Green Leasing: A Collaborative Approach to Energy Efficiency

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

You’ve probably seen this stat before —buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in the U.S.  We all know that reducing energy consumption is imperative for the future sustainability of our country, but when it comes to putting words into actions, we sometimes get stuck.

 Case in point: the potential for gridlock in traditional lease agreements— where the benefits of reduced energy usage or building upgrades do not “flow” to the person who pays for the transaction. For example, if a tenant is not responsible for monthly utility bills, then there is no financial incentive to reduce energy use.

 The good news? Companies such as Brandywine Realty Trust are bringing a fresh perspective to energy efficiency through green leases, which help align the financial and energy incentives of building owners and tenants.

 Specifically, property owners can charge tenants for measures that result in operational savings, such as energy-efficient lighting or chiller retrofits, as long as the savings are greater than the cost of the measure. The tenant benefits from reduced monthly utility costs and the building owner is able to increase the value of the building. Most importantly, the lease agreement instills a spirit of collaboration and mutually beneficial financial incentives to reduce energy consumption.

 Best of all, green releases are generating formidable results. Brandywine Realty Trust and its tenants have reduced energy costs by roughly 46 percent in a 93,000 square foot, 1980s era, building in suburban Philadelphia. And, the building’s energy cost per square footage is approximately 38 percent lower than the area average. With such a great return on investment, it truly begs the question — why aren’t more real estate companies getting on board with green leases?

Microsoft Net Zero Carbon Center – A Literal Case of Garbage in Garbage Out

In a previous blog, I talked about the Facebook data storage center in Lapland using a naturally cold area to minimize the energy costs of the facility. I speculated about how we could use the heat coming off such facilities for other uses. Well, here is another article I came across with a creative way to offset carbon.

This article talks about Microsoft building the first zero carbon data center powered by a fuel cell burning 100 percent renewable biogas from a wastewater treatment plant. The new, small prototype 300 kW “Data Plant” is being built outside of Cheyenne, Wyo. at the city’s Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility and will run on methane produced by the facility.

Microsoft reported the $8 million modular data center pilot, which will begin operating next spring, is just a fraction of the size of its other data centers and does not contain any production computing applications. However, if successful, it could be implemented on a megawatt scale at larger data centers in the future.

Buckminster Fuller in Spaceship Earth noted that trash and pollution were just the little bits and pieces we haven’t figured out how to use yet.  Well, looks like someone figured out how to use methane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activity. This is exciting news since we have so many landfills in addition to water treatment plants that produce methane. This could be a first step is using a gas that is virtually going to waste.

Fuel cells – non-carbon based fuel cells – a perfect solution.  In fact, Saint-Gobain is working on this technology so we do have some skin in the game on this technology.

This is a great example of a company that is using emerging technology to utilize an otherwise squandered resource.  Hats off to Microsoft!

Managing Your Expectations

Lucas Hamilton

When you are considering remodeling activities and the impact that those activities will have on the energy consumption of the home, a very good place to weigh the benefits of one activity over another is the Federal Energy Management Program.

Under this program there are a variety of things but the one I thought most interesting is the Technology Deployment.  This focuses on market-driven technologies and creating market pull for new and underutilized technologies.

If you look at the Building Envelope section you will see what activities will give you a great impact on reducing your energy consumption.  Activities such as using a cool roof or a green roof, installing window films or replacing older windows with high R value windows are rated so that the end user can identify which remodeling activities will give the biggest bang for the buck. You can also look at the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning and see that commercial ground source heat pumps, for example, have a huge impact.

This in a wonderful way for consumers to get to the bottom line and be able to make smart choices when remodeling in order to reduce energy consumption especially in older homes.

It is also a great way to avoid being disappointed because you were told by some radio advertisement that installing new windows will cut your energy bill in half. You will be smarter than that!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

How Can We Harness the Heat from Server Farms or Can We?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I was recently reading about the new Facebook server farm being built in Luleå, on the coast of Swedish Lapland.  This facility will service Europe. These server buildings are giant heat sources because of electrical inefficiencies that cause servers to give off a great deal of it. I applaud them for designing a building and placing it in the Arctic north where they can use the ambient air temperature outside to cool the building rather than having to pay for electricity to cool the building. It’s great news for Facebook since these server buildings are about the length of 11 football fields.

But while that is great – what a waste of heat?

Facebook is just one of several companies building and maintaining server buildings around the globe. This poses an interesting question. Isn’t there something we can do with these server buildings as an energy source?

