Green Building News

Green Building News June 2002

June 16, 2002

California Consumers Get Credit for Dodging 2001 Blackouts

It was California consumers -- not mild weather or the cooling economy -- who should get credit for avoiding blackouts and keeping the lights on in summer 2001. They did it by embracing energy efficiency and conservation and reducing their peak demand by 3,000 to 5,500 megawatts (MW), according to research by scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

This is the conclusion reached in a new analysis of the consumer response to the California electricity crisis by Charles Goldman, Joe Eto and Galen Barbose, researchers in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

"Many observers predicted that California would face widespread rolling blackouts in the summer of 2001," says Goldman. "In April 2001, the North American Electric Reliability Council predicted that the state would have about 250 hours of rolling blackouts. Others predicted that the cost of these blackouts would range from $2 billion to $20 billion. But the blackouts never happened last summer. Our research addresses the question of what role customer load reductions played."

The report analyzes the effects of six factors on the reduction in load: (1) role of the media in increasing public awareness of the crisis; (2) electricity and natural gas price increases; (3) utility energy efficiency programs; (4) the 20/20 rebate program; (5) utility and California Independent Systems Operator (ISO) load management/demand response programs; and (6) other state programs, such as energy use reduction by Federal, state, and local government facilities and partnerships with the private sector.

"Each of these factors contributed to customer load reductions to varying degrees," says Goldman, "although separating the effects of one from another is difficult. For example, many customers may have qualified for a rebate through the 20/20 program by simultaneously taking advantage of an incentive for high efficiency appliances. The synergies between these various factors were an important reason that customer load reductions were as great as they were."

In response to the state's offer to rebate 20 percent on utility bills if consumers achieved a 20 percent use reduction - an offer that has been renewed for this summer -- scientists in the Lab's EET Division created the Save Power Web site. It identifies energy-efficiency measures and their predicted percentage savings.

Goldman says customers responded to the electricity crisis through a variety of means: installing energy efficient equipment, installing onsite generation, and modifying their electricity consumption habits or patterns. "We estimate that energy efficiency measures and clean distributed generation will save the state about 1,100 MW when all the installations are completed from projects initiated during 2001," says Goldman.

Some amount of the conservation behavior and changes in energy management practices will persist, depending on the continued awareness of energy issues and the sensitivity of customers to the increases in their electricity rates, he adds.

An important lesson to take from this, according to the report, is that a pre-existing energy efficiency services infrastructure can help the state's policymakers respond quickly to short-term power shortage emergencies. California was able to undertake massive energy-efficiency projects quickly because the underlying services were already there, due in part to the fact that the state's policymakers and regulators have historically supported and funded energy efficiency programs.

"Another important lesson is that utility load management, demand response and retail pricing programs need to be re-designed well in advance of restructuring the electricity markets," Goldman says. "California regulators and utilities essentially mothballed these programs during the transition to the restructured market.

"However, if a region does find itself facing a short-term crisis, the effectiveness of the load reduction programs in California demonstrates that such initiatives can contribute significantly to maintaining the reliability of the electric system," he adds. "The $1.3 billion that California taxpayers and ratepayers invested in energy efficiency and demand response programs in 2001 was a good investment compared to the estimated $2-to-$20 billion in potential losses from rolling blackouts, not to mention the savings associated with avoided wholesale power purchases."

This research is available as LBNL report 49733, "California Customer Load Reductions during the Electricity Crisis: Did They Help to Keep the Lights On?" by Charles Goldman, Joseph Eto and Galen Barbose.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.


Overcharging Motivated California Conservation Surge

It is no surprise that during last year's electricity crises, Californians were motivated to conserve energy. What is surprising is that they did so "to stop energy suppliers from over charging."

In the most comprehensive and complete study on behavior regarding conservation actions prepared to date, almost 80 percent of consumers surveyed listed this rationale among their top reasons for energy conservation. This new data from the on-going study, Consumer Conservation and Demand Reduction Behavior in Summer 2001, was commissioned by the California Energy Commission, and developed and conducted by researchers from Washington State University.

