
OPTIMUM ENERGY IS A SEATTLE COMPANY THAT HAS A TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE VERY BIG, VARIABLE SPEED CHILLERS VERY EFFICIENT. COMPANY EXECUTIVE GARY GIGOT WAS INVOLVED IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF OPTIMUM ENERGY'S PRODUCTS AT UT.*
Gary Gigot: It was a very large campus, a very complex situation, but they were able to design the right chiller solution from the ground up with JCI and YORK chillers and then add our optimization on top and end up with a solution that works great for Texas, but it's also an example of what can be done in campuses around the country.
ONTIVEROS RAN HIS NEW PLANT FOR SIX MONTHS BEFORE ACTIVATING THE OPTIMUM ENERGY TECHNOLOGY, CALLED OPTIMUMHVAC. THAT GAVE HIM A BEFORE-AND-AFTER COMPARISON OF PLANT EFFICIENCY.
Juan Ontiveros: I think so far the system, the savings we have has already paid for the software, for the Optimum Energy Systems. It's already paid for it. And it's less than a year payback. So that was a pretty good deal. We're at around $200 000 savings so far, and it's not been a full year on their system.
HE STILL WATCHES THE DIFFERENCE TODAY.
Juan Ontiveros: what we've done is the dashboard at Optimum Energy provides as part of their software shows you what you would be with and without, and it shows us 24/7. So you can see that dashboard all the time. You can see what your actual savings are on CO2 and power and fuel. And you can see it in dollars.
GARY GIGOT SAYS THERE WERE THREE KEYS TO MAKING THIS STATE-OF-THE ART, SUPER-EFFICIENT CHILLER PLANT A REALITY...
Gary Gigot: I think we learned three things. We had an advocate, who was a visionary, frankly, Juan Ontiveros at the customer site, who knew what he wanted to do with this particular plant, and what he wanted to do with ensuing projects. We had a strong partner in Johnson Controls, who rather than resisting the inclusion of us in the project, was very inclusive, handled their portion and then we handled ours. Then we had a client very much committed to making the decisions based on the results we could achieve and the payback that could be generated. The results for them were that crossover of green benefits and dollar savings.
THE RESULT IS A SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS TO THE STATE OF TEXAS, WITH A PLANT THAT WILL BE PAID FOR OUT OF THE ON-CAMPUS REVENUE IT GENERATES.
Juan Ontiveros: So right now, we think that we're going to save on the order of like half million dollars a year. That's a lot of money.
Not only do you save money, not only can you pay for it by using the savings, you actually are helping the environment. I mean, last year we were able to finish the year at 1977 energy levels. The campus that year, 1977, had nine million square feet. Now we serve 17 million with the same amount of fuel.
So everybody can do this kind of thing by paying attention to efficiency. Efficiency is the low hanging fruit across the country.
Last year we finished the year at 17% below the Kyoto protocol. That's something that we're proud of. And it came as a by-product of paying attention to efficiency and creating a culture of efficiency.
Buildings that learn and get smarter
LONG-TIME LISTENERS WILL RECALL AN APRIL FOOL'S DAY INTERVIEW WE DID WITH THE "WORLD'S FIRST SENTIENT BUILDING." HERE'S A CLIP:
(EXCERPT FROM APRIL 2008)
THAT WAS A JOKE, OF COURSE. I MEAN, A BUILDING SO SMART IT COULD DO A RADIO INTERVIEW?
WELL... IT TURNS OUT THAT SMART PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD ARE WORKING ON DEVELOPING SYSTEMS WITH NEAR-HUMAN INTELLIGENCE -- JUST IN SPECIFIC FUNCTIONS THAT WOULD ALLOW A BUILDING'S CONTROL SYSTEMS TO LEARN WHAT WORKS TO SAVE ENERGY.
YOGA INTELLIGENT BUILDING IN ESTONIA HAS A SYSTEM THAT DOES IT. MÄRT MATHIESEN IS A SENIOR CONSULTANT AT YOGA.
Märt Mathiesen: Well, artificial neural network is basically a software solution. And why it's called like that, is that it initially has been inspired by neural networks created by nature, so to say. But to put it in a more simple way, it's like a huge mathematical algorithm, which does the calculations. And, why it's, so to say, special for a software solution is that it's actually self learning.
THE VARIOUS SYSTEMS IN AN INTELLIGENT BUILDING ARE TREATED AS A HOLISTIC SYSTEM. YOGA'S SOFTWARE SITS IN THE MIDDLE OF THEM ALL -- CLIMATE CONTROL, LIGHTING CONTROL, SECURITY AND ACCESS, EVERYTHING -- GATHERING INFORMATION.
And according to the information gathered, it's very adjustable, very logic, which commands then or which action can be taken by the system.
So according to the feedback... According to the taken actions and then the feedback coming, it adjusts itself. So in yoga intelligent building, it is used currently for climate control to achieve all the parameters of internal air quality with the most efficient way.
So we don't have to do any massive programming or configuring for that. It's just install the device, just plug it in and define which devices are connected to which rooms, and then you switch it on, and the system starts working. In the beginning, it's not that accurate, but it modifies itself.
THE OBJECTIVE ISN'T JUST TO ADD TECHNOLOGY TO BUILDINGS. IN A TYPICAL SMART BUILDING THERE ARE VERY COMPLEX SYSTEMS THAT A SMALL NUMBER OF PEOPLE CAN IMPLEMENT AND OPERATE. USERS ARE INCLINED TO OVERRIDE THE SYSTEMS TO ACHIEVE COMFORT -- MAKING THE SYSTEMS LESS EFFICIENT. MATHIESEN WANTS TO CHANGE THAT.
And our idea is first to bring the whole building automation topic much, much closer to end users. So first all, we provide the information about what's going on through a simple web user interface, which doesn't require any special software and it also doesn't need any special knowledge to use it.
So by bringing this closer - and we see it through the monitoring, to having information clear and simple, for example, in web user interface, and making the controls by themselves - we hope that it will really help to increase the awareness and then also guide towards like more smooth usage and more smooth control.
* Optimum Energy is a former marketing client of P5 Group, which produces this program.