In an Age of Cheap Solar Does Efficiency Still Matter?

CheapSolarFrom an article written by Peter Rumsey, PE Guest Author for Rocky Mountain Institute Outlet.

The old saws of the building management industry are:

  1. “The cheapest energy you can buy is the energy you don’t use.”

  2. “Efficiency first” – evaluate and conduct energy efficiency measures first and then cover the remaining balance of energy needs with renewables.

But with the costs of renewables coming down, do the old saws still apply? Are there renewable energy benefits that override the emphasis on energy efficiency?

This article, written by AEE’s 2012 Renewable Energy Innovator of the Year and ASHRAE’s Engineering Award of Excellence in 2013, reveals some of the reasons building owners are opting to adopt renewable energy solutions without reducing demand first. Some EE measures are expensive but there are also time and corporate image issues at stake.

In short, “Solar is sexy and people don’t fall in love with efficiency.” (Dian Gruenieich formerly a California Public Utilities Commissioner).

Peter Rumsey, PE is the founder of Point Energy Innovations and is internationally recognized for his innovation and leadership in the sustainability and energy efficiency fields. He has designed more LEED Platinum, Zero Energy, and radiant-cooled buildings than any engineer in the United States. Peter is an ASHRAE Fellow, a lecturer at Stanford University, and has served as a senior fellow of RMI.


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Triple Pundit: Energy Storage is Coming Home

TeslaBatteryWhen Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tweeted earlier in April that the automaker would soon release a power storage product, the Internet went into a flurry of speculation.

Energy storage is becoming a wild card option that must be on the radar of  ESCOs (Energy Service Companies), utilities, commercial property managers, and residential customers. When Tesla’s Elon Musk announced the Tesla PowerWall options that are on slated to become available this Fall, a new vision of what renewable energy generation, storage, security, economics, and management might be like in the coming decades began to unfold.

The benefits of energy storage are many for those that learn how to market, buy, sell, and install it. That is, assuming that the host of federal, state, and utility policy issues stay relatively supportive or, at least, non-threatening. One thing is for sure. Battery manufacturers like Tesla, Panasonic, and Enphase will not only ramp up market supply (dropping production costs) but they will begin to strike up partner package offers to entice customers to buy. Not only will Tesla co-market with their sister company, SolarCity, but they are already planning a DC coupled solution linking their Powerwall with SolarEdge inverters.

Max Bloom, a Renewable Energy Marketing Communications Director in the San Francisco Bay Area posted an article on Triple Pundit that sheds more light on the current state of the market for this rapidly evolving paradigm. Titled “Energy Storage is Coming Home” he cited a recent GTM research report that predicts “behind-the-meter storage (residential, commercial, education, military or nonprofit) will account for 45 percent of the (electricity storage) market by 2019.”


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LABBC – L.A.‘s Drop 100 Campaign


Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti poses with signage for his “Save the Drop” campaign after talking about the program to connect Angelenos with water conservation tools in Van Nuys on April 9. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

How much water consumption will commercial building managers be able to drop to help the Mayor’s office meet its commitment to reduce water demand in Southern California by 100 Million gallons per year?

Building on the City’s successful residential Save The Drop initiative, the LABBC is proud to partner with the Mayor’s Office to launch the Drop100 Campaign, an expansion of the Save The Drop initiative to include large commercial buildings. LABBC hosted the following panel to provide an update on current program rebates and cautions.

David Hodgins — Executive Director, Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge

Maureen Erbeznik — Technical Advisor: Water, Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge

Jay Chase — Vice President / Operations, Muir-Chase Plumbing Co, Inc.

Edward Brady — Program Manager, Water Efficiency, Healthy Buildings 

Technological advances and pending code changes are opening up new opportunities to save and re-use water; and with the ongoing drought, it’s more important than ever to manage water responsibly.

In exchange for making commitments to “Drop” their water consumption, the LABBC will offer tools, resources, and expert technical support to help Drop 100 partners achieve their goals and be recognized for their accomplishments.

Future use of grey water will grow but sanitation must maintain a high standard before mass implementation of  the Mayor’s Gray Water Campaign. Pilot tests are advisable before wholesale changeout.

Residential turf removal rebates from the Department of Water and Power have ended. This is a harbinger of other rebates that may rescind before 2020 so taking advantage of existing rebates is more important than ever.

Send an email to sign up for the Drop 100 project to It will officially launch in November, 2015.

For more information on the LABBC – CLICK HERE to view their brochure.


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Top Ten Ways to Save on Home Energy Costs


Did you know that solar power is not the only remedy for your high energy bills? Sure, it’s a fundamental part of any energy efficiency effort, but there are many other steps you can take to drastically reduce your utility bills.

This article provides details on some of the most efficient ways to positively impact your energy












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pLAn – Transforming Los Angeles: Environment | Economy | Equity

Local Government sustainability_bannerMayor Eric Garcetti – 4/8/2015: Our city is flourishing. We expect at least 500,000 more people to call Los Angeles home by 2035. So the question before us, like it was to those Angelenos of the past, is how can we improve our city today, and ensure future generations enjoy a place that is environmentally healthy, economically prosperous, and equitable in opportunity for all?

