The Dominion Energy proceeding on Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification (EM&V) before the SCC will be held next week. The VAEEC is formally participating in this hearing in support of EM&V measures that will help ensure the energy efficiency goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) are met. EM&V is a critical first step in quantifying the value of energy efficiency programs, which allows demand-side management resources, like energy efficiency, to compete with supply-side resources, such as a natural gas plant, in meeting future energy needs in a cleaner, healthier way.
The inherent challenge of evaluating energy efficiency programs is that there is no simple “meter” to record kilowatt-hours saved. As a result, a baseline needs to be established to identify what would happen in that program’s absence. However, there must be a balance between the cost of evaluation and the benefits of obtaining more precise data, as the pursuit of precision can siphon funds from the actual implementation of that energy efficiency program without adding significant benefit. To accomplish that balance, most utilities use deemed savings, or reasonable and unbiased estimates of energy and cost savings based on standard industry methods.
During their pre-filed testimony, the SCC staff questioned the use of deemed savings and non-Virginia data and recommended establishing customized baselines for each individual program currently underway, despite this being against industry best practices. The VAEEC has serious concerns about this recommendation. Every dollar spent on EM&V is a dollar that cannot be spent on providing actual program services to customers. A requirement to use only Virginia-specific data or a rejection of deemed savings estimates can drive up EM&V costs without always providing improvement in EM&V data.
We have several recommendations that would ensure the best use of program dollars without unnecessary spending on duplicate data gathering.
Join the Mid-Atlantic Technical Resource Manual (TRM): A TRM provides the value of previous evaluation efforts while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to local- or utility-specific conditions such as lifespan estimates for specific measures, operating hours, baseline conditions, and local climatic conditions. When performing EM&V on their programs, Dominion already defers first to the Mid-Atlantic TRM, then factors in Virginia-specific data when appropriate. Formally joining the Mid-Atlantic TRM would provide uniformity in evaluation across all Virginia utilities and would further increase transparency into the process itself.
Allow Flexible, Portfolio-Level EM&V Spending: The Commission should set spending caps at the portfolio level to allow for greater flexibility and additional energy-saving benefits. After reviewing EM&V data, a utility should be able to shift funds between programs (e.g., 10 percent to 15 percent) without having to seek additional approval. Removing these caps would permit greater flexibility, which can ultimately boost the energy savings generated from the portfolio without imposing additional costs on customers.
Stakeholder Input: Allow the stakeholder group to assist in developing consensus for EM&V methods. With the newly established EM&V subgroup, an opportunity is provided to present and discuss options for EM&V methods and protocols outside of a Commission proceeding. By using the Mid-Atlantic TRM for this purpose, the stakeholder group would avoid the unnecessarily burdensome process of developing and approving the specifics of every measure-specific or program-specific baseline. The recommendations generated by the EM&V subgroup would still be subject to Commission approval, but the products of the stakeholder group would be created through a transparent, collaborative, and consensus-driven process.
Dashboard: We support the requirement of both a quarterly “dashboard” and “annual summary”. A dashboard should provide a program-by-program snapshot of key activities, such as participation numbers and program spending, in order to track how the company’s energy efficiency portfolio is progressing throughout the year. The annual summary would contain audited and finalized savings for the company’s DSM programs to ensure compliance with the GTSA and the VCEA.
If you want to dive into this a little more, you can read our expert witness’ pre-filed testimony here.
Virginia’s energy efficiency industry virtually gathered together to learn and connect at the VAEEC’s Spring 2021 Forum. Over 100 energy efficiency professionals participated in the event, which included three educational sessions, dedicated networking sessions, and our annual member meeting with Board elections. Attendees were treated to timely topics, including energy management systems, Virginia’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auctions and Housing Innovations in Energy Efficiency program, and how the industry is still coping with the impacts of a global pandemic. We want to extend a huge thank you to our sponsors and speakers for their support, and to everyone who attended.
