The buildings sector, which includes single and multifamily residences and commercial buildings, uses more energy than any other sector (such as industry and transportation) and accounts for more than 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Here in Chicago, energy use in buildings is nearly 70 percent of total energy consumption.
Benchmarking the energy use of this sector via regular measurement and disclosure has clear benefits for many stakeholders. Building owners understand how much gas and electricity their properties use and can take steps to reduce wasted energy, helping them lower energy costs and stay competitive. Benchmarking data helps fill an information gap for commercial real estate firms and investors, providing everyone access to the same information. For tenants, benchmarking and disclosure provide valuable data to better understand energy use and make informed decisions.
Benchmarking benefits entire cities, too. Building performance data helps cities strategically meet energy efficiency and climate change reduction goals, by targeting energy efficiency rebates and incentives for buildings that have the most potential for savings. Which is one reason why, to date, several U.S. cities—including Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C, and most recently Boston—have adopted energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinances that require large buildings to benchmark energy use. In Boston, for example, large commercial buildings over 35,000 square feet and residential buildings with more than 35 units are required to report and disclose energy and water usage and greenhouse gas emissions. These cities are leveraging energy efficiency benchmarking, public accessibility to transparent data, and energy efficiency ratings to raise expectations and drive energy efficiency improvements throughout all building sectors.
CNT Energy is no stranger to building performance benchmarking. Since 2007, we’ve performed energy use analysis on more than 43 million square feet of commercial, municipal, and multifamily building stock. We find that benchmarking an individual building’s energy use against itself from year to year provides owners an important gauge to interpret energy use changes over time and to rely less on comparisons to others. Year to year comparisons are also important because building energy use is not static. For example, a sudden increase in building energy use could be the result of a problem with its mechanical systems or an increase in staff or hours of occupancy. Similarly, a decrease in energy use could be attributed to energy efficiency improvements, maintenance changes, or reductions in staff occupancy.
Energy benchmarking, rating, and disclosure are important tools to drive market forces toward investment in improving energy efficiency of buildings. We are proponents of energy benchmarking and are encouraged by the progress we have seen thus far in several cities. In the Chicago region, some building owners have already started benchmarking their building portfolio. We support and encourage other owners to do the same.
Image from Flickr user License borkur.net.
We’ve written a lot about what Energy Savers does. Now, we want to share a little about who we are.
It’s been quite a year for the Energy Savers program. Early on, we surpassed a milestone of retrofitting more than 10,000 apartment units (we’re up to more than 12,000 units now) in the Chicago metropolitan area with energy efficiency improvements, but we couldn’t have accomplished this without our greatest asset: the adept Energy Savers team. We grew this year, adding nine new folks to our Energy Savers ranks.
Several members of our Energy Savers team come to CNT Energy as part of the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Program (named after the alumni class of 1955). The program offers Princeton graduates a pathway to work for the public interest with a goal to bring about change and foster a lifelong commitment to civic engagement. For the last ten years, CNT Energy has been a “feeder” organization for the project, offering graduates a one-year position to help advance our mission of promoting urban sustainability and the more effective use of existing resources and community assets.
We find that the fellows tend to stay with us longer than one year, and we love it. CNT Energy currently has two Project 55 Fellows in our ranks: Nathan Brown, an energy analyst, has been here for one year, and Andrew Kinaci, senior energy analyst, has been here for two years. Jayne Choi, senior energy analyst, joined us in 2010 as a fellow, and we wished her well this month as she left to pursue a master’s degree in architecture.
Our fellows our fully integrated into our CNT Energy team as regular employees, and are not limited to energy analysis; Jayne, for example, has also worked on policy projects to advance energy efficiency initiatives in the state, and Andrew is also working on business development for the organization. Our current fellows chose CNT Energy because of a combined interest in affordable housing, environmental justice, and impact.
According to the Project 55 website, in over 20 years, the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Program has placed more than 1200 young alumni at more than 500 nonprofit organizations across the country.
Building owners can take actions to reduce energy use, such as investing in air sealing and insulation. In the summer, cold air sinks and leaks out of the bottom of a building, leaving a low-pressure region inside near the roof. If a building has been properly sealed and insulated in this region, hot air cannot get into this cool, low-pressure area as easily. This keeps hot air out and reduces air conditioning bills.
For people who are on one the state’s two residential hourly pricing programs—ComEd Residential Real-Time Pricing and Ameren’s Power Smart Pricing—there are ways to save energy and reduce utility bills during summer as well. Hourly or real-time pricing allows customers to pay a fluctuating hourly price for electricity, a price driven by the market demand for energy.