Soon after taking office as Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti defined the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and appointed the city’s first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), Matt Petersen. This is not simply an “environment department” with a separate box on the organization chart – rather the office oversees the implementation of sustainability throughout the city’s 35 departments and bureaus.

“This pLAn sets the course for a cleaner environment and a stronger economy, with a commitment to equity as its foundation. These are the keys to a city that Angelenos have said they want our children to inherit — one that can continue to thrive and provide good health andopportunity for its residents. This is the way I view sustainability.” – Mayor Eric Garcetti

Within the framework of three sections – Environment, Economy, and Equity – there are 14 topic chapters. Each chapter includes a preceding Introduction, Vision, and Long-Term Outcomes summary. Then the pLAn provides details on Baseline/Source, Near-term Outcomes, Strategies, and Priority Initiatives.

The full plan can be downloaded from the L.A. Mayor’s website at

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10 Smart Building Myths Debunked

SmartBldgMythsSmart buildings have been proven to save energy, streamline facilities management and prevent expensive equipment failures. Yet to many property owners and investors, the value of smart buildings remains a mystery.

The reality is that in most buildings, one can demonstrate a strong business case for strategic investments in smart building systems and management technologies. Not everyone, however, is aware that the tremendous advantages of today’s affordable smart building management technologies easily justify the cost. See infographic (PDF).

Leo O’Loughlin of Jones Lang LaSalle has ennumerated 10 myths about smart buildings that need to be debunked in the marketplace. Briefly they are:

10. Smart building technologies are expensive

9. Smart buildings are only about energy

8. Smart buildings and green buildings are the same thing

7. Industrial facilities or laboratories can’t become smart buildings

6. Smart buildings can only be new buildings

5. Smart building technologies are not interoperable

4.  Smart systems don’t make a building more attractive to tenants

3. Without a municipal smart grid, a building can’t really be smart

2. Smart buildings are complicated to operate

1. Smart buildings are a no-brainer

Leo O’Loughlin is Senior Vice President of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle.


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PACE Now: Lender Support Study

TreePeopleCenterPACENow is pleased to release the Lender Support Study, which surveyed national, regional and local mortgage lenders whose interests in buildings could be affected by PACE financings. PACE programs in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco retained PACENow to develop and implement the survey, with grant support provided by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

There is apprehension that lenders will be hesitant to support permitting PACE financing to current mortgages.

The Lender Support Study’s goals included gauging lenders’ awareness and understanding of PACE, educating them, addressing their concerns, and developing insights that will enhance efforts to gain their support for individual PACE projects. Click here to download the study that summarizes the findings of interviews conducted with 35 individuals representing 25 different lending institutions.

Key findings and recommendations:

  1. Surveyed lenders generally expressed no blanket opposition to PACE. Their right to consent to projects is of paramount importance to them, but they appear open to approving projects that benefit their customers and improve the value of their collateral. Lender partnership and education from the start is the key in improving probability of lender consent.

  2. Lenders support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in concept, but have little firsthand experience financing them and are wary of underwriting the resulting projected savings and benefits. Education based on standard industry data and results from comparable projects is necessary to increase ease of approvals and create streamlined the processes.

  3. Lenders understand property taxes and assessments and factor them into underwriting models decisions. There was broad acceptance of PACE as an assessment, which limits lien exposure only to unpaid assessments, distinguishing it from a loan.

  4. Complexity in applications contributes to increased costs and may make some projects economically unfeasible. The size and scope of a PACE assessment should determine the degree of supporting documentation. A simple, streamlined approval process for small projects (representing less than 3% of building value) should be developed with the lender community.

  5. Consistency of programs across states and the nation, standardization of data sources, and creation of project related insurance policies will improve the consent process as lenders (and PACE finance providers/investors) can create national approval platforms and review projects with fewer resources.

  6. Existing commercial mortgage lenders have only an indirect revenue benefit from providing consent. As such, applicants have the onus of making the approval process easier for lenders until revenue streams across banks are properly aligned or existing mortgage lenders begin to provide PACE financing.


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Overcoming Market Barriers to Advance Energy Efficiency

EEMarketBarriersU.S. energy use is approximately half of what it would have been if we had not improved our efficiency over the past 40 years. Still, there are large, cost-effective opportunities to increase energy efficiency much further, thereby helping us to cut energy bills, reduce pollution, and encourage economic growth.

While there is disagreement among politicians about the role of government spending and government regulations to spur cost-effective energy efficiency investments, politicians of all political stripes agree that knocking down market barriers that keep Americans from saving money is a worthy task.

Within this context, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a new report on Monday highlighting 16 policies that would use market forces to spur additional cost-effective investments in energy efficiency while helping to surmount market barriers that hinder these investments. In total, these policies could save consumers and businesses nearly $1 trillion over the 2014-2030 period, considering both the energy bill savings and the cost of the energy efficiency investments.

