Energy Benchmarking

Energy Benchmarking: Does Your Building Match Up?

Cross posted from NABPC.org

The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge is up and running, which means it’s time to start conserving energy. If you’ve signed up for the challenge, you’ve committed your company to attaining 20% energy savings in your building within 10 years.

That’s fantastic. Hooray, you! But wait, now what?

We’re glad you asked.

Starting today, we’re running a three-part series about the primary steps that facility owners should take in order to achieve that target. By the time you finish all three posts, you should have learned all the info you’ll need to start crafting your energy-saving strategy.

Ready? Let’s get started. Our next two posts will cover energy audits and commissioning, but today, our topic is energy benchmarking.

Energy benchmarking, to give you a five-second definition, is the process of measuring how much energy a building consumes, and then comparing it to the same data from similar structures across the country. In other words, it’s a simple way for owners to see how efficiently–or inefficiently–their buildings are performing.

The process is part of the federal government’s ENERGY STAR program, and if you do well enough, your building will earn ENERGY STAR certification. But that’s for later. For now, you’ll need to figure out where to start.

Energy Benchmarking: First Steps

To do that, all you need is some basic information about your facility. Based on what type of building you have, you’ll use one of three specialized tools, all of which are available at EnergyStar.gov. Commercial buildings utilize the Portfolio Manager, while industrial plants need the Energy Tracking Tool. (There are actually 80 types of buildings in the Commercial category. You can see the full list, as well as the information needed for Portfolio Manager, here.) For new construction, there’s the Target Finder.

Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be ready to benchmark. Based on how well your facility performs, you’ll receive a score anywhere between 1 and 100, with 100 being the best possible rating. A score of 50 is average, and anything over 75 will earn you ENERGY STAR certification.

Keep in mind, however, that not every building type is eligible for an ENERGY STAR score. (To find out what types are eligible, click here.) That said, the vast majority of property types do provide an Energy Use Index (EUI) reference.

What Next?

As you can see, there’s plenty of data out there, so benchmarking should give you a pretty good idea of where you stand in comparison to your peers. The news might be good or bad, but at least you’ll know. A wise man once said knowing is half the battle, and he was right. Once you’ve made that all-important discovery, you’ll be able to take action.

Oh, and another thing. Just because you’ve gone through the benchmarking process once, that doesn’t mean you’re finished forever. Actually, it’s the opposite. From EnergyStar.gov:

Benchmarking works best when it’s done consistently over time. Can you imagine a weight-loss plan in which you only weigh yourself once a year? Of course you can’t. That’s because you can’t manage what you’re not measuring.

In a recent study, EPA found that buildings that were benchmarked consistently reduced energy use by an average of 2.4 percent per year, for a total savings of 7 percent. And, buildings that started out as poor performers saved even more. See EPA’s Portfolio Manager DataTrends series for more information.

That’s why benchmarking is important, and why you should be doing it consistently. Once you have the information about your building, you should have some idea where to make improvements. And if you keep benchmarking year after year, you’ll continue to save money on energy costs.

Taking Action

Now that you know, it’s time to take action. If you’re interested, the process is as easy as it is accessible.

A couple months back, Energy Alabama and CEO Daniel Tait held a “benchmarking jam” session at a local brewery. Besides sampling some craft beer, energy experts and business leaders discussed ways to maximize energy and water efficiency throughout the community. To take part in the jam, the business reps only had to bring the following:

  • Laptop or tablet
  • The building street address, year built, and contact information.
  • Twelve consecutive months of utility bills for all fuel types used in the building.

That was enough to get the ball rolling. And from there, the path runs straight toward evaluating your building and saving money on your energy bill. More energy benchmarking events are in the pipeline, but you don’t even have to wait. If you’re ready to begin the process now, contact Energy Alabama CEO Daniel Tait for more information.

Easy as it is, energy benchmarking isn’t the only step toward conquering the Huntsville Better Buildings Challenge. Next time, we’ll look at implementing what an energy audit can do for you.

Energy efficiency

Energy Alabama Picks: 4 Great Energy Efficiency Products

Energy efficiency is something we think about a lot here at Energy Alabama. Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy is our ultimate goal, but there’s plenty of groundwork to do in the meantime. Part of that groundwork is helping people make their homes and businesses more efficient.

There are plenty of ways to increase efficiency, and some of them are easier (and less expensive) than you might think. With that in mind, we’ve come up with this list of four great energy efficiency products that will help make your home more sustainable and comfortable.

Have another suggestion? Be sure to leave it in the comments.