Hourly electricity prices typically fluctuate most in the summer, and prices tend to be highest in the late afternoon and when the weather is particularly hot. The more you can shift your use to off peak times, the greater potential you have to save, especially during the summer. As a general rule of thumb, to manage summer electricity costs, reduce usage between noon and 5 p.m. on weekdays. With hourly pricing, you’ll have more control over your costs. Here are four key tips:
Change your thermostat to a warmer temperature setting when electricity prices are high and when you are away from home. Set window air conditioners to the low or “energy-saver” setting or turn them off when electricity prices are high. To stay cool and cut costs, try pre-cooling your home at night when electricity prices tend to be low.
Do laundry when electricity prices are lower, and wash in cold water to save on water heating costs. Make sure the dryer doesn’t run longer than needed, or use a clothes line or drying rack to dry clothes without spending a dime on energy.
Avoid using electric ovens and stoves during high price times. A microwave will heat small portions more efficiently. To avoid heating up the kitchen on hot days, enjoy no-cook meals, or grill outside. Run the dishwasher when electricity prices are lower, use the energy-saver or no-heat dry setting, and only run full loads of dishes.
Charge devices such as cell phones, tablets, and cordless tools at night when electricity prices are lower. Unplug electronics that are not in use or use a power strip to avoid wasted “standby” power.
CNT Energy administers Power Smart Pricing and Residential Real-Time Pricing. Want to know if hourly pricing programs are a good fit for you? Find out at www.ComEd.com/RRTP (1-888-202-RRTP) or www.powersmartpricing.org (1-877-655-6028).
Energy efficiency programs for multifamily buildings face a unique but common split incentive barrier: building owners are often responsible for paying for energy efficiency improvements, while the tenants actually reap the benefits via lower energy bills in their units. Retrofitting multifamily buildings provides benefits to property owners, residents, lenders, and investors, but, to move forward, technical assistance and capital are needed to overcome the unique challenges of the multifamily building sector.
This week, CNT Energy Policy Director Anne McKibbin moderated a panel at the 7th annual ACEEE Energy Efficiency Finance Forum to highlight successful financing strategies for overcoming the split incentive barrier. Anne was joined by presenters Tara Siegel of the California Housing Partnership Corporation, Chrissa Pagitsas of Fannie Mae, and Paul Cummings of Enterprise Community Partners.
One strategy for overcoming the split incentive barrier is on-bill repayment, or OBR, in which building owners repay loans for eligible energy efficiency improvements through monthly utility bills. OBR is heralded as a new way to finance energy efficiency retrofits in affordable multifamily housing, as it provides convenient access, reduces the cost of financing, utilizes an existing billing relationship between consumers and utilities, and is versatile. OBR can also be bill-neutral, meaning that savings are greater than monthly repayments, so the total charge on a utility bill is less than or equal to the pre-investment amount, which helps generate immediate positive cash flow.
At the ACEEE event, Tara Siegel spoke of a pilot on-bill repayment program at City Gardens, a multifamily building complex consisting of 274 units in Santa Ana, California. The pilot is run by the California Housing Partnership Corporation, in partnership with Stewards for Affordable Housing of the Future and with support from Living Cities and the MacArthur Foundation. City Gardens completed energy efficiency improvements that cost over $300,000. The improvements have resulted in projected annual owner savings of $49,000 and projected annual tenant savings of $17,000.
Phase one of the pilot (2013 to 2014) will involve on-bill repayment at 15 retrofitted, mostly master-metered multifamily buildings. That is, meters controlled by and paid for by the owner, not the tenants. Phase two (2015) will focus on tenant-metered properties. On-bill repayment tied to a tenant meter would allow for tariffs to be added to the resident’s bill to assist in repayment of a retrofit that would generate greater savings on the tenant utility payment than the cost of the tariff. In other words, even with the tariff, the tenants will come out ahead because the utility bill savings will offset the cost of the tariff.
There are still several challenges ahead for the pilot: tenant meter issues are subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission, and legislation and consumer protections are needed to avoid a situation in which tariffs exceed actual savings.
Chrissa Pagitsas spoke about Fannie Mae’s Green Refinance Plus and M-PIRE loan products, which will give multifamily building owners needed financial resources to improve the efficiency of their buildings.
Multifamily properties need capital to fund energy efficiency retrofits. Fannie Mae’s products help building owners raise that money when they refinance their buildings. But, multifamily buildings are typically only refinanced every 10-15 years. So, building owners need other ways to fund efficiency improvements in the years between refinancing. Panelist Paul Cummings presented several methods that Enterprise Community Partners is piloting in partnership with organizations around the country to address this problem. So far, Enterprise has raised and leveraged $30 million in funds for this effort. They have also created the Enterprise Green Communities Multifamily Retrofit Toolkit, which is available to building owners to help them plan and execute their own building retrofit projects.
