Energy Deregulation is a Positive for Consumers, but Do Your Homework

 Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Danny Small

Danny Small

 If your utility called you up and offered you a significant discount on your electric or natural gas rate, would you take it? 

Usually I’m speaking to builders, architects and homeowners about reducing energy costs by using less energy.  Now, in many parts of the country, you can also reduce your energy costs by simply paying less for the energy you use.

With the recent deregulation of the energy industry, individuals as well as businesses in certain areas of the U.S. now actually have a choice of utility suppliers.  What that means is that you can now lower the rate you pay for your energy by taking advantage of a seamless and easy process.  Electricity choice is well under way, and natural gas is right behind it.  If your state does not yet offer energy choice, it’s coming, and it can offer a significant savings for residences, small businesses and large commercial and industrial entities.

Here’s how it works:  Your utility bill consists of three components:  generation, transmission and distribution.  The utility remains responsible for distribution:  Getting the energy to your house, maintaining the lines and poles and taking care of the billing, collections and customer service. The generation and transmission however, is now open to competition and can be “shopped around,” resulting in potentially large savings for the customer.

You may be wondering how the utility feels about this whole thing.  In one of my previous positions, I helped manage energy efficiency incentive programs in several eastern states, working closely with utility companies as deregulation started to roll out.  The utilities actually actively encouraged their customers to shop their rates.  Since the utility does not make its money on generation or transmission, they are not looking to provide the lowest rate; they just pass the cost on to the customers.  You can view a news interview with a representative from a Pennsylvania utility, explaining how the process works.  

Switching is easy.  It costs nothing, takes only a few minutes online or over the phone, and in many cases there is no long-term commitment.  Everything stays exactly the same from the customer’s perspective:  Same bill, same payment process, same service, same electricity.  Just a lower rate! You really have nothing to lose in making the switch.

Among energy suppliers, both rates and terms can vary widely.  Go to www.ShopForEnergy.com to see the options available in your area.  Besides a competitive rate, look for a plan with no termination fee.  In addition, some suppliers offer 100% renewable energy options (recommended) and other benefits to win your business.  For example, one major eastern supplier, North American Power, offers all of the above and also contributes $1 per month from its own profits on behalf of each of its customers to a charity of the customer’s choice.

So far, my experience “privatizing” my energy has been extremely positive, and I highly recommend it if the option is available to you.

The U.S. Regenerative Network Creates New Level for Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

CertainTeed was recently invited to participate in an event in Berkeley, California which could be the next rung on the ladder of sustainable building.  The U.S. Regenerative Network was founded and is led by David Gottfried.  Gottfried is considered a pioneer in the green building industry and is a founder of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The U.S. Regenerative Network brings together a select group of leading non-competitive product manufacturers and service providers from the green building industry to form an innovation incubator.

The Network brings together:

  • Product Manufacturers and Building Service Providers (Network Members)
  • Real Estate Portfolio Owners (Network Affiliates)
  • Architects, Engineers, Contractors (Network Affiliates)
  • Green building and sustainability Experts (Network Experts)
  • Staff (Network Coordinators)

At the event in Berkeley, there were a variety of activities designed to bring together emerging needs and technologies. The activities allowed world class manufacturers to brainstorm with each other as well as to engage with pioneering designers and construction professionals. The very nature of the organization allows for deep and meaningful engagements, which usually take years of relationship building, to occur very quickly. It reminds me of the difference between velocity and acceleration. As sustainability begins to accelerate, we see an increasing rate of change in change and we must keep up. If not, the pioneers are going to take an awful lot of arrows and our growth will come to a stop. This is a true next generation effort to bring together non-competitive stakeholders to engage in collaboration and best practices toward the creation of exceptional buildings.

The race to zero energy has been won.  We can do zero energy buildings.  We can do zero carbon footprint but can we regenerate and actually move beyond negative or neutral to become positive?  This is exciting stuff.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

A Case for the Return to DC Power

Lucas Hamilton

As we have seen many times, tides change and we return to previous processes because they are actually more efficient.  So why shouldn’t this be true of electric current?

