Business and education opportunities
By: Leia Sims, CEM, BPI Certified
An energy audit is the first step to determine efficiency upgrades that make sense for your building. It is a comprehensive method for benchmarking current energy consumption. The best, most cost-effective ways to reduce that usage are then recommended.
A whole-building approach is used by Certified Energy Auditors. This means we examine and test all systems in the building, as they interact with each other. An energy audit is a fundamental tool in any energy-efficiency plan.
All buildings can benefit from a whole-building energy audit including single-and multi-family homes, large or small commercial buildings, non-profit, municipal, churches, schools etc.
Energy audits lead to many solutions for building problems. In addition to the energy savings and reduction in utility bills, energy audits will locate problems that are causing buildings to be uncomfortable, such as drafts and rooms unable to maintain temperature (hot/cold rooms).
Improved Health of Occupants
Audits often lead to improved health and safety by locating carbon monoxide and gas leaks.
Recommendations implemented from the energy audit will often improve indoor air quality by reducing airborne dust and dander that irritate allergies.
The audit will usually find solutions to moisture/mold problems. Single-family homes are greatly impacted by external factors – weather, humidity, etc. Therefore the building shell is extremely important to seal.
Higher Home Value
An audit also has great potential to increase the value of your home – energy efficiency upgrades offer a highly marketable advantage over a comparable building.
Upgrades based on an energy audit often result in:
• Reduced energy use by 10 to 70%
• Reduced maintenance & capital costs
• Reduced environmental impact
• Increased occupant comfort & health
• Increased employee productivity = increased profitability.
Energyaudits provide a tool to work with when upgrading a building. The upgrades chosen from energy audits will likely pay for themselves many times over. Oftentimes we find upgrades that will pay for themselves in the first year or sooner.
What An Energy Audit Includes
A home audit performed by a certified auditor includes the following services:
1) Interview with homeowner – As the building occupants you are most familiar with what you are experiencing and can point your auditor to specific problem areas.
2) Combustion Safety Tests – These are imperative to maintain safe living conditions:
Gas Leak test
(steady state efficiency, draft)
Spillage (backdraft) test
Carbon Monoxide test
3) Visual inspection – A certified energy auditor’s trained eye is a necessary tool for identifying deficiencies.
4) Blower door (air leakage) test – Professional energy auditors use this to help determine a home’s airtightness. These are some reasons for establishing proper building tightness:
• Reducing energy consumption due to air leakage
• Avoiding moisture condensation issues
• Eliminating uncomfortable drafts caused by cold air leaking in from the outdoors
• Air quality considerations from contamination by indoor air pollution.
How Blower Doors Work
A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings, exaggerating all of the airleaks.
These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building. Your building's recommended leakage number is determined based on its location and the number of floors and occupants. The tested infiltration and the recommended infiltration are compared and the appropriate airsealing recommendations are determined.
Almost all buildings that are not built to Energy Star standards have at least one and a half times the recommended leakage amount resulting in significant energy loss. Older buildings are often three to four times leakier than recommended.
5) Infrared analysis – An infrared scan done in combination with a blower door can help locate the source of the air leakage and demonstrate how a small leak can affect entire wall systems.
6) Duct blaster – duct leakage test. Duct leakage can result in pressure changes in the building that dramatize existing air leaks in the building.
7) Lighting & appliance inspection
8) Energy analysis with energy modeling software - after the site visit (back at the office)
9) Detailed report with pictures
10) Cost-effective recommendations
$15,000 Of Incentives
Currently funding for upgrades is available through New Jersey Clean Energy Program (NJCEP) and Home Performance with Energy Star. The funding ranges from $1,000 to $15,000 depending on the package. Upon completion of the audit by a BPI certified contractor with NJCEP you will become eligible for the funding to do the installed recommendations, in addition to the monthly energy savings you’ll receive.
The diagnostics help to compile a detailed report and determine a comprehensive package of energy solutions.
The sooner you schedule an energy audit for your building the sooner you will discover the most cost-effective methods for reducing energy consumption and increasing the value of your property.