The event kicked off with our annual member meeting. This is a dedicated time where not only do we get to share VAEEC’s updates and accomplishments, but it’s a time for members to share their successes. Many of the organizational highlights can be found in our 2020 annual report, and our2020 accomplishments blog post and video. Additionally, Board Chair John Morrill (Fairfax County) led our 2021 Board of Directors election. VAEEC members re-elected Michael Hubbard (Dominion Energy), David Koogler (Rappahannock Electric Cooperative), and John Morrill (Fairfax County). We also welcomed Tim Bernadowski (Siemens Industry) who took over Rick Counihan’s (Nest) seat, Carla Dix (Columbia Gas) who took over Susan Larsen’s (Columbia Gas) seat, and Carrie Webster (Henrico County) who took over Tom Nicholas’s (City of Virginia Beach) seat. We are excited to add these new voices to our leadership.
VAEEC’s biannual forums are known for their ability to bring together Virginia’s energy efficiency leaders to make valuable connections. Even with this year’s Spring Forum being virtual, we wanted to continue to provide this opportunity. Our virtual networking session allowed participants to join breakout rooms based on different topics: Building Codes & Performance, Innovation & Technology, Legislation & Policy, and Local Government Collaboration. Lively conversations arose and beneficial connections were made. Thank you Virginia Energy Sense for sponsoring this popular session.
Next, participants were able to attend one of three concurrent sessions: Using Energy Management Systems for Whole Building Efficiency, Making a Difference in Low-Income Housing: How the RGGI Auctions Affect EE Work, and Pandemic Problem Solving: Facing Energy Challenges Across Sectors. Click on a session title below to view the corresponding presentation. All attendees will receive an audio recording of each session.
Using Energy Management Systems for Whole Building Efficiency, moderated by Dawn Oleksy (City of Richmond), discussed the biggest challenges and opportunities with the installation, operation, and maintenance of energy management systems and the strategies for overcoming those obstacles. Panelists shared new trends and the future of energy management systems, including grid-interactive buildings. Speakers included Tim Bernadowski (Siemens Industry, VAEEC Board member), Lee Dunfee (Cushman & Wakefield), and Christopher Perry (ACEEE). This session was sponsored by the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development.
Be careful of misinterpreting ASHRAE guidelines to mean you should simply bring a lot of outdoor air into your building, Tim Bernadowski of Siemens Industry says on our Whole Building Efficiency panel. More accurate: “Make sure you’ve got the correct outdoor air for your design.”
The Virginia RGGI auctions provide enormous potential to improve the Commonwealth’s low-income housing stock. During the session, Making a Difference in Low-Income Housing: How the RGGI Auctions Affect EE Work, panelists provided insights on program management, development, and the weatherization assistance and Affordable & Special Needs Housing programs. Speakers included Dan Farrell (Virginia Dept. of Housing & Community Development), Sunshine Mathon (Piedmont Housing Alliance), and Kerri Walker (Project:HOMES) and Lesley Fore (Community Housing Partners) moderated. The session was sponsored by the Piedmont Housing Alliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-reaching effects on all sectors of the energy efficiency industry. During Pandemic Problem Solving: Facing Energy Challenges Across Sectors,panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities faced over the past year, and what they anticipate going forward. Speakers included Benjamin Knopp (Think Little), Cathy Lin (Arlington Public Schools), and Aaron Schneider (Metrus Energy), and Legih Anne Ratliff (CPower Energy Management) was the moderator. This session was sponsored by VEIC.
“There’s more money than ever for green projects,” says Aaron Schneider of Metrus Energy — from the government, asset managers and capital markets. It’s a “massive shift.”
As with all of our work, this event would not have been possible without the continued support of our members and sponsors. Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Spring Forum for helping us push energy efficiency toward an even brighter future.
We strive to make each event better than the last. To achieve this goal, we rely on feedback from our event attendees. Please take a moment to share your thoughts and suggestions with us in this brief survey.
Save the date. Our Fall 2021 Forum will be held in Richmond on November 16th. The event will feature the Virginia Energy Efficiency Leadership Awards Ceremony and an industry Trade Show. We hope to see you there!
