Category Archives: Commercial

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What LEED Certification is and What it Means for Your Business: Part 2

what-leed2-smAs explained in Part 1 of this series, LEED certification is a powerful tool for the owners of large-scale commercial or industrial properties looking to make their buildings energy-efficient.  LEED provides a series of steps that building owners must take in order for their buildings to qualify as environmentally friendly.  But Version 4 of LEED, which rolls out in November of 2016, comes with a number of policy changes that will be of interest to anyone looking to move forward with the process.
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What LEED Certification is and What it Means for Your Business: Part 1

what-leed-smWhen it comes to American energy usage, there are no larger consumers than commercial and industrial scale facilities.  According to the United States Energy Information Administration, over half of all the energy consumed this year will come from those two sectors alone.  While there’s no getting around the fact that commercial and industrial facilities must consume energy to sustain productivity, there is ample opportunity to improve the efficiency of the buildings.  The Environmental Protection Agency claims that 30 percent of the energy consumed in commercial properties is wasted.
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October Is Energy Awareness Month: Four Reasons You Should Be Celebrating

october-is-energy-smFor thousands of years, people relied solely on the light of the sun and the heat of fires to power their daily lives.  Then, in 1879, Thomas Edison filed a patent for the electric incandescent lightbulb.  In the 137 years since then, our world has expanded in ways that could never have been possible without the availability of 24/7 illumination.
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Can New England maintain lower power prices?

oilchart_iStock_000053504052_FullSome encouraging news as New England continues to watch the snow melt from this past winter: power prices in March were almost half that of prices a year ago.

The news comes from grid operator ISO New England (ISO) in a report to the New England Power Pool Participants Committee. The monthly market operations report states that day-ahead and real-time locational marginal prices were almost 46 percent lower during March 2015 than in March 2014. Day-ahead prices were $64.25/MWh in March, which was 45.7 percent lower than February 2015 and 42.2 percent lower than March 2014.

One reason is the ISO’s Winter Reliability Program, which it put into effect after the 2013-14 Polar Vortex. During that bitterly cold season, heating demand was high and fuel supplies were stretched thin. In response, the ISO developed the reliability program to ensure a range of generators were online to produce sufficient supply. Measures included dual-fuel resource capability, participation to offset generators’ carrying cost of unused firm fuel, and compensation for demand-response services.

This winter’s delayed cold snap also kept demand down. New England was spared harsh weather until February. December 2014 saw 14 percent fewer heating degree days than December 2013 and February 2015 saw about 22 percent fewer days compared to February 2014. All the snow kept demand down as well: since schools and businesses were closed, facilities did not need to maintain comfortable heating levels.

Other reasons for the lower prices included a global glut of liquefied natural gas coupled with a sharp decrease in oil prices, making oil-fired generation more economical to utilize, according to Platts. These factors kept gas and power price volatility down. The average natural gas price in the region was $7.50/MMBtu in March 2015 compared to $16.50/MMBtu in February 2015.

What does this mean for future power prices in New England?
The good news is that there is some indication of downward pressure on pricing.

If the meteorologists are correct, warmer temperatures should be here to stay. According to Accuweather, normal to above-normal temperatures should be in store for the region. That means lower demand for heating, so less draw-down on supply.

Lower demand is also good for pipeline infrastructure. Interstate natural gas pipeline capacity is being stretched in the region, especially during the winter, which contributes to higher energy prices. And, the ISO says that improvements to natural gas pipeline capacity are still years away.

But there are also upward pricing pressures.

The ISO believes that generation may become an issue. Oil- and coal-fired power plants produce emissions. The more a generator is operational, such as during a cold snap, the more emissions are discharged. Emissions increased in 2013 as higher-emitting units went online to serve peak demand. Also, emission standards limit the run times of oil-burning generators, which decreases production.

On top of this, more than 10 percent of the region’s generating capacity will be retired by 2018. Last year, two large power plants were taken offline permanently: Salem Harbor and Vermont Yankee Nuclear, with a combined output of 1,200 MW. Brayton Point Station, which produced heavily through the past winter (1,535 MW), will be retired in 2017. Another 6,000 MW may also face retirement.

However, despite these constraints and concerns, the ISO reports that its most-recent forward capacity auction will be adequate to meet the region’s needs of installed capacity requirement through 2018-19.