The electricity crises forced California to face predictions of diminished energy supplies, rolling blackouts and spiking prices. Although the State did experience some of the anticipated events, consumers reacted with a dramatic conservation response, reducing electricity demand at record levels. By June of 2001, household consumption in the State's two largest utility service territories had declined by 10 percent to 12 percent over the previous year and continued to stay low throughout the summer. The updated information reports consumer responses, using data obtained by phone calls and from utility billing records.

By far the most common action was turning off lights (73 percent) and TVs and other equipment (50 percent) when not in use.

Using air conditioning less or not at all (38 percent) and shifting specific energy use to off-peak hours (20 percent) were the actions that saved the most energy and cost.

Thirty-six percent of consumers surveyed moved beyond behavior measures; 19 percent installed compact florescent bulbs and 17 percent low-cost or major energy efficiency hardware such as, appliances, whole house fans or air conditioning systems.

Past experiences or common sense (83 percent) was a major source of influence on consumer decisions and news stories (44 percent) played an important role as well. One-fifth of those surveyed commented that product rebates related to conservation were also influential in their behavior changes.

Although residents of three of the five utility service territories had experienced some price increases in recent months, one-third said that price increases had "little" or "no" influence on their actions.

City of Chicago Breaks Ground For Green Homes Project

The City of Chicago recently broke ground for the construction of five environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable model homes -- two to be built in the Hermosa community on the Northwest Side and three to be built in the Englewood community on the South Side.

The Green Homes for Chicago project began with an international design competition sponsored by the City's Departments of Environment and Housing to solicit designs that demonstrate resource-efficient design and construction practices. From 73 entries, a design jury chose five finalists. The homes are scheduled for completion this fall.

The homes are "green" because they employ environmentally sound construction practices to maximize energy and water efficiency, construction reuse and recycling and use of sustainable building materials.

"Green Homes for Chicago will work to set a new standard for residential building specifications," said 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez. "Our intention is to provide safe, decent living conditions in an attractive, affordable, energy-efficient environment."

The single-family homes will be two-story structures with three bedrooms ranging from approximately 1,300 to 1,600 square feet and sell for roughly $155,000 each.

Three layers were integrated into the design process, starting with a base home -- like those built under the Department of Housing's New Homes for Chicago Program -- and then green upgrades and cutting-edge enhancements were incorporated into the design process.

Two homes will incorporate enhanced features such as photovoltaic panels and cement board siding. Two homes incorporate cutting-edge features such as a "solar chimney" made from water bottles filled with water from Lake Michigan and green screens for shading out sunlight.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. will outfit the homes with energy-efficient Kenmore products. Sears will donate all major appliances and heating systems for the five homes including Kenmore Energy Star refrigerators, washers and dryers, furnaces and high-efficiency water heaters.

Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Inc. (NHS) will serve as developer for the project. NHS is Chicago's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to community revitalization.

"The Green Homes program will transform five vacant lots into community assets, and will be a model for how to incorporate environmentally friendly materials and energy systems into affordable, new construction," said Bruce Gottschall, Executive Director of NHS. "The initiative is good for families, and it will have a positive impact on neighborhoods."

Brickyard Development and Construction Corporation, which has a history of building "green" homes, is the general constractor and Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage is the marketing agent.

Purchase guidelines will be based on the New Homes for Chicago Program. Those with incomes below 120 percent of area median income are eligible. That's $84,600 for a family of four. The five pilot homes will be sold to qualified buyers chosen through a lottery. The proceeds will be reinvested into more green homes.

Universities Can Create Showcase Dorm Rooms

On move-in day, college students bring to their dorm rooms a desire to help the environment and a hefty supply of electronic equipment. To help lower the school's energy bills while preventing pollution, colleges and universities came together with their students to build awareness of the connection between electricity use and the environment.

An ENERGY STAR® Showcase Dorm Room provides a very visible example of how students can use energy wisely and put their environmental activism to use. To make it easy for campuses across the country, the US Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program has created a step-by-step guide on how to create your own Showcase Dorm Room.