This week marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. But for many VAEEC members, every day is Earth Day! Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reduce fossil fuel dependence and preserve natural resources. In honor of the holiday, we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to save energy and help the planet.
Schedule a Home Energy Audit
Home Energy Audits are a great first step to improving your home’s energy efficiency. Whether you go through your local utility or work with a provider like Viridiant, the energy audit will help determine what upgrades your home needs to save energy and money.
Switch Out Your Lighting and Appliances
Incandescent light bulbs and older appliances can waste a lot of energy around your home. Change your bulbs to energy efficient LEDs and recycle that old refrigerator to make a significant dent in your energy use. The Dominion Energy Marketplace and Rebate Programs and Appalachian Power Energy Savings sites have discounts and rebates available for lighting and appliance upgrades.You can also contact your locality to see if there are savings programs available in your area. The Virginia Energy Sense Residential Incentive Directory compiles many of the current energy efficiency programs from around the state to make it easy to identify energy efficiency opportunities. .
Get Smart at Home
Smart appliances come in all shapes and sizes, and some are great for effortlessly reducing your energy use. Smart bulbs make it easy to turn off all the lights at once, and a smart thermostat can use machine learning to adjust the temperature based on occupancy and peak demand.
Seal That Leak
Windows and doors can lead to a lot of energy waste, especially in older homes. While the best long term solution would be to replace drafty, leaky windows with a more efficient variety, that’s not always an option for homeowners. Caulking around windows or adding weather stripping can reduce the energy waste without breaking the bank.
Let the Sunshine In
Blinds and blackout curtains are great tools to optimize the heat and natural light from the sun. Keep the curtains open during very sunny days to take advantage of the warmth and light, then close them in the evening to keep that heat inside. Curtains also can help block outside air from drafty windows, helping maintain a comfortable temperature in the room.
Kill Off Energy Vampires
Appliances still draw power when not in use, so all those laptop chargers and kitchen gadgets can add up to a lot of energy wasted. Unplug your small appliances when finished using them, or invest in a smart power strip that will cut power when not in use. Power strips also help ensure that your electronics don’t get fried in a storm or power surge, so it’s a good idea to have anyway.
Women have been at the forefront of energy innovation for over a century. From Katharine Burr Blodgett, who invented the monomolecular glass coatings that make solar panels and LED bulbs possible, to Beatrice Hicks, who developed environmental sensors for heating and cooling systems, the contributions of women in energy efficiency are everywhere.
Here at the VAEEC, the work women do to advance energy efficiency is obvious – we’re an all women team, with five additional women serving on our Board of Directors. In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked several of them – Board Secretary Liz Beardsley, and Board member Leigh Anne Ratliff, and Executive Director Chelsea Harnish, – about their roles in the energy efficiency industry and their views on the industry itself.
How did you get into the energy efficiency industry?
Liz: I was drawn towards environmental issues from my childhood love of nature… and towards engineering from my interest in math and science. So environmental engineering was a natural fit in college. Through my career this eventually led to environmental policy, including using policy to reduce energy consumption and its impacts through efficiency.
Leigh Anne: I got into the energy efficiency industry from working with the PJM energy efficiency rebates. This program afforded me the opportunity to work with owners, contractors, engineers and architects on the many energy efficiency initiatives around the Commonwealth – from LED upgrades to specialized industrial equipment upgrades. I’m lucky – I get a bird’s eye view of this exciting industry.
Chelsea: As a policy manager for an environmental advocacy group, I had a basic understanding of energy efficiency and its benefits for creating a cleaner, healthier world. When the opportunity to lead the VAEEC became available, I jumped at the chance to really dive deeper into understanding this industry and its challenges and opportunities.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for women in the energy efficiency field?
Liz: There can still be some unfortunate and inaccurate stereotypes about women in technical fields so perhaps a challenge in some circumstances is being underestimated. By and large however I see many opportunities for women in energy efficiency and each individual, woman or man, will do well to understand and leverage their own strengths.