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Got gas? Storage at 5-year high

The cost of gasAs we move from winter to spring, there is even more good news.

According to the “Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report, Short-Term Energy Outlook” by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), working natural gas in storage is above five-year levels for the first time in more than a year. Stocks are 58 billion cubic feet (Bcf) greater than the five-year average, standing at 2,157 Bcf as of February 13.

While the recent spate of cold weather across the Midwest and East may draw down stocks enough to push them below the five-year average, production in February and March is forecast to average 5 Bcf a day above last year’s average, which would contribute to robust inventory and moderate prices as we head into the shoulder months. Although there were several near-record withdrawals early in this heating season, more recent withdrawals have been far below the record levels of last winter and are 16 percent lower that the five-year average.

The increase in storage is because of a combination of recent high production and moderate demand. These factors have also kept prices relatively low. The EIA predicts inventories will end the injection season at over 1,600 Bcf, which would be 43 Bcf over the five-year average.

Increased natural gas production has been offset by peak use demand periods, mitigating the need for storage capacity. Market analytics company Bentek Energy reports average dry natural gas production of 71.7 Bcf per day since November 1, 2014. That is more than 6 Bcf per day more than was produced during the same period a year prior. The EIA is forecasting a continued high level of production through March, with an average of 72 Bcf per day.

While production remains high, demand this winter was reduced, despite the Northeast being buried in snow. Above-average temperatures across the western half of the country helped offset demand in the Northeast. According to Bentek Energy, natural gas consumption averaged 88.4 Bcf per day since November 1, 2014, which is 3.3 Bcf per day lower than the same timeframe a year ago. The EIA forecasts closer to normal temperatures, which will reduce consumption across the country to 88.1 Bcf per day through March, the end of the heating season. That is compared to last year’s 90.9 Bcf per day for the same period.

These factors have helped keep Henry Hub spot prices and NYMEX near-month futures prices at relatively low levels over the past few months. Prices started above $4 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in November and were trading below $3 MMBtu in January.

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Even US government conserving energy

energy_sphere_illustrationThe federal government is one of the largest energy consumers in the world, but even Washington’s consumption is decreasing.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Federal Energy Management Program records total delivered-to-site energy use. Data for fiscal year 2013 (FY ’13) shows that energy use fell to 0.96 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) from almost 1.6 quadrillion Btu in 1975, the earliest year for which data is available.

In FY ’13, energy usage by vehicles and equipment accounted for 62 percent of all federal energy consumed, with the remaining 38 percent consumed by federal buildings. The two departments with the highest vehicle and equipment consumption combined were the Department of Defense and the Postal Service, accounting for 94 percent. That energy usage had declined 19 percent since FY 2011, attributable to lower consumption of jet fuel, a major fuel source for the Air Force. Jet fuel is the largest energy source the federal government consumes.

Also declining is the energy consumed in federal buildings, which has dropped over the past four decades. Two contributing factors are a decline in the total square footage of government facilities, which has dropped since a peak in FY 1987, and a decline in the amount of energy consumed per square foot, which has dropped since FY 1975.

Several sustainability initiatives also played a role in the declining energy consumption. Requirements set forth in the Energy Independence Act of 2007 called for a reduction in petroleum fuel consumption by at least 20 percent by the beginning of FY 2016, and a reduction in energy intensity in buildings by 30 percent by FY 2015. Another initiative called for a reduction in fossil fuels consumption in new or renovated buildings by 65 percent in FY 2015 with an ultimate goal of a 100 percent reduction by FY 2030.

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Rooftop solar boosts home resale value: study

Solar and Home ValueConsidering adding solar panels to your roof but worried about your home’s resale value? Rest easy, according to a new study.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that buyers are willing to pay more for a home with a rooftop solar array. This is good news to Realtors and appraisers, who traditionally have counseled owners about the pitfalls of solar.

As the number of solar homes grows thanks to federal tax subsidies that are pushing the installation price down, the argument over inheriting someone else’s solar system will be heard again and again by industry professionals.