Wouldn’t it be cool (some pun intended) if the heat generated from the running of the servers could be captured, stored in a fluid, transported and used as an energy source in a location that needs it? As we know, putting energy into fluids can be very efficient. Why not build such projects closer to population? Maybe put the servers under an urban farm and use the heat to make growing of vegetables inside a cold climate city even more efficient. What if the project were located closer to hydroelectric sources to reduce additional losses to “the super grid” (a whole other rant there)? How cool will that be; the virtual community powered by falling water and built close to those who use it the most- warm climate peoples have nice weather and don’t seem to visit as often.

We have been using cogeneration for a long time and with great success. Cogeneration is a thermodynamically efficient use of fuel. In separate production of electricity, some energy must be rejected as waste heat, but in cogeneration this thermal energy is put to good use. A pretty good lesson there: at what point does it stop being a system? Uh, never? Then how creative can we get? How many other ways can we come up with to capture and re-use energy? A good example is Philadelphia’s plan to capture power from subway trains and reuse it to launch trains back out of the stations, saving an estimated 40 percent on their electric bill.

If we can’t find a way to stop generating heat when we turn something on, them how can we put our ignorance to use?

Can Mapping Urban Albedo Help Control Urban Heat Island Effect?

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Urban temperatures are rising and it has a great deal to do with the types of materials we choose to construct our habitat. Historically, our construction materials have been great absorbers of infrared and near infrared solar radiation. As our urban centers have grown they have accumulated an excess potential for heat absorption which has put them out of balance compared to more rural areas. This is what is called the heat island effect.  The good news is that every urban surface exposed to the sun becomes a potential location to reverse this process and restore the balance.

While researching maps of Philadelphia (my home) for a previous blog on billing property owners for impervious surfaces that contribute to the rainwater run-off pouring into co-mingled storm/sewer systems, I came across the map used to identify these properties by the City (http://www.phila.gov/water/swmap). 

The interactive map shows the relative water permeability of surfaces delineating between general materials such as roofing, parking areas, roads, and open spaces. I started to think about how we could use similar technology to identify the albedo of the surfaces – a material’s natural ability to reflect or absorb radiant heat gain from solar radiation.

Some creative person (with a lot of time on their hands) should be able to use tools like Google Earth, identify the nature of the surfaces they see, and draw from a database of Solar Reflective Index (SRI) values to identify the potential targets for improvement. How can we influence global cooling?  By using technology that is available to identify the albedo of existing buildings. Once identified, municipalities can incentivize people to change to cool roofs or to living roofs where appropriate. The city could encourage the re-planting of native trees in unusable areas. There are all kinds of things each property could do to make a difference.

I would love to hear what other ideas may be out there to address this issue.  Any takers?

Living Building Challenge Alive and Rising in Seattle

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the early days of my blogging, I talked about the Living Building Challenge and the early adoption taking place in Portland, Oregon. The Challenge aims to certify green buildings around seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. It is so comprehensive that it is “whole-istic”. Sorry.

An exciting “Living Building” project is currently underway in Seattle that was highlighted in U.S News on MSNBC  on March 20, 2012. This could be a true showcase for the ultimate in sustainable office buildings. There is also a slide presentation in the link that is worth reviewing.

Denis Hayes, who co-founded Earth Day with Gaylord Nelson, now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.  He is partnering with architect Jason McLennan, who is CEO of the International Living Future Institute on this project.

With everything from harvested rainwater to geothermal wells, solar energy and lots of natural light, this building has no parking lot on the premises but is accessible by bus, bike or on foot. One day this could truly become the standard for new urban construction but in the meantime it can also provide valuable data to fuel the movement on retrofitting existing buildings.

Great project with great potential!

The SAVE Act – Sensible Accounting to Value Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

We are seeing an increase in legislation to drive the energy consumption and retrofit message to homeowners.  One that can make a huge impact is The SAVE Act.  This legislation instructs federal loan agencies to assess a borrower’s expected energy costs when financing a home.  The average U.S. homeowner energy costs in 2008 were $2,278/year.  This exceeds the average property taxes where on average were $1,897.

The basic goals of this Act are to:

  • Enable better mortgage underwriting
  • Reduce utility bills for American homeowners
  • Provide affordable financing for home energy improvements
  • Spark job creation in the housing industry

There are several key supporters of this legislation within the build industry.  These are the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), International Code Council (ICC), Green Builder Coalition (GBC), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and The Residential Energy Services Network, Inc (RESNET).