If we look at onsite power generation for buildings like photovoltaics (PV) we see that they are generating Direct Current (DC). In order to move toward more sustainable solutions like photovoltaics there will need to be a return to Direct Current (DC) for our power.

We are seeing a resurgence of DC into our lives through items like lighting, with the switch to LEDs, and computers. These are two of the biggest power consumers in our commercial buildings and they run on DC.  When we convert Alternating Current (AC) to DC power 20 percent of the power is lost in that transference.  Feel the heat coming off your computer power plug. That heat is energy loss. Now imagine you have a building with PV on the exterior generating a fixed amount of DC current. If you invert the DC to AC in order to put it into the grid (-20 percent) and then plug your computer power cord into an outlet to get that power back, you loose 20 percent again. With the technological limitations we have with PV efficiencies, limited surfaces upon which to install the cells, and ever increasing demands for power within our buildings, how can we afford to keep loosing power to these inversions?

It is time to reevaluate DC in our lives! As we move toward more renewable energy, like photovoltaics (and they will play a larger part in our lives moving forward) we should consider how many of the appliances we use could be run on DC.  At the same time, if you are planning a new home or building and will be employing photovoltaics, consider keeping more DC current available throughout the building. Keeping things that are DC as DC and not plugging them to AC circuits makes sense.  Maybe it’s time for a second plug in the room.  A DC plug.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Philadelphia Eagles Really Know How to Go Green

I attended a Green Drinks event recently in the Philadelphia area sponsored by Sustainable Solutions Corporation, a company that provides comprehensive sustainable development and green building services for corporations, municipalities, developers and homeowners. Lucas Hamilton wrote about these events in his “Starbucks” of Sustainability Blog.

The guest speaker was Leonard Bonacci, director of event operations for the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m a football fan and religiously watch the Eagles play every game, but I was not aware of the incredible commitment the Eagles organization and Lincoln Financial Field were making in their efforts to “Go Green.” Theirs is a top-down commitment, starting with the Eagles owners Jeffrey and Christina Lurie. Christina leads this charge, which started when the team moved into their new home, Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles are considered to be one of the most environmentally conscious Teams in the NFL. That is due to the enormous attention paid to reducing their carbon footprint, including:

  • Employing wind technology to power the lights.
  • Using napkins with recycled content and cups that are corn-based rather than petroleum based, and are totally biodegradable.
  • All of the grease from food cooked at the stadium is taken to a refinery to be combined with biodiesel fuel.
  • Composting of trash instead of sending to the landfill.
  • Requiring vendors to support their green initiatives by greening their operations, recycling and using energy-conscious products.
  • Recycling by staff and tailgaters, including easy-to-identify blue bags, dumpsters and trashing carts to collect recyclables.

The ultimate goal is for the entire enterprise is to be carbon neutral, which is no small task when talking about a stadium that hosts 70,000 people per game.

Their newest endeavor is a partnership with a company called Solar Blue which will help convert Lincoln Financial Field to function with self-generated renewable energy. This will be accomplished with wind, solar power and dual-fuel generated electricity.

My personal favorite conservation effort by the Eagles organization is Eagles Forest, a 6.5 acre site located in Neshaminy State Park, Bensalem, PA. The organization has planted 1,500 trees and shrubs, including 150 trees purchased by Eagles fans. Part of this program is dedicated to offsetting the team’s carbon emissions from away-game travel.

For me Go Eagles now has added value! What do you think of Go Green? Are teams in your area making similar commitments?

Is there a Future for Renewable Energy?

Lucas Hamilton

An editorial appeared in the New York Times on October 27 entitled Remember Renewable Energy?, which discussed the slow moving progress by Congress (since jumping on board in 2005) with wind, solar and other projects focused on producing 10,000 megawatts by 2015.

It would appear that some of the talk about the White House needing to support alternative energy did not fall on deaf ears since the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved several solar power projects in recent weeks.

This is good news because we need to step up our efforts to keep up with Europe and China who are already investing heavily in wind and solar manufacturing.