Leigh Anne: I think the biggest challenge for women in the energy efficiency field is that a good part of it lies within the realm of STEM and women are still only 28% of the STEM workforce. When I went to engineering school it was a rarity for women to be in the classroom – but that was in the 1980’s. I can’t believe that there is still such a disparity. That being said, the smaller numbers of women in this field is an opportunity as well – employers see the value of diversity and women are succeeding in leadership roles in the energy industry. It’s a fun time to watch LinkedIn and see which women in energy are getting promoted to the highest levels in their company.
Chelsea: I think the opportunities for women in this field are endless. Our industry is so unique in that there are a wide range of positions from inventing new technologies or writing code to spending your days in a crawlspace, and everything in between. This industry provides the opportunity to do what you love while helping make someone’s home or workspace more comfortable.
What advice would you offer women entering the industry?
Liz: Work hard, be aware of opportunities, find your voice and use it.
Leigh Anne: Listen a lot and build your skillset. Develop mentors. You’re not expected to know everything so be patient with yourself. Take notes and follow up if you hear something that interests you or you don’t understand. Be curious and brave!
Chelsea: My general advice for young women entering the workforce is to not be afraid to use your voice. You were chosen for your position as the best candidate so don’t feel that you cannot bring new ideas to the table.
What is your number one energy efficiency tip?
Liz: Turning off the lights. My dad drilled this into me as a child in the 70s and I think it creates an awareness and mindset that carries into many other things with a cumulative beneficial impact.
Leigh Anne: If you haven’t installed LEDs yet, run to a store and get them right now.
Chelsea: We love our smart thermostat!
What is one thing about the energy efficiency industry that you would like to see change?
Liz: Breaking down silos! There is a lot of fragmentation. [But] when we work together, we have a stronger message and can achieve more. This is one of the great benefits of VAEEC!
Leigh Anne: I’d like energy efficiency to get more credit for the game changer that it is.
Chelsea: We need more workforce development training to provide more demand for the job creation we are seeing and hope to see further in the future.
The Department of Housing and Community Development Board has finalized the latest update to the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). This update puts us nearly inline with the 2018 model international energy conservation code (IECC). (The international model code comes out every three years with the 2021 update recently being finalized. More details on that below).
The latest update to the Virginia USBC includes some major energy improvements such as:
Increased fenestration, which has been included in the model code since 2012
Blower door testing requirements, which has been included in the model code since 2012
Increased minimum ceiling insulation from R-38 to R-49, which has been included in the model code since 2012
ResCheck compliance updated to 2018 IECC, without Virginia amendments. Previously, a work around had been created for VA amendments that weakened the current IECC.
Energy certificate requirements, which has been included in the model code since 2006
These improvements, in addition to the expanded energy requirements we worked to incorporate into the last USBC update, bring Virginia nearly inline with the 2018 IECC. Along the east coast, only a handful of states have fully adopted the 2018 IECC, and only one southeastern state- Florida- has done so.
The remaining proposals from the 2018 IECC that are not included in the Virginia USBC are:
Increased wall insulation R-value
Changing building tightness from 5 ACH to 3 ACH
There is a 30-day comment period open on the Final USBC in the Virginia Register through March 31, 2021. DHCD anticipates an effective date of July 1st, and will begin the 2021 update once the 2018 update takes effect.
General Assembly Bill Update
The General Assembly also passed a bill in 2021 mandating a review of the most-updated IECC. While the original version of this bill mandated an automatic update to the latest IECC within one year, the final bill does not provide a timeline, nor does it expressly state that an automatic update is to occur. Instead, it requires the state to consider amendments that address the changes made in the model code. Since this is quite vague, it’s unclear how this will affect future update processes.
2020 has been a unique year for sure. However, looking back, VAEEC and Virginia’s energy efficiency industry saw several monumental wins this year. In fact, Virginia had its best year on the ACEEE’s annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. For the first time ever, we broke into the Top 25 and Virginia was ranked #1 in the Southeast. This is a reflection of the hard work and efforts of the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency industry throughout 2020. We look forward to continuing to advance energy efficiency even further in the new year.