Leia Sims is a CEM, certified energy auditor with the Building Performance Institute as a Building Analyst, Heating Specialist, Shell Specialist, and Multifamily Building Analyst. Her company, Bright Alternatives, provides energy consulting, auditing and presentations. Contact Leia@brightalt.com or go to www.brightalt.com
This year’s PV America theme was “The promise of solar is no longer just a promise. Light It Up”, held at the Boston Convention Center. I attended the last day of the June 23- June 25 event. Julia Hamm, President & CEO of Solar Electric Power Association along with Rhone Resch, President and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association were there to spur on the industry.
After so many ups, downs, overs and turnarounds, it seemed like that spurring on is what solar professionals came for, at least the few hundred that showed up.
Workshops on battery storage, finance structuring, customer acquisition, risk management, motivating O&M providers, US-china trade conflict, Community Solar and more were available at this lightly attended expo.
At the end of the day, “Beers with Peers” provided an opportunity to get questions answered in more intimate groups around the room with a dozen presenters at half-a-dozen tables. It was a nice touch to get some one-on-one or two or three attention while more info was exchanged.
The presentation on Risks and Contingency Planning, by Peter Wilcox, Director of Risk Control at Travelers Inland Marine, with his10 years in the solar industry, was informative. Wilcox pointed out how unanticipated severe weather such as extra heavy snow could cause some ground mount structures to collapse, and need to be planned for, and insured for. Certain maintenance and technical procedures could help mitigate risk and prevent down-time for a solar project. Wilcox uses an ABC approach: Assessment of risk, Business Input Analysis and Controls: prevention and mitigation, such as having extra solar panels stored for the future when it may be difficult to get the exact replacements. In the end, he says, implement, test and adjust (to get the job on track).
“Portfolio Building Blocks: A Balanced Approach to Northeast Distributed Solar” was presented by Vanessa Stewart, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder, Soltage, LLC, a solar energy developer and integrator. Stewart explained how the cost declines have made solar a much more affordable investment and in the Northeast, there are more smaller opportunities as big land areas are being restricted. “There’s lots of capital moving into solar. Strong credit, strong certainty helps us deliver to the Northeast about 9% IRR.”
The workshop on Changing Solar: National Women in Solar Initiative & WE Build was interesting. Erica Mackie, co-Founder of Grid Alternatives and President of Solar Design Associates, LLC had a lot to say about the value in hiring women for solar. “If we need to scale rapidly, we need more talent. That is going to come from the other half of the aisle,” she said. “There are too low numbers of women in the industry right now, while studies show a company does better when women are in the team,” urged Mackie. And, finding the right solutions to climate change requires dealing with jobs training and education. Grid Alternatives has trained over 16,000 women in 10 years, and they’ve installed a thousand solar systems per year since 2001. They also offer webinars such as women in construction. Go to http://www.gridalternatives.org/learn/programs/women-solar-initiative/we-build-webinar-series Sharing Access to Solar Nationwide, presented by Matt Cheney, Chief Executive Officer, CleanPath Ventures, was heartening to hear. He said there are now 39 states which have passed legislation to allow community shared solar systems, though they are all different.
Customers can buy a panel or two on a farm and get virtual net metering, in some cases. In other cases, the pricing is high for those one or two panels. “It’s important for everyone to have access to solar,” Cheney explained, as everyone in the pool of the economy is paying for the incentives and should be able to reap more of those benefits. “When there’s economic injustice, people get angry if they never benefit from something they contribute to.” California passed a bill last year that allows community shared solar investments. Some of these are known as Independent Power Producers, or IPPs. With solar grid storage coming, the opportunities increase. IREC website has a list of shared renewable opportunities. See http://www.irecusa.org/2014/06/getting-a-fair-share-of-solar/
Structuring Financeable Solar Projects in a Maturing Industry, was presented by Chris Diax of Seminole Financial Services and Craig Robb, Zions Energy Link. “There’s lots of new money coming in to solar. It’s a better credit risk than real estate,” said Diax. “Tax equity is key for it to work, as that equates to about 50% in the cost of the project through tax benefits.” Robb explained that investors are looking for the host, or leasee to have a great credit track record and ability to sign a loan. SRECs can be taken at $150 to reduce risk. Residual value is evaluated. Concepts like 80% loan to value and Yieldcos were discussed.
For some more inspiration and knowledge, the next brand new regional event sponsored by SEIA and SEPA “where the power of solar meets the Mid-Atlantic market” will be Solar Power Mid-Atlantic, September 9th-10th in Atlantic City, NJ.
Solar Power Mid-Atlantic!