 

4 Great Energy Efficiency Products

1. Ecobee3 Smart ThermostatEnergy Efficiency

Installing a programmable thermostat is a great way to save energy. And saving energy is a great way to downsize your utility bill. You win. Your wallet wins. Everyone’s happy.

The idea behind a programmable thermostat is that the temperature inside your house doesn’t always need to be the same. During the heat of the day, for instance, you might want to bump it up a notch or two—especially if you’re not at home. And at night, you might prefer a different setting than at noon. With a programmable thermostat, you can take care of that in advance.

The ecobee3 WiFi thermostat takes all of that a step further. With its remote sensor and compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, the ecobee3 is a fearsomely powerful thermostat. Thanks to some of its really cool built-in technology, it the ecobee3 instinctively knows when to change the temperature in your house—without you having to do anything. Several variables are at play, including the weather outside. And when someone enters a room, ecobee3 reacts to keep the room at max comfy levels.

Ecobee3’s marketers claim it saves homeowners 23% annually on their energy bills. So, do you want one yet?

Where to buy: $249 at Amazon

 

2. Smart Strip SCG-3M Energy Saving Surge Protector

Every homeowner needs a surge protector. Or two or three. If you’re an energy-conscious homeowner, you need a surge protector like the Smart Strip SCG-3M.

Our modern world runs on electricity, but every now and then, a voltage spike can occur. And when a voltage spike happens, any and all of your electronic gadgets are at risk of being fried to a crisp. That’s when a surge protector comes in handy. A surge protector limits the risk to your plugged-in devices either by blocking the spike or diverting it to ground.

The Smart Strip SCG-3M Energy Saving Surge Protector does all of that, but also saves energy in the process. In addition to two always-on outlets, the SCG-3M features four outlets that automatically turn off when not in use. Plus, it has a right-angle plug that hugs the wall. What’s not to like?

Where to buy: $25.99 at Amazon

 

3. LED Light BulbsEnergy efficiency

Great Value ENERGY STAR rated is the best bang for the buck. Make sure they are the ENERGY STAR rated ones. Walmart sells some that aren’t.

LED bulbs are the future. They last longer and use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs. And if you look in the right places, you can find good deals on them too.

For our money, Walmart’s Great Value brand offers the best bang for the buck. Just make sure they’re the ENERGY STAR-rated models because Walmart sells some that aren’t. This 60-watt equivalent bulb uses only 10 watts and has an estimated lifespan of 25,000 hours. And with 80% savings on energy costs, those 20,000 hours won’t set you back too much.

Where to buy: $3.22 at Walmart

 

4. Niagara Sava Spa Showerhead

Saving energy isn’t the only game in energy efficiency. Using water intelligently with a low-flow showerhead is important, too. Not to mention the savings from reduced heating of water.

The Niagara Sava Spa Showerhead does that while delivering 1.5 gallons per minute. A patented pressure compensator ensures consistent flow no matter what the water pressure is like in your house. That means you’re saving water—and more money on your utility bill.

Where to buy: $9.90 at Amazon

Huntsville Better Buildings Challenge

Why You Should Participate in the North Alabama Building Performance Challenge

If you’ve been around this blog long enough, you’ve probably heard something about the North Alabama Building Performance Challenge (NABPC). But what you might not have thought about is why you should take the challenge yourself. It’s time for us to change that.

6 Reasons to Participate in the North Alabama Building Performance Challenge

Simply stated, the goal of the HBBC is to reduce energy consumption by a targeted 20% in participating buildings across the city. Huntsville has already committed itself to becoming one of America’s most sustainable cities, but the municipal government simply can’t do this on its own. That’s where the Challenge comes in. By increasing efficiency by just 20%, we can save literally millions of dollars in North Alabama alone.

So why should you participate? Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons.

1. The North Alabama Building Performance Challenge will save you money

We couldn’t start this any other way. The first, most obvious—and probably most important for lots of people—reason you should participate in the North Alabama Building Performance Challenge is because it will save your business money.

How? Simple—increasing efficiency means paying lower utility bills. A lower utility bill means your company is saving cash. Most business exist to make money, so this is a win-win situation all around.

2. And you can reinvest that money

You’ve just saved your company bundles of cash by increasing energy efficiency by 20% in your building. Great, but now what? Well, you could reinvest those savings in any number of ways. With more capital freed up, your company could raise wages, make further improvements to the building, or embark on a totally new venture.

It really is up to you. But the main thing to remember is that these investments will come entirely from energy savings—and would essentially cost the company nothing.