Last year, Tulane University unveiled the first of these Showcase Dorm Rooms, featuring ENERGY STAR labeled lighting, office equipment and consumer electronics. Three sophomores resided in this two-bedroom suite. Two others ran the demonstration project as work-study positions. As part of their outreach efforts, the students produced an online brochure and gave tours of the room to faculty and staff. Sponsors provided energy-efficient products and additional promotion of the room.

These showcases serve two objectives: (1) to demonstrate the energy savings potential of ENERGY STAR labeled products in a dorm room setting, and (2) to educate staff, students, alumni and the general public on the what, where, and how of purchasing energy-efficient products. At Tulane the students estimated that if every one of the 1,708 dorm rooms used ENERGY STAR products, the university would save more than $200,000 over the course of the school year, offsetting energy-related air pollution.

In addition, the students planned a "Sleep Is Good" campaign to raise campus awareness of ENERGY STAR's easy-to-use energy saving "EZ-Wizard" software that enables computer monitor power management or sleep mode. The students distributed "Sleep Is Good" door hangers and created informational kits that residential advisors could use to decorate their halls. The materials helped to raise awareness across campus about energy usage in students' daily lives.

DOE Awards $2 Million to 22 States for Energy Codes

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $1.989 million to 22 states to update and implement building energy codes, which will save consumers millions of dollars in energy bills and increase national energy security.

"These grants will enable states to improve the energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings by upgrading building codes, and will provide energy code training to more than 2,000 architects, builders, code officials and engineers," Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

DOE is providing funding through State Energy Program special project competitive grants and will make the awards before the end of this fiscal year. State energy offices and state code authorities will administer the awards.

The department has also provided technical assistance to several states to upgrade their building energy codes. New York, for example, recently adopted a building code which will go into effect in July and is expected to save $46 million in energy costs per year.

Improving the energy efficiency of new and renovated homes, commercial and institutional buildings saves consumers and the government money and decreases business operating costs.

The building energy code grants being awarded are:

    Arizona $100,000
    California $100,000
    Colorado $125,000
    Florida $50,000
    Hawaii $ 30,000
    Idaho $100,000
    Iowa $55,000
    Kansas $59,000
    Kentucky $230,000
    Maryland $150,000
    Minnesota $65,000
    Nebraska $100,000
    New Hampshire $30,000
    New York $100,000
    Oregon $100,000
    Pennsylvania $100,000
    Rhode Island $180,000
    Texas $100,000
    Utah $50,000
    Virginia $15,000
    Washington $100,000
    Wisconsin $50,000

DOE's investment in upgrading building energy codes has improved the energy efficiency of nearly three billion square feet of new commercial floor space and nearly four million households, and saved consumers an estimated $4.2 billion, enough to provide the energy requirement of more than three million homes for a year. For every dollar spent, the Building Energy Codes Program yields more than $105 in annual energy savings.


Bush Trims Proposed Efficiency Standard

The Bush administration last month issued final rules requiring residential air conditioners and heat pumps to be 20 percent more energy efficient, rejecting a Clinton-era plan that would have tightened energy use by up to 30 percent. Environmental groups had urged the U.S. Department of Energy to stick with the Clinton target.

The new rule establishes a minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of 12 for most central air conditioners (including central air conditioning heat pumps) and a minimum Heating Systems Performance Factor (HSFR) of 7.4 for heat pumps. The SEER would have been set at 13 under the earlier proposal. The final rule, which goes into effect on August 6th, can be seen at the USDOE Web Site.

Many equipment manufacturers argued that the higher standard would be more costly to consumers and put new products beyond the reach of low-income families. Also, higher prices would discourage consumers from replacing older, less efficient equipment. According to the Energy Department, a 20 percent boost in energy efficiency will lower operating costs to consumers an estimated $113 over the life of the equipment.

While most major appliance makers opposed the higher standard, Goodman Manufacturing, maker of the Amana brand, supported it. Starting in 2004, manufacturers must start producing units to the new standard, although existing inventory of older models can be sold through 2006.

Seven states -- California, Nevada, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey -- have filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the Energy Department to implement the higher efficiency standard.