Here in Illinois, CNT Energy is assisting the affordable housing community in their efforts to improve the utilities’ on-bill finance programs for energy efficiency investments in the state. Illinois’ existing On Bill Financing (OBF) Program allows residential electricity and natural gas customers to borrow money for energy efficiency improvements and repay the loans through their electricity and natural gas bills. The proposed legislation, SB 2350, would expand the program to multifamily building owners and make it easier for improvements that save natural gas to qualify for financing. The bill is currently making its way through the Illinois General Assembly.
We’re taking a break from our regular blog topics today to share one of our loves at CNT Energy: worm composting. We show you how your organization can introduce the practice in your office to help keep organic waste from the trash.
You first need basic supplies and equipment. We use a 3-tiered Can-of-Worms vermicomposter (about $100) but there are other worm hotels, or you can make your own. We got our red wiggler worms from God’s Gang, a local nonprofit organization.
Here’s a tip: Choose an organic waste collection can that’s attractive enough to keep on a shared kitchen counter, so others are more inclined to use it. Keep it clean, and post a list of restricted foods near the can (see the slideshow below for an example of what we use at CNT Energy).
Developing a dedicated vermicomposting team and schedule helps. Each member of our crew spends less than 15 minutes each week on worm-related duties. As for very simple instructions, here’s what our worm team leader sent to new recruits — you can adapt it for your own use.
- Take the food scraps out of the waste collection can and walk over to the worm hotel.
- Open the top layer of the worm hotel and mix up the previous day’s goodies. (You’ll really want to get in there and mix up the food with the dirt and any newspaper that was in there from the day before. This part can get pretty dirty; use a glove if you wish. )
- Place the food waste into the top layer of the worm hotel.
- Rip up some more newspaper (the thinner the better) and layer it over the wet waste.
- Close the worm hotel. Give yourself a hug for helping reduce the amount of waste going to a landfill. Your future grandchildren thank you.
Tiny office? Indoor worm composting is a great way to process a large amount of food waste in a small space. Large office? Joining a worm team is a great way to meet other folks and learn skills you can adapt for home vermicomposting.
Harvest time comes every three months. We empty the bottom tier of the composter onto newspaper. Most of the worms have vacated that part of the hotel because the waste has been completely composted, but there are always a few stragglers. Shine a desk light over the humus, or, as organic farmers say, the black gold. This causes the worms to retreat downwards. As we remove the top layers of humus, the worms will dive deeper into the piles. Continue this every 30 minutes or so for a few hours, until all you have left is a pile of wiggling worms. Put them back in the compost bin along with fresh bedding (the ripped-up newspapers). Use the humus on office plants or in your garden.
Nurturing a vermicomposter at your organization allows you to optimize an already very natural process. In other words, just keep an eye on things and you’ll do great. As one of our resident composters said, “You take something that is garbage and turn it into something that is gold. It’s alchemy, and who doesn’t need some magic in their life?”
There are plenty of other tips and resources out there. Please let us know what’s working for you!
Behind-the-Scenes with Energy Savers: Retrofitting More Than 300 Affordable Housing Units in Oak Park
More than 300 affordable apartment units in Oak Park are undergoing energy efficiency upgrades. The improvements are expected to cut heating costs in 14 buildings by more than $26,000 in the first year alone. As part of a long-standing partnership, Energy Savers, a one-stop energy efficiency shop for building owners that is co-run by CNT Energy and Community Investment Corporation, worked with the Oak Park Residence Corporation (OPRC) to upgrade the majority of its buildings. OPRC is a not-for-profit corporation that works to promote a diverse and economically balanced community. By reducing operating costs through energy efficiency improvements, this ongoing work helps to preserve affordable housing in Oak Park and keep tenants happy.
The OPRC buildings are typical of many of the multifamily buildings found throughout Chicagoland region, namely three-story brick walk-ups built in the 1920s. Here’s what our Energy Savers team did in Oak Park:
First, the Oak Park Residence Corporation received free energy assessments of its buildings. Our Energy Savers analysts spent about 2 hours in each of the buildings, walking building managers through our inspection and explaining our process. See photo, above.
It was important for us to understand the needs of the OPRC building portfolio and identify the most cost-effective energy efficiency improvements for this particular partnership. In this case, the Energy Savers team found that the buildings needed air sealing and insulation improvements to prevent heat loss and reduce operating costs.