 

3. You’ll help the community

By taking the Challenge, you won’t just be helping your own company. You’ll also be bringing loads of benefits to the community.

To understand why, think of the big picture. Plenty of businesses just like yours will be participating. Together, your upgrades will foster new business opportunities throughout the area while creating a more sustainable footprint.

And the upgrades will show up everywhere: Municipal buildings, hospitals, universities, and commercial sites are just a few places that could take the challenge.

 

4. You’ll spread the word

We believe in 100% percent sustainable energy for all, but we can’t do it alone. By taking the Challenge, you’ll help spread the word about sustainable energy.

The NABPC will publicly recognize partners and participants when they reach their goals. In addition, we’ll use a public map to promote buildings and owners who achieve ENERGY STAR certification. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes, and that’s especially true here. Who doesn’t like hearing about increasing efficiency and saving money?

 

5. It’s a good way to go green

Have you ever thought to yourself that it would be nice to go green, if only you could find a way? Here’s your chance.

Increasing efficiency is good for the environment. Using less electricity reduces demand and lessens the burden on the grid. And that’s not all. It also helps reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

From Energy.gov:

More efficient commercial, institutional, multifamily, and industrial buildings reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, protect the environment, and save billions of dollars in energy costs that can be spent growing businesses, investing in new technologies, and creating American jobs.

More jobs. Economic growth. A better and greener environment. What’s not to like?

 

6. And most importantly…

…You’ll get this sweet participation decal.

So what are you waiting for. Contact us today for more information.

Distributed Generation benefits

Distributed Generation: What Are the Benefits?

Increased efficiency. Reduced rates. Improved reliability. Diminished emissions. If all of that sounds good to you, then you ought to know about the benefits of distributed generation.

A few weeks back, we covered microgrids and why they’re important in the context of the larger, main grid. As you might recall, microgrids are defined not by their size, but rather by their function—crucially, their ability to break off from the main grid and operate autonomously. Got it? Well, if that makes sense, think of distributed generation as a network of systems just like that.

That’s oversimplifying it a little, but the overall concept holds true. Distributed generation is when electricity comes from many small energy sources. Generally, these sources are local and renewable. They’re all connected to the larger grid but can also function separately.

If all this sounds unfamiliar, that’s because it’s not the “normal” way of doing things. But it does have its advantages.

Distributed generationThe traditional model

In the traditional transmission and distribution (T&D) grid, large sources provide power to huge numbers of residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Some of those customers live close to the centralized power plants. Other live far away—sometimes very, very far.

In contrast, a distributed generation (DG) system has smaller, decentralized sources that generate electricity much closer to the people who use it. There are lots of producers, and even though they produce less individually, they’re all connected to the grid. Together, they can be quite effective.

Several technologies form the backbone of a DG system. Some of the most prominent are solar, wind, and hydro. Another is cogeneration, which is the production of electricity from what is essentially the leftover energy from other forms of generation. Yet another is an energy storage system, which stays connected to the grid and holds energy until it’s needed.

So what are the benefits of distributed generation? In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report outlining some of DG’s advantages. Here’s what they came up with (h/t Energy.gov):

  • Increased electric system reliability
  • An emergency supply of power
  • Reduction of peak power requirements
  • Offsets to investments in generation, transmission, or distribution facilities that would otherwise be recovered through rates
  • Provision of ancillary services, including reactive power
  • Improvements in power quality
  • Reductions in land-use effects and rights-of-way acquisition costs
  • Reduction in vulnerability to terrorism and improvements in infrastructure resilience

Those are all really important concepts, but let’s focus on that first one.

Distributed generationIncreased reliability, better performance

One way to think about the benefits of distributed energy is to visualize your cell phone’s network. Imagine for a moment that your carrier had only a few towers in just a few spots around the country. The towers would be massive and powerful, but you wouldn’t have the same reliability and coverage that you have now. The reasons should be obvious. With a network of smaller, more evenly placed towers, cell-phone carriers are able to provide the best service possible to their customers.

Distributed generation is no different. When centralized power plants transmit energy over long distances, some of that energy is lost. With distributed generation, the generators are closer to those who use the energy. Thus there’s less waste. Increased efficiency. In the old model, a loss in service at any point of the grid means everyone suffers. In the new model, that’s less likely to happen.

DG can also serve as a backup to the grid, acting as an emergency source for public services in the case of a natural disaster. Here in North Alabama, that kind of service could be invaluable after a tornado. And by producing energy locally, DG systems can reduce demand at peak times in specific areas and alleviate congestion on the main grid.