By the end of last year, more than 500,000 homes had photovoltaic (PV) installations. “As PV systems become more and more common on U.S. homes, it will be increasingly important to value them accurately, using a variety of methods. Our findings should provide greater confidence that PV adds a quantifiable premium to a wide variety of homes,” said co-author Sandra Adomatis, an appraiser who helped develop the Appraisal Institute’s Green Addendum, which assists appraisers in analyzing green features and properties.

What makes this study notable is that the researchers more than doubled the number of PV home sales which they analyzed, examining several states and looking at data before, during, and after the recent housing boom/bust.

The researchers discovered a “PV premium,” which adds about $4 per watt, or roughly $15,000, to the value of a home based on an average-sized 3.6 kW system. The premium did decrease as the system aged. The PV premium is true across states, home types, and housing and solar markets. The research was led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, universities, and appraisers. Supported by funding from the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, data was based on the sale of 22,822 homes from 2002 to 2013. Of those sales, 3,951 sales were in eight states that had solar sales. The data also focused on systems that were owned, not leased, by the homeowner.

Another study will look at the impact of leased PV systems on home resale prices, which should give a much broader and clearer picture of the future of residential solar in the real estate market.

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7 trends for the future of building sustainability

greenbuildings7 trends for the future of building sustainability
Green builders sometimes aspire to a net-zero impact on the environment. In other words, the total amount of energy used by the building annually is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site.

The International Living Future Institute takes that premise one step further, administering the Living Building Challenge to push architects to create net-positive buildings. To date, only five buildings have achieved Living Building Certification: the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at Smith College in Northhampton, MA; the Tyson Living Learning Center at Washington University in Eureka, MO; the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, NY; the Bertschi Living Building Science Wing in Seattle; and the Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Laboratory in Waimea, HI.

The Institute has issued the Living Building Challenge Version 3.0. It includes seven performance categories that should not only be goals for the challenge, but for the construction industry in general:

  1. Build in the right location. Not only being in harmony with its surroundings, but also in harmony with humanity and community. This means that the building is designed for the site, not chosen beforehand and forced to fit. It also means taking into account where it is acceptable to build and how to protect and restore the environment once the building takes shape. This also goes hand in hand with cluster developments of sustainable size, within walking distance of amenities.
  2. Net positive energy. According to the Challenge, 105 percent of a project’s energy needs must be supplied “by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis without the use of on-site combustion”. Projects must also provide on-site storage for resiliency.
  3. Net positive water. The Challenge calls for 100 percent of a project’s water needs to be supplied by “captured precipitation or other natural closed-loop water systems” or by “recycling used project water that is purified without chemicals”.
    Non-toxic. Projects are required to avoid “red list” chemicals and materials, including lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds. They are also required to cut or eliminate waste and to use carbon offsets to account for the embedded carbon footprint, all during construction.
  4. Happy and healthy. Builders are required to create atmospheres of calm, imbuing both physical and psychological well being for all who must spend time inside. The Challenge calls for design to “include elements that nurture the innate human/nature connection”.
  5. Uplifting design. The premise here is that if humanity allows ugly buildings, we won’t take pride in their upkeep. If we are staring at strip malls, parking lots, and brutal architecture all day, this is the first step to not caring about farms, forests and the environment. Aesthetically pleasing construction makes us want to care for the entire world.
  6. Support an equitable world. A broader goal of the Challenge is to task owners and managers with the notion that everyone has the basic right to positive environmental impact. This includes everything from not blocking access to fresh air, sunlight, and water, to creating projects that are “human scaled rather than automobile scaled”, to bring out the best in humanity and promote interaction.

The Bullitt Center in Seattle is predicted to be the first large commercial building to be certified this year. It’s the brainchild of Denis Hayes, President and CEO of the environmental think tank Bullitt Foundation and the coordinator of the first Earth Day back in 1970.

Hayes’ list of the Bullitt Center’s sustainability measures includes the use of rain water for potable drinking, showering, and dishwashing water. It also returns all treated gray water back into the ground onsite. He claims that it is the only office building in the U.S. to deploy these measures. He also says that the building is the “only full-scale commercial building in the world to eliminate all building materials that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine-disrupting”. The Bullitt Center also has a large rooftop solar array, capable of producing almost 70 percent more energy than is used in the building.

There are about 200 more buildings registered for the certification process. Perhaps more will join the list, if the construction industry embraces the Challenge.

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