Next, Energy Savers worked with OPRC to prioritize the energy efficiency measures and create a scope of work that offered the most benefits to the corporation as well as the current and future residents.
Energy Savers staff help building owners find qualified contractors, and we oversee the construction. With OPRC specifically, the buildings are undergoing roof cavity air sealing and insulation, new weather-stripping, and exterior door sweeps.
Finally, we worked with Energy Impact Illinois to help OPRC cover the project cost of $215,847. In all of our projects, we help building owners access various funding sources to offset the cost of the upgrades through grants, low-cost loans, and utility rebates.
ACEEE, National Housing Trust and CNT Energy Discuss How Utilities Can Deliver Energy Efficiency Programs to the Multifamily Housing Sector
We’ve been writing a lot about how the multifamily housing sector represents a sizeable opportunity to achieve energy savings through targeted energy efficiency programs.
Now, listen to experts from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), National Housing Trust, and CNT Energy discuss findings and elaborate on strategies that can help utilities design and implement energy efficiency programs that work. Access the Webinar on YouTube and from the Windows Media file.
Of the roughly 70 questions generated by the discussion, many had to do with financing utility programs:
Question: Can you provide specific of examples of how financing for multifamily programs has been provided?
Anne McKibbin, CNT Energy: With our Energy Savers program, we work with Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the largest multifamily lender in Illinois. They have a revolving loan fund from which building owners can get financing. One-third of building owners who go through the program take advantage of it. The other two-thirds finance out of their cash flow.
Todd Nedwick, National Housing Trust: In New Jersey, PSE&G created an on-bill approach which is very advantageous for the low-income family housing perspective, as owners are often not able to take on additional asset-backed debt. Financing is provided so that it can be repaid through the utility bill, with no up-front costs required on the part of the owner. It’s a really promising model.
See also an appendix in the Metropolitan Area Assessment that provides details on available funding mechanisms for 50 multifamily energy efficiency programs.
- ACEEE: Scaling Up Multifamily Energy Efficiency Programs: A Metropolitan Area Assessment
- National Housing Trust: Partnering for Success: An Action Guide for Advancing Utility Energy Efficiency Funding for Multifamily Rental Housing
- CNT Energy/ACEEE: Engaging as Partners in Energy Efficiency: A Primer for Utilities on the Energy Efficiency Needs of Multifamily Buildings and Their Owners
- University of Arizona: Energy Efficiency and its Relationship to Household Income in Multifamily Rental Housing
It’s a common lament from those in the energy efficiency world—why can’t we get the real estate industry to more fully embrace energy efficiency?
There are many reasons. Sometimes, the most important “green” features of a home are invisible, literally sealed into the attic or programmed into appliances, lighting, or other systems, so real estate agents may not notice these features or may not know how to verify them. Standard appraisal forms include just one small box for “energy efficiency features,” which fails to capture important details, such as comprehensive efficiency upgrades versus more superficial ones. And while the appraisal industry has begun to educate and certify appraisers who work with high performance homes, there is no simple way to match these competent appraisers to relevant assignments.
Why does CNT Energy care? As an implementer of energy efficiency programs, we understand how important it is for upgrades to be transparent to players in the real estate market, so they can make informed decisions when buying, selling, or appraising a home.
The good news is the real estate industry is making progress when it comes to documenting and valuing energy efficiency improvements.
In 2011, for example, the Appraisal Institute, a membership association of professional real estate appraisers, released a Green and Energy Efficiency Addendum, a form widely received as a way to address and document features when appraising high performance homes.
From national certification groups to local energy efficiency programs, all types of organizations are looking to incorporate this information after a new home is built or an existing home has been remodeled.
Two more tools scheduled for release this spring aim to help make the process of buying and selling a high performance home clear and effective. These tools will make a green home’s features transparent to players in the real estate market:
- A BPI and ANSI standard will bring consistency to the process of recording the upgrades completed during a retrofit. BPI, or Building Performance Institute, and ANSI, which stands for American National Standards Institute, act like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that contractors can use to document their work and for others to feel confident that the retrofits are of high quality.
- The Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, allows Realtors in a given market area to add or search available homes for sale. A new guide will help real estate agents become consistent in how they describe high performance homes in an MLS listing. Currently, there are no clear standards for agents to follow when documenting a home’s green attributes.
Combined, these tools represent an important step forward.
Now contractors and energy efficiency program providers need to use them as they become available. As this information becomes more consistent and more widely used in real estate markets, everyone involved in a real estate transaction will better understand the attributes of a high performance home and how to factor that information into their decision making.