The new ACEEE report, Overcoming Market Barriers and Using Market Forces to Advance Energy Efficiencydiscusses several targeted policies that leverage market mechanisms in order to address specific market failures, without requiring substantial spending or government mandates. For example, the development of a comprehensive building labeling and benchmarking program would allow purchasers and tenants to identify efficient homes and commercial buildings and could save consumers and businesses approximately $60 billion between 2014 and 2030. Even more impressive are the benefits gained from adjusting corporate tax legislation to remove hidden barriers in the tax code. These adjustments would encourage the replacement of inefficient equipment and remove regulatory barriers to combined heat and power projects. These two policies alone could save the economy close to $300 billion.

Recommendations fall into 7 categories:

  1. Improving information to aid decision making

  2. Removing exiting regulator and legal barriers

  3. Addressing externalities

  4. Increasing the salience of energy use at point of purchase

  5. Reducing energy waste in government

  6. Investing in precommercial R&D

  7. Enhancing energy efficiency finance


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Why Architects Must Lead on Sustainable Design

Not a single school of architecture requires every student to be fully trained in the principles of sustainable design. The report offered recommendations for transforming education that included the “Sustainable Environmental Design Education” model curriculum, but to my knowledge, no school has adopted these or similar guidelines.

Architecture is an essential arena for sustainable innovation. Buildings represent about half the annual energy and emissions in the U.S. and three-quarters of its electricity. With the built environment growing — the U.S. building stock increases by about 3 billion square feet every year — architects have a historic opportunity to transform its impact for the better.

In 2006, the American Institute of Architects wisely adopted Architecture 2030’s “2030 Challenge,” an initiative seeking carbon neutrality in the industry by 2030. “[W]e believe we must alter our profession’s actions,” the AIA 2030 Commitment says, “and encourage our clients and the entire design and construction industry to join with us to change the course of the planet’s future.”

The AIA, however, recently removed sustainable design from members’ annual continuing education requirements: “Recognizing that sustainable design practices have become a mainstream design intention in the architectural community, the board of directors has voted to allow the sustainable design education requirement to sunset at the end of calendar year 2012,” the institute reports. Other kinds of continuing education credits remain mandatory.

In the culture of design, innovation often means little more than aesthetic novelty. Google the phrase “innovative architecture” and you find a lot of provocative geometry, but few if any groundbreaking solutions to the most serious problems. Design can be a powerful agent for change, but design awards and media attention generally celebrate imagery over innovation.

Six steps to change:

  1. Immediately, every organization that gives design awards to architects can begin rewarding only structures that meet at least a minimum standard of sustainable performance.
  2. Within six months, every design magazine can begin featuring only buildings that meet at least a minimum standard of sustainable performance.
  3. Within one year, every public agency, including federal, state and local governments, can require every project beginning development in that year to meet current targets for the 2030 Commitment.
  4. Within two years, every American architecture firm can adopt the 2030 Commitment and meet current targets for all projects begun that year.
  5. Within three years, every American licensing agency can require that every architect demonstrate a minimum level of competency around sustainable design in order to maintain a license to practice.
  6. Within four years, every school of architecture can transform its curriculum to ensure that every graduating student is fully trained in the principles and practice of sustainable design.


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How Energy Points Help CFOs Budget for Sustainability


Where Simplicity Meets Accuracy…  Energy Points is a simple, accurate and actionable solution that allows organizations to manage and plan the consumption of energy resources across their operations, products and supply chains using the first data driven universal metric.

Ory Zik, founder and chief executive officer of Energy Points, believes many CFOs shy away from even thinking about sustainability because they struggle to determine the most cost-effective solutions. A Deloitte survey of 250 CFOs of companies with more than $1 billion in revenue in 2012 found that superior sustainability information is still somewhat elusive. Only 12 percent of CFOs believed they had “excellent” sustainability information, while 37 percent rated their information “good” and another 37 percent called it only “adequate.”

Sustainability reports are emerging as a critical driver of shareholder value. According to a January report from the Governance & Accountability Institute, 53 percent of the S&P 500 issued sustainability reports in 2011, a huge increase from 2010’s 19 percent. But Zik believes most of these reports are all but unintelligible.

The universal sustainability metric

The problem is that businesses that look at greenhouse gas emissions, kilowatt hours for electricity, BTUs for gas and gallons for water — and then keep them separate — are bound to get confused. What Energy Points does is to use a gallon of gasoline as a baseline. Its algorithms convert all other types of energy — electricity, water, oil, natural gas — into a metric relative to that gallon of gasoline. In that way, a CFO can derive one number to determine his organization’s energy use no matter what kind of energy is critical for the business, and track that cost, using it to drive strategic decisions.

With Energy Points’ application, what CFOs see is an interpretation generated by that algorithm that is easy for them to understand. “It’s like the iPhone,” Zik says. “The front is intuitive; the complexity is inside.”

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Digital Media Strategists for SoCal electrical contractors…. dba IPLUG MEDIA