The two major components of the Act are the:

  • Affordability Test which accounts for expected energy costs along with other recurring payments in the debt-to-income qualifying ratio. So lenders would now be evaluating Principle + Interest + Taxes + Insurance + Energy, and
  • Loan to Value Adjustment which will ensure that the underwriting process consistently and accurately captures the added value of energy saving features, allowing homeowners to finance the cost of efficiency improvements as part of their mortgage.

The average home’s energy cost over the life of a 30-year mortgage is $60,000 and homes are responsible for nearly 25 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S.  The majority of our building inventory seriously needs energy upgrades to be current with the building codes.  Making it easier for homeowners to secure the financing to make energy updates is the best way to move the needle which we discussed in a blog last year.

Do you have any thoughts about The SAVE Act?

Walking the Walk with the Better Buildings Challenge

John Marrone is Vice President, Energy Initiatives for Saint-Gobain North America

On December 2, 2011, 60 key employers in America were invited to participate in a roundtable panel regarding the Better Buildings Challenge.  The Better Buildings Challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative that President Obama launched in February 2011.  Led by former President Bill Clinton, through the William J, Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, together with the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness, the Better Buildings Challenge supports job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial building and industrial facility updates to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade and save American businesses about $40 billion per year on their energy bills.

One of the key objectives of the round table was to share ideas about how to improve energy efficiency while helping to stimulate the economy and promote jobs creation.  There were a number of valid ideas presented to the Department of Energy (DOE) and Presidents Obama and Clinton during the meeting. But what was most impressive was that the focus was on both Clinton and Obama asking questions and listening to the business leaders.

The challenge is that companies must work with both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on regulatory issues and with the DOE on the energy initiatives and often these two entities are on different sides of the conversation. The government needs to understand the impact on business to balance compliance to regulatory issues while improving energy especially for the manufacturing sector and this meeting was a good and productive first step.

While Saint-Gobain is certainly interested in promoting the objectives that come out of the Better Buildings Challenge, I feel that the critical issues are:

  • Creating stronger building codes to promote energy efficiency
  • Freeing up the capital for investments in energy improvements
  • More prominent branding of the Better Buildings Challenge to encourage wider support, commitment and participant recognition 

Companies need to be recognized in an ongoing, visible way for making the changes to conserve energy and natural resources.  This is not a short term, quick fix.   Energy efficiency needs to be a cultural change that takes place over time and becomes imbedded in the fiber of a business. With the commitments made by these initial employers, we are making a significant first step.

A Fistful of Pencils – Measuring Solar Radiation on a Building

Lucas Hamilton

Earlier this week during a webinar I conducted on working with solar radiation, I gave an example to help people visual how the energy of solar radiation strikes a building or object. 

In physics and mathematics we would picture this energy as a vector component. I know that is not clear to a majority of non-science or non-mathematics practitioners so I often use an example with a fistful of pencils to help people visualize exactly what this means.  This is a fun little exercise but is not meant to be a scientific determination of the impact of solar radiation on a surface. This is simply a way to visualize the invisible.

Imagine the sunlight or energy coming across space and beating down on the surface of the roof at a normal angle which is a mathematical term for a 90-degree or right angle. To understand the impact of the solar radiation on that roof, take a piece of paper and draw a 1-inch square. Take a fistful of pencils (as many as will fit comfortably in your hand) making sure all the tips are even and bring your fist straight down on the paper striking it within the square.  Then count the number of strikes within that box and if you imagine each one of those strikes as being a unit of energy it gives you some idea of the impact of solar radiation on your roof.

If you want to imagine how that same sunlight is striking your wall, picture the angle that your wall is from that sun – usually about a 45-degree angle give or take.  Take the pencils in your hand and while sliding them to keep them flat to the paper turn your hand to a  45-degree angle and strike them into a 1-inch square box, you can see the number of strikes and what that impact would be significantly less. So if you again imagine that the pencil points are units of energy, you can see that only a fraction of the energy hits your wall compared to the roof.

This can be done with any angle and it gives you a very general idea of the solar energy impact on a surface.  While this does not give you scientific data to help you determine where your peak power would occur, it is one method that can be used to help visualize the best angle for solar panels on a roof. 

There are some online tools that can help calculate the intensity of the solar radiation based on geographic location. One example of such a tool can be found at: http://www.kahl.net/solarch/.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation