Wednesday, June 20, 2012

iCast Providing Much Needed Help to the Multifamily Industry

iCast has begun providing a win-win for apartments.   Most multifamily buildings are good candidates for money-saving energy efficiency measures.   Unfortunately, building owners often don't have a good way to find out the most cost effective upgrades, nor the money to implement them.

Here's a press release about the iCast program:

"iCAST, a Colorado based not-for-profit was recently awarded a 30 month cooperative agreement with HUD to establish an innovative program that provides new ways of making cost-effective investments in Energy Efficiency (EE) for the low-income multifamily housing community. iCAST is tasked with providing a simple, yet comprehensive program that achieves cost savings for owner/managers while creating a more comfortable and healthier environment for residents via an integrated suite of improvements, including energy conservation measures, behavior change measures, demand side management measures that reduce peak/demand charges, water conservation, indoor air quality, etc. The HUD award also offers a unique combination of incentives, rebates, and financing programs to owners and managers. iCAST designs solutions so that your investment pays for itself. You start saving money from Day 1! iCAST projects have reduced the energy bills of over 1,000 multifamily units by an average of 30%, while helping owner/managers hedge against rising energy costs, improve the value of their properties, and enhance the quality of life for residents."

Please note "behavior change measures".   That is an interesting topic unto itself.   Here's an example:
When you have "free heat" in your apartment, you might abuse it without even knowing it.   You might keep your thermostat at 74F all the time, and open a bedroom window for "fresh air".  Behavior like this can easily double the amount of heat that you use, causing your "affordable apartment" to be less affordable for the building owner.
"Behavior change", in this case, is training the residents to keep the windows closed in the winter to save energy.

Another example might be to train tenants to program and use a setback thermostat.  Many  tenants (usually the younger ones) are highly concerned about the environment will use them if given the chance.

Multifamily Energy Savings: The Conflict of Interest

There are thousands of multifamily buildings in the Denver area that need some energy efficiency improvements.   The most cost effective of these improvements are usually simple control upgrades.

One example of the "lowest hanging fruit of energy efficiency":

Steam boiler systems cannot be zoned with individual 24V thermostats in each apartment.   Therefore, one thermostat controls the whole building, and the location of that thermostat is critical.  In a 20 unit building on 19th Avenue, I found it in the main hallway.   Unfortunately, the main doors were always cracked open a little, and so the hallway was always cold.   Over the years the heat emitters (radiators) had been removed from the hallways.

Therefore, that thermostat location caused the boiler to be on all the time, and all the tenants were roasting and opening their windows all winter to shed enough heat to be comfortable.   This is known as the "double hung thermostat method".

So, for $600, I purchased a steam-compatible thermostat and installed it in a more appropriate location.  The savings are more than $3000/year and will increase as the cost of gas increases.

The average energy auditor doesn't know this stuff.

It can only be learned through field experience as a heating technician, but books from can get you half the way there.   They can be read and understood by almost anyone.

A typical building owner might have a building that seems to have a higher utility bill than his other similar buildings, but since he doesn't know heating controls, he is forced to call a contractor.  Here's the inherent conflict of interest.  Even if the owner tells the contractor "please try to reduce the gas usage of this boiler" the contractor is loath to do anything that might cause a comfort problem and a callback.   The contractor  isn't responsible for the heat bill, but if he touches or upgrades the control system, he is suddenly responsible for having enough heat for every apartment.  So that contractor is more likely to make every apartment 74F instead of the 68F that the owner would prefer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Quick Look at the Near Future of Renewable Energy

 Solar Thermal may be dead: http: //

But PV will reach grid parity soon:

Even though right now it's in the midst of a "correction":

Cheap gas is delaying renewable uptake, but using gas for making electricity inherently has a VERY low overall system efficiency, and seems a waste of a non-renewable energy source.

Conclusion: Inevitable but rocky growth for PV, with a Darwinian edge.

By the way, Jay Burch et. al. at NREL are trying to save solar thermal by finding a technology that provides a "disruptive cost reduction". Here's an abstract of a forthcoming report:

"Executive Summary

The objectives of this report are to:

(1) Identify the target market for solar hot water heaters that will provide the largest U.S. energy savings potential relative to other advanced hot water heating technologies, and, (2) Identify potential technology pathways and cost/performance targets that must be met to enable solar hot water heating systems to achieve large energy savings.  The market environment for solar water heating technology has changed substantially with the successful introduction of heat pump water heaters (HPWHs). The addition of this energy-efficient technology to the market increases direct competition with solar water heaters (SWHs) for available energy savings. It is therefore essential to understand which segment of the market is best suited for HPWHs and focus the development of innovative, low-cost SWHs in the market segment where the largest opportunities exist."