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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions

How to Save Money with Energy Efficiency

Practical solutions for energy efficiency at work and at home.

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by Carolyn Allen, California Green Solutions Editor

Energy efficiency is about smart use of energy, as well as reducing energy. Efficiency combines human behaviors coupled with smart systems that include products, energy sources and monitoring systems.

Decisions regarding building components, systems, and operations until recently, have generally been based on non-energy considerations, such as market value, construction cost per square foot, etc, but understanding and addressing the substantial energy impacts of key non-energy considerations such as health, safety and productivity are now being documented so that they can take higher visibility to critical bottom line sustainable results that will ALSO improve energy efficiency in California’s buildings.

New construction accounts for only a few percent of California’s building energy usage each year. Although opportunities to impact energy use in existing buildings are more limited than for new buildings, the existing building sector is so large that efficient replacement products, improved operational strategies, and appropriate intervention tactics that can reach the existing building market are critical.*

Energy efficiency in existing buildings and even outdoor applications result in better bottom line results, health and community sustainability -- which supports business and job sustainability.

Efficient Replacement Products for Energy Efficiency

Because affordability is the primary driver for building equipment purchase decisions, development of lower first-cost options for energy efficient products is important. These cost savings can be developed through manufacturing and materials strategies, as well as lower operational costs for energy consuming systems that include behaviors and system components that are essential for increasing the adoption of energy efficiency measures.

Replacement technologies and design strategies are available that deliver substantial energy benefits. A couple of these strategies include advanced evaporative cooling and night ventilation instead of refrigerated AC systems.

Focusing greater attention on performance and installation quality, particularly in the areas of insulation, HVAC, and lighting controls can lead to significant operational savings.

Improved Operational Strategies for Energy Efficiency

The digital revolution is opening up new, more affordable opportunities for energy savings and peak demand management in buildings, but the proliferation of entertainment and information systems has also significantly increased plug loads.

Again, smart behaviors matter. Use what's needed, and then turn it off!

Intervention Tactics for Energy Efficiency

Systems and equipment frequently perform less efficiently than predicted due to:
  • Sub-optimal integration of subsystems and components
  • Improper installation
  • Poor maintenance,
  • User’s inability to detect and diagnose equipment performance degradation, thereby reducing the equipment life and increasing energy costs.
You will probably recognize quickly, that most of those inefficiencies are due to behaviors that can be changed with proper job guidelines and training.

Greater attention (through training, best practices, and operation standards) on performance and installation quality, particularly can produce significant, and on-going savings.

California Specific Solutions for Energy Efficiency

Technologies, products, strategies and business models developed for national markets do not adequately address California’s unique building energy needs, and do not take advantage of state organizations, programs, and initiatives which can help facilitate improved building energy efficiency.

Like air quality, climate change offers substantial potential to generate non-energy benefits through energy efficiency. As Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Ed Vine points out, “Climate change has the potential to raise the profile of energy efficiency and create political will for expanded goals and increased funding.”

California's budget shortfall needs all the help it can get -- and energy efficiency is one way you can assist from right where you are. There is nothing as wasteful for the entire public system as ... waste. Waste raises prices for everyone because more production capacity is needed without a resulting level of productivity. Our public utility generation plants suffer from peak demand that needs to be curtailed. Energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to reduce peak demand. (Smart thinking and conscientious follow-through matter!)

California Climate Registry Sets Up Future Savings

California’s Climate Change Action Registry offers one of the more promising mechanisms for linking climate change and energy efficiency. The Registry is private-public partnership formed by the California legislature in 2000. It provides a registry of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) from emitters in California, the nation, and internationally. Members report emissions they own and control, as well as indirect emissions. Reported emissions are certified by independent third parties; the Registry publishes only certified data.

Through CARROT, the Registry’s online GHG reporting and calculation tool, participants are able to document the GHG emissions attributable to their energy use and reductions in emissions due to energy efficiency.

For companies in industries that are ripe for regulation, voluntary emissions reporting is a prerequisite for claiming future credit for emissions reductions achieved prior to adoption of regulatory requirements.

Since the Registry’s launch in 2002 with 23 charter members, the Registry has grown to 273 members, including more than 100 members reporting for the first time in 2007. The membership roster includes strong representation from the oil and gas sector, utilities, public agencies, manufacturing and solid waste.

Land Use and Home Efficiency Planning in California

Programs to promote more efficient land use are also beginning to involve utilities.

“Smart Growth,” sustainable development, and green building programs may act as catalysts to integrate land use, renewable energy, and energy efficiency programs. The California Energy Commission is collaborating on the Sustainable Urban Energy Planning projects to examine the energy implications of land use planning decisions.

There is increased convergence, particularly in California, between renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. To qualify for a solar incentive under California’s New Solar Homes Program, a home must now perform 15% better than the state energy standard and ENERGY STAR appliances and high efficacy lighting must be installed throughout (except the dining room and small rooms). The incentive level is tied to expected system performance, which requires a HERS Rater to field-verify installation effectiveness.

Building Strategies that Save Energy

Sacramento Municipal Utilities District has identified a number of technologies that are capable of making zero peak homes a reality, and a number of them must be further developed or tailored for production builders.

These include:*

  • Building shell technologies that are better insulated and/or incorporate large amounts of exposed thermal mass that can be thermally “charged” during off-peak hours
  • Improved HVAC technologies such as indirect-direct evaporative cooling, radiant heating and cooling, and ductless mini-split systems
  • Passive solar architectural features
  • New demand response strategies such as off-peak overcooling, appliance load control, and the use of the battery storage in plug-in hybrid vehicles when they are garaged
  • High-efficacy lighting fixtures for all types of lighting
  • Lower-cost and higher-performance PV systems, including PV materials that are made using semi-conventional printing processes, carbon nanotubes, modular rooftop concentrators, PV fabrics, and hybrid PV/space heating systems

Energy efficiency starts with a goal of change for the better! It is quickly followed by behavior changes in everyday operations. And then those good habits are enhanced with high efficiency equipment and materials that can reduce usage without letting potential savings leak out of inefficiencies in installation, coordination and maintenance.

Energy efficiencies are important in many ways. They reduce costs. They improve working environments and that is very important to informed people at all levels of the workforce -- and affects retention. Energy efficiency also reduces emissions at your own site, and at the energy generation plant upstream. And with emissions reduction, we have cleaner air, cleaner water, and less climate volatility brought about by the burning of fossil fuels that heat up the atmosphere.

We can directly impact our jobs, out families' health and well being and our competitiveness in the global market by reducing costs that make our products cost effective.

National Energy Efficiency Best Practices Study
Itron Inc
July, 2008

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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