Laura Reedy Stukel, Realtor – EcoBroker Certified, NAR Green, contributed to this post.
From House Parties to Job Creation: Energy Impact Illinois Helping Thousands with Energy Efficiency Upgrades
WTTW’s Chicago Tonight reported on how a local alliance called Energy Impact Illinois is helping thousands of Chicago metro-area homeowners save on energy bills.
Energy Impact Illinois is an alliance of government organizations, non-profits, and utility companies (like Nicor and ComEd), dedicated to helping communities in the Chicago metropolitan area become more energy efficient. The program helps homeowners overcome barriers that often prevent them from making their homes more energy efficient, including offering low- or no-cost energy assessments, instant rebates to cover upfront costs, and qualified contractors to do the home improvements.
On the Chicago Tonight program, CNT Energy’s Patrick MacRoy said, “we like to focus on the improvements that are going to have the most impactful, longest-lasting improvement. In most homes in our region that is adding insulation to the attic.”
Energy Impact Illinois is getting the word out about energy efficiency via energy impact “House Parties,” a hands-on event where a program expert and local contractor demonstrate how homes can waste energy and what steps to take to fix it. Over 400 homeowners have hosted a house party, an informative and entertaining experience with friends and neighbors: contractors use tools like a blower door to demonstrate how much air is getting in or out through small cracks and gaps, or infrared monitors to visually show temperature differences and exactly where insulation is missing.
This community-based approach has turned people on to the topic of energy efficiency and the program is gaining traction because it’s harnessing the power of neighbors talking to neighbors.
Energy Impact Illinois helps make homes more comfortable and protects the environment. It also creates local jobs.
Jim Scherpelz, president of contracting company Energy360 Solutions said that Energy Impact Illinois is, “a good outreach organization. We’ve done a fair number of projects utilizing funding and identifying customers through the house parties.” In fact, Scherpelz was at one of the first house parties hosted by the alliance last year. “We’re getting business that wasn’t otherwise there for us,” he said.
The program has recently been extended. Homeowners still have time to take advantage of the rebates and incentives and lower energy costs, but act fast to ensure you get all work completed in time for the new August 26 deadline. For information on retrofitting your own home for up to 70 percent off the sticker price, or to host your own house party, call 855-9-IMPACT (855-946-7228).
In a recent post, we highlighted a report that shows how energy efficiency upgrades in multifamily buildings could save building owners and residents up to $3.4 billion annually. Despite this, the multifamily building sector represents a mostly untapped opportunity for energy efficiency gains amongst traditional utility-run programs.
One reason for this is because the multifamily market has unique challenges that must be addressed in order to deliver effective programs. The good news is, we have a roadmap and there are partners along the way to help utilities capitalize on the enormous opportunity for energy savings that exists in the multifamily housing sector.
A new report we released along with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Engaging as Partners: Introducing Utilities to the Energy Efficiency Needs of Multifamily Buildings and Their Owners, examines the factors that contribute to effective energy efficiency program design for multifamily buildings and recommends strategies that can help utilities design and implement energy efficiency programs.
Here are recommended strategies, from the report:
- Segment the Multifamily Market: Segmenting the multifamily market into several common local building types, ages, and split incentive structures will increase program efficiency and improve service.
- Design Programs that Overcome Split Incentive Barriers: Overcome split incentive barriers (when building owners are responsible for investing in energy efficiency improvements, while tenants reap the benefits via lower energy bills) by providing sufficient incentives to building owners.
- Coordinate Gas and Electric Programs: Coordinate administration across utilities to simplify and speed up the process for multifamily building owners.
- Choose the Most Appropriate Delivery Mechanism for the Program: Programs that are convenient and use trusted partners help educate potential customers and break down barriers.
- Integrate Comprehensive and Direct Install Solutions: Combine the two activities into one project to achieve economies of scale, create a single point of communication, and decrease disruptions.
- Make Rebates Accessible and Easy: Convenience is an important determinant of participation.
- Partner with Sources of Attractive Multifamily Financing: Consider a trusted financing partner and an opportunity to educate multifamily clients about efficiency upgrades when they seek other financing.
- Provide Follow-Up and Aggregated Building Energy Use Data: Quality control is critical to success, reducing rework and improving customer satisfaction.
- Engage with Key Multifamily Industry Players: Collaboration with other organizations can heighten the impact of a multifamily energy efficiency program.
The other good news is that while building owners in many areas historically have not made energy efficiency investments a high priority, utilities can and have designed effective programs for the multifamily sector. Read the full report for case studies on some of these programs.
This report is a follow-up to an earlier report that introduced building owners and housing advocates to the utility sector.