For our part, the VAEEC worked tirelessly with fellow stakeholders to pass several key pieces of historic energy efficiency legislation, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). This landmark law will pave the way for a carbon-free Virginia by 2045, ensuring investments in energy efficiency, solar, wind, and more. The VCEA mandates 5% energy savings from the investor-owned utilities by 2025, marking Virginia as just the second state in the Southeast to establish a mandatory stand-alone Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). Additional laws established mandatory benchmarking for state buildings, enabled an on-bill tariff program for electric co-ops, and added an energy audit to the residential disclosure during homebuying. We also saw the passage of a law permitting the state energy office to develop a statewide Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, or C-PACE, program.
The VAEEC also advanced energy efficiency in the Commonwealth beyond legislation. We identified the need to change Dominion Energy’s definition of low-income eligibility requirements and worked with our members to make it happen. The new definition will allow weatherization providers to serve even more households across Virginia. Three localities passed C-PACE ordinances and one launched a program. Blower door testing and increased ceiling insulation requirements were included in the recently adopted final draft of the Uniform Statewide Building Code.
At the end of each year, the VAEEC completes a program evaluation, which goes hand-in-hand with our Strategic Plan to answer:
What impacts is the organization trying to achieve?
What strategies will help us achieve our goals?
How will we know if our work is successful?
As you might remember, VAEEC staff and Board members met last summer to develop our 2020-2022 Strategic Plan. Taking feedback from our members, we created focus areas for our next three years of work:
Advancement of New Energy-Efficiency Technologies
Utility Programs and VCEA Implementation
Our evaluation focuses on each of these areas, prompts us to think about the goals, strategies, and metrics for each, and assesses whether or not we are on track to achieve our goals. To provide our membership with a snapshot of these goals and whether or not we are on track to achieve them, we are sharing our program evaluation infographics. Take a look below to get a glimpse of all of the EE advancements we were able to achieve in this unprecedented year.
To learn more about the VAEEC’s 2020 achievements, watch our short video below.
Our work would not be successful without the support of our members. Thank you for your dedication to the organization and to Virginia’s energy efficiency industry. We look forward to working with you in the new year to make 2021 our strongest year for EE yet.
Ranks No. 1 in South, Breaks into Top 25 in New Ranking
The Virginia Energy Efficiency Council heralds a new research report, released today, that names Virginia as the regional leader of the South for its energy efficiency practices.
Virginia had its best year on the annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, a nationwide analysis of states based on “their policy and program efforts to save energy and pursue efficiency as a cost-effective, critical tool for slashing emissions and meeting state clean energy goals.”
“We’re thrilled to see Virginia named as a state to watch and break into the Top 25,” said Chelsea Harnish, executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC). “This is a reflection of the hard work that went into passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the efforts of the energy efficiency industry in the Commonwealth.”
The annual scorecard is published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and can be found at aceee.org. Among the report’s findings:
“Virginia was among the top energy stories of 2020, creating its first-ever clean energy standard and becoming the first state in the Southeast with a 100% clean electricity goal. The Virginia Clean Economy Act also established an energy efficiency resource standard that sets multiyear electric savings targets for utilities and includes important measures to support low-income customers and reduce energy burdens. The governor also signed HB 981, making Virginia the first southern state to join RGGI, with proceeds going toward energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate mitigation measures.”
A global pandemic was no match for Virginia’s energy efficiency industry, who came together virtually to learn and connect at our Fall 2020 Forum and first ever Trade Show. Approximately 100 energy efficiency professionals participated in the event’s four educational sessions, multiple exhibitor and networking breaks, and a networking reception. A huge thank you to our sponsors and exhibitors for making this event possible, and also to everyone who attended.
COVID-19 looms large over the industry, so it was a major topic of discussion in nearly all the sessions of the day. “Air quality will be non-negotiable” [in a post-COVID-19 world],” said Serene Al-Momen, co-founder and CEO of Senseware. The unique intersection of energy efficiency technologies and strategies, building environment health, and maximizing the safety of both implementers and inhabitants has come to the forefront of many conversations nationwide, including VAEEC’s recent series of articles. Speakers throughout the event discussed the varying approaches to improving energy efficiency before, during, and after a crisis.