Finally, because distributed energy tends to come from renewable sources, it’s good for the environment. Using more renewables means lowering emissions. And lowering emissions makes the world a more enjoyable place for all of us.

Donate Energy Alabama

Why the Renewable Energy Market Could Be Set to Explode

The market for small-scale renewable energy production might be set to take off, and that could be big news for local utility companies here in Alabama and all across America. And it all stems from a single federal ruling issued in June following a dispute between energy cooperatives in Colorado.

To see the big picture here, we’ll need some background. To begin with, let’s meet the two main players in this story.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative. G&Ts produce electricity by means of their own infrastructure and then sell it on to their member organizations. This G&T is based in Denver, and one of those member organizations is Delta-Montrose Electric Authority. DMEA is a member-owned and locally controlled rural electrical cooperative along Colorado’s Western Slope.

FERC's decision in favor of Delta-Montrose could mean the renewable energy market is ready to explode.

Montrose, Colo., boasts an abundance of natural beauty.

Over the past couple of years, Tri-State and DMEA have been involved in a dispute over how and where DMEA sources some of its electricity. The current long-term contract between the two organizations stipulates that DMEA must derive 95 percent of its power from Tri-State. Per the contract, DMEA can self-generate up to 5 percent of its annual electricity usage, but no more than that.

In 2015, DMEA asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) if it could go beyond that 5 percent mark by entering power-purchase agreements with small, independent producers. It cited the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978, which requires utilities to buy power from small, renewable sources called Qualifying Facilities (or QFs, which are defined here). FERC agreed, ruling that PURPA’s requirements superseded Tri-State’s contracts with its customers.

Tri-State responded with a petition to FERC. The Denver-based co-op called for a new fee that would effectively penalize DMEA (and any of its other members) if it purchased power from a QF instead directly from Tri-State. The idea was that Tri-State needed to recoup some lost revenue following DMEA’s decision to source greater than 5 percent of its electricity from QFs. Tri-State, after all, has always depended on income from its member organizations to pay for costly investments in the infrastructure needed for large-scale generation. The same is true for just about any G&T.

But in a decision released in mid-June, FERC denied Tri-State’s petition. In its June 2016 Commission Meeting Summaries, FERC noted: “Tri-State’s petition would effectively undo Delta-Montrose’s statutory obligation to purchase from QFs and correspondingly limit QFs from selling power to Delta-Montrose at negotiated rates.”

 

Great, so what does it all mean?

So DMEA won, FERC lost and life will go on as normal. But what does any of this mean for anyone in Alabama?

According to Kevin Brehm and Dr. Joseph Goodman at the Rocky Mountain Institute, it could mean quite a bit. Most significantly, the nationwide market for locally produced, small-scale renewable electricity could be ready to blow up.

FERC's decision could have far-reaching implications for the renewable energy market.

FERC’s decision could have far-reaching implications for the renewable energy marketplace.

“The FERC ruling effectively removes a policy barrier that has substantially constrained solar build-out,” they wrote in a June blog post. “This means that the co-op and muni community-scale solar markets could be even larger than previously predicted.”

FERC’s ruling won’t be the only contributing factor in a market explosion, if one does happen. The costs associated with renewable energy have dropped considerably in recent years, and that trend will only continue. (As Anna Hirtenstein notes at Bloomberg.com.) Lower costs, of course, make it easier for more people to build more solar. But along with that general reduction in costs, this recent ruling has made renewables even more enticing. In effect, FERC has opened the door for co-ops to purchase as much renewable energy as they need from QFs.

 

The economy of scale

That’s potentially huge for small-scale renewable generators all across the country. How huge? Brehm and Goodman estimate that declining prices could lead to the emergence of a 400 gigawatt (GW) market.

Think about that for a second. According to Alyson Kenward at ClimateCentral.org, the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear plant in New York, provides power to about 1.4 million homes with its dual 1-GW reactors. That’s from 2 GW. We’re talking about a market collectively totaling 400 GW.

DMEA CEO Jasen Bronec has hailed the ruling, saying it would help DMEA “diversify” its power supply. Distributed energy is important, but it’s impossible to ignore the financial implications of FERC’s decision. “(The ruling) could also lead to serious local economic development,” Bronec said, “as renewable facilities locate to the area to take advantage of our abundant renewable resources in Delta and Montrose counties.”

It doesn’t have to be just Delta and Montrose counties, though. While FERC’s ruling applied only to a single corner of Colorado, its implications stretch from coast to coast.