Distributed Generation Projects Aided by Tool Kit

Distributed Generation (DG) refers to small-scale electricity generators deployed at or near the point of consumption. Two years ago, the amount of DG was estimated at 75 GigaWatts and it's expected to double by 2010. Recognizing that DG will have a significant impact on utilities, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has prepared a series of documents -- called the Distributed Generation Interconnection Tool Kit -- to helps its member co-ops manage this new market.

The tool kit will help utilities put in place policies for the interconnection of DG units, assuring the safe and reliable operation of the distribution system. It contains the following resources:

  • A Business and Contract Guide for Interconnection to help cooperatives and their employees move smoothly through the interconnection process.
  • A DG Rates Manual to help each cooperative think through the issues required to design a rate that meets that cooperative's specific goals; and Consumer Guidelines for Interconnection to educate consumers about the interconnection process.
  • A Technical Application Guide that provides rules of thumb that engineers at each cooperative can apply to develop detailed technical interconnection requirements that work for their system.
  • A Model Interconnection Application to be filled out by consumers interested in installing their own generation.
  • A Model Short Form Interconnection Contract for consumers installing small DG units with a capacity of 3 kW or less.
  • A list of related resources available to Cooperative Research Network members.
  • A Model Long Form Interconnection Contract for consumers installing DG units with a capacity of 3 kW to 3 MW.

NRECA is the national service organization representing the nation's more than 900 private, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide electric service to more than 35 million people in 46 states. While the tool kit documents are aimed at electric cooperatives, they contain valuable information that will also help consumers investigating a DG project.


U.S. Hotel Installs Drainwater Heat Recovery

The Hilton Garden Inn, currently under construction in Edison, New Jersey, is the first hotel in the U.S. to install drainwater heat recovery using the GFX device. Hotels are a prime candidate for GFX, because they use a large amount of hot water for showers. In this project, two adjacent rooms share a single GFX unit installed in the 4-inch drain stack in the floor below. A branch of the cold water supply to showers passes through the GFX on its way to the showers, preheating the water and reducing the amount of hot water needed. Savings for the 132-room hotel are estimated at 42,417 kWh per year. This estimate assumes an average cold water temperature of 55 degrees F, 2.5 gpm shower heads, 10-minute shower duration, 1.5 showers per unit per day and occupancy of 60 percent. GFX is also well suited to commercial dish washing and laundry applications. GFX units have been in use at a hotel in Wellington, New Zealand for several years.


SCS Certifies Nylon Carpet Fiber

DuPont Antron carpet fibers have been certified as Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). DuPont Commercial Flooring is the first carpet fiber manufacturer to achieve SCS certification.

Environmental Preferable Products include products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.

"Over the past decade, DuPont Antron has been aggressively moving its operations toward sustainable growth including significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous wastes, and energy consumption," said Kirsten Ritchie, director of SCS's Environmental Claims Programs. "By working with SCS to independently certify its products as Environmentally Preferable, DuPont Antron is demonstrating to the market its commitment to reducing the environmental impact of the company and its products."

The SCS Environmentally Preferable Products Certification Program is built upon the ISO 14000 standards including life-cycle impact assessment (LCIA) approach as defined in ISO 14042 and the August 1999 EPA Final Guidance. Each environmentally preferable specification addresses all stages of the products/services lifecycle and incorporates environmental and human health issues relevant to the category. To ensure thoroughness and impartiality, all SCS developed EPP specifications are independently peer reviewed.


AT&T Invites Proposals for its Industrial Ecology Grants

AT&T has invited proposals for its 2002 AT&T Industrial Ecology Faculty Fellowship program by university faculty members. The 2002 program summary and guidelines are web-based documents. Faculty members at six universities will be selected to receive fellowship grants totaling $150,000 as part of an AT&T Foundation effort to encourage academic activity in the emerging field of industrial ecology. Fellowship winners will be selected after a competitive evaluation process by the AT&T Foundation and AT&T technical experts. Applications are due on August 12, 2002.

Industrial ecology is the multidisciplinary field that focuses on the study of industrial and economic systems and their linkages with fundamental natural systems. Often referred to as the “science of sustainability,” it reflects the fact that environmental considerations are now recognized as strategic to individuals, industry and society as a whole.

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