The event kicked off with welcome remarks from VAEEC’s Chelsea Harnish, who provided an overview of the state of Virginia’s energy efficiency industry. Highlights included:
Updates on implementation progress for 2020 legislation such as the revised low-income eligibility criteria we worked on earlier in the year, upcoming stakeholder processes for RGGI funds and electric cooperatives’ on-bill tariff program, and the impending RFP for a statewide C-PACE administrator.
Upcoming public comment deadlines – November 13th is the deadline for the draft Uniform Statewide Building Code and November 17th for the Dominion Large General Service customer opt-out proceedings before the SCC.
VAEEC’s new video series, Building the Future, which highlights the incredible energy efficiency work accomplished by our members. The projects featured are Henrico County’s Varina library (with a very special guest appearance by Chelsea’s daughter), the Virginia Beach Aquarium, and Monticello.
Attendees then moved into the first of three exhibitor and networking breaks Thanks to a new event platform called Hopin, participants could step into our first ever trade show, where they could move between interactive “booths” from Community Housing Partners, C-Power Energy Management, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Virginia Energy Sense, and Viridiant. They could also choose to connect with each other one on one or in groups through the “speed-networking” and chat functions. Networking has long been one of the most beneficial aspects of our events, so we didn’t let the virtual nature hold us back.
View the event program for session summaries, speaker bios, sponsor features, and more.
The next session, Advancing Efficiency with Emerging Technologies, has become a Fall Forum tradition. Sponsored by the Center for Innovative Technology(CIT), the panel was made up of innovative technology startups who shared how their product is pushing the energy efficiency industry forward. Speakers included Serene Almomen (Senseware), Jesse Thornberg (Grid Fruit), and Joe Weaver (Ario) and was moderated by Adam Sledd (Dominion Energy Innovation Center).
After a second exhibitor and networking break, attendees choose between two concurrent sessions, Large Energy Users: Efficiency Opportunities & Challenges and Energy Efficiency Implementation in the Time of COVID-19.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act allows customers using more than 1MW of electricity annually to opt-out of utility energy efficiency programs only if they are delivering energy savings via their own programs. Large Energy Users: Efficiency Opportunities & Challenges, sponsored by Schneider Electric, encouraged participants to join the discussion for a chance to help influence the VAEEC’s future work in promoting programs to meet the needs of this diverse customer class. The session started with a brief presentation by Ed Rightor (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) and Chelsea Harnish (VAEEC) before pivoting into an interactive session with participation from attendees. Thank you to everyone who joined and shared their expertise and ideas.
Energy Efficiency Implementation in the Time of COVID-19 ran concurrently with the above session. During this session, speakers shared their personal experiences with how COVID-19 has changed energy efficiency implementation and procedures for their respective businesses. The session ended on a positive note, reflecting on how much has still been able to be accomplished despite the pandemic. “COVID-19 is another constraint — not a progress killer,” said Samuel Ringelberg, Project Development Manager at Schneider Electric, during his presentation. The speakers also included Michael Hubbard (Dominion Energy) and Kerri Walker (project:HOMES), and Willie Fobbs (VA Dept. of Housing & Community Development) moderated the session.
The final breakout session of the day addressed how VAEEC members are using energy efficiency to combat the spread of COVID-19. During Exploring the Intersection of Health & Energy Efficiency, sponsored by VEIC, speakers focused on the technologies, programs, and innovations that are helping to keep our buildings safe through improved air quality. Speakers included Jody Lesko (Vermont), Michele Mitch-Peterson (Siemens), and John Morrill (Arlington County), and Bill Eger (City of Alexandria) moderated. “The measures to improve energy efficiency and to improve ventilation and air quality are the same,” said Lesko.