Three things are cited in the editorial that need to happen in order for the U.S. to catch up:

  • Generous subsidies or alternative funding for renewable energy projects so they can compete with fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
  • Faster approvals by agencies such as Minerals Management Service.  Three to five years of negotiations is not acceptable.  As the editorial says, “The bureaucracy now has to deliver.”
  • The expanding and updating of the electrical grid to accommodate new energy sources is crucial to any success.  That will require partnerships and the giving up of control.

What are your thoughts on the future of renewable energy?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Kicking the Energy Issue up a Notch – The Green Power Community Challenge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just launched a year-long nationwide campaign called the Green Power Community Challenge to encourage communities throughout the nation to utilize renewable energy as a means of helping address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The Green Power Community Challenge aims to double the amount of renewable energy sourced electricity used by participating EPA Green Power Communities collectively. Throughout the year the EPA will track and report the standings of the communities participating on a quarterly basis.  

In order to participate, communities need to join EPA’s Green Power Partnership and buy or produce approved forms of green power (such as solar power) on-site. All the communities currently participating are listed if you want to check the communities in your area.

This program not only focuses on the use of renewable energy but also encourages generating energy on site as a means to cut down on our net annual fuel consumption.  Communities can either reduce as much energy as possible or identify ways to create power to subtract from their total consumption. 

One resource that can help communities and individuals meet the challenge is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiencies (DSIRE). This site lists all the incentive and rebate programs by state. This is important because the incentives do vary from state to state.  In some cases, the incentives or rebates can help you recoup almost half of the cost to install photovoltaic roofs.

At the conclusion of the Challenge, the community that has the highest green power percentage and the community that uses the most kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power will receive national recognition and special attention from the EPA.

It is exciting to see this type of involvement in reducing energy consumption on the community level.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Building Green for Vancouver Olympics Should Have Lasting Effects

Vancouver Olympics 2010

Vancouver Olympics 2010

For those of us that have watched the Olympics for more than 20 years, it’s been really fun to watch some of the newer events emerging.  Sure, we love to watch the traditional bobsled, downhill skiing, and hockey (go USA), but the Olympics have really progressed with “new era” events like “half pipe snowboarding” and “snowboard cross.”  Cool stuff and our hats off to the International Olympic Committee for recognizing these emerging sports and modifying tradition to keep interest in the Olympics alive!

 As a host city, Vancouver should be applauded for taking this spirit of progression to sustainable building initiatives and pushing renewable energy measures that set a new standard for future Olympic venues.

 Some highlights are:

  • The site for the Village was a Brownfield development of a former industrial area. Following the Games it will become a socially inclusive community that will be home to 15,000 people and provide 250 units of affordable housing.
  • Heat captured from the sanitary sewer’s main line is sent back to heat the buildings and water.
  •  50% of the Villages’ roofs are vegetative, capturing rainwater for reuse and curtailing runoff. They also provide insulation value year round and prevention of heat gain from solar radiation in the summer, acting as cool roofs.
  • The buildings include traditional and contemporary artwork by Four Host First Nations, First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists from across Canada. This meets  one of the requirements of the Living Building Initiative; public art.  
  • The City of Vancouver is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold for the buildings. For the venue’s community centre, LEED “Platinum” is targeted.
  • Streets have been designed for pedestrians and bicycles first. Underground parking areas can accommodate car co-op vehicles and electric hookups.

Along the Olympic route there is also the Whistler Vision Net Zero Demonstration House.  Built by RDC Fine Homes of Whistler, British Columbia this house is self-sufficient for all energy needs and hopes to achieve LEED Platinum certification. We were pleased to have our CertainTeed WeatherBoards™ Fiber Cement Siding, ProRoc® Gypsum Board with M2Tech® technology and ProRoc Setting Compound with M2Tech used on this project. The house is open to the public throughout the Olympics.

Very public displays of support for renewable energy, net-zero development and sustainable initiatives are great educational opportunities.  The test will be how the costs to develop these buildings vs. the life-cycle analysis and long-range savings hold up within the financial community.  In the true Olympic spirit, let’s eliminate the barriers of our thinking and work together!

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.