The VAEEC Fall 2020 Forum & Trade Show would not be possible without the continuing support of our exceptional members and sponsors. To everyone who joined us, thank you for helping us push energy efficiency forward to ensure a smooth transition to an affordable and equitable 100% clean energy future in the Commonwealth.
When facilities managers shut off the lights this spring, they had no idea that months later, the nation would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that this virus has irreversibly changed the world around us, and continues to do so with every new development. This three-part series will focus on the ways VAEEC members are meeting these challenges head on to keep their customers and their communities safe. You can view part one, ‘Technologies To Keep Us Safe’, here.
There’s something spooky about an empty elementary school. The tiny, untouched chairs in dim, vacant classrooms. The silent playgrounds and echoing hallways. It all evokes the tumbleweed images of an old Western ghost town. While the realities of COVID-19 have made this scene common nationwide, research shows that the virus spreads more easily indoors, and that viral load and exposure time increase the likelihood of infection. This has put a new emphasis on ventilation and indoor air quality across sectors, including school systems.
For some VAEEC members, this makes it the perfect time to get to work. “Clients are making necessary HVAC improvements or replacements to make buildings healthier and safer for the building users,” said Susan Kalergis, Marketing Communications Manager at 2RW Consultants, Inc.
Making the Case
Energy Performance Contracting (EPC) has been an effective way for businesses and localities to make cost-saving energy efficiency upgrades without large up-front expenditures since the late 1980s. It is a budget-neutral approach to implement energy-saving improvements without using funds from capital budgets. These projects offer comprehensive energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and/or operational solutions that are tailored to the needs of the specific facility, with a guarantee that the energy savings will cover the lifetime costs of these upgrades. Here in Virginia, public bodies and state agencies can take advantage of the statewide Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) program to streamline their procurement processes.
“As a vendor, we have seen two different approaches as customers attempt to deal with the pandemic. Some have totally shut down all projects and procurement. Alternatively, others have done the opposite and pursued performance contracting as a way to attack COVID-19 and other issues head on. With spaces vacant and interest rates at historic lows, several customers have moved forward with [EPC] projects,” said VAEEC Board member George Barnes, Account Manager for Complex Solutions for Trane.
While EPCs have been used for decades, the combination of low building occupancy, low interest rates, and an increased need for efficient and effective air filtration systems have made them a more attractive option to many businesses, commercial building owners, and institutions. Trane, 2RW, and other Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) are working to balance the needs of their customers with the safety of their staff as projects continue.
“With the restrictions created by COVID-19, we need to closely manage the logistics of integrating our process with [the project],” said Barnes.
Kalergis shared a similar sentiment. “[In response to the pandemic], a fundamental guiding premise was to rely on data to make thoughtful decisions, which could have long lasting implications.”
“As school districts across the country work to respond to the coronavirus, utility and energy efficiency program administrators have an important role to play in delivering solutions,” a representative from VEIC said in a recent statement. VEIC is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the economic and environmental costs of energy use. As program administrators of the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), VEIC launched a variety of programs to support safe reopening strategies for schools, small businesses, and more.
School systems across the country report that energy costs are second only to personnel in their annual budgets. With many schools either shut down or reopening with significantly reduced activities, the DCSEU developed a School Shutdown Toolkit that identified low-and-no cost ways that school systems can save energy, as well as recommending priorities for often-deferred maintenance.
VEIC also launched an indoor air quality improvement program for Vermont’s K-12 schools. With a high degree of variability across schools, the program takes a customized approach to assess and improve each unique HVAC system, prioritizing efficiency wherever possible. Typically, increases in ventilation and filtration result in an increase in energy use, but by leveraging equipment controls and efficient equipment, these programs help schools keep energy increases manageable.
“For sustainability advocates, the push for improved indoor air quality is not new; and it has always been an important part of [our] designs and equipment specifications,” said Kalergis. “While not every technique and technology may be advantageous for every building, we advise building owners and facilities operators that techniques for [their] specific building types—such as education or healthcare—are proven to be effective and worth considering.”
When business owners shut off the lights this spring, they had no idea that months later, the nation would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that this virus has irreversibly changed the world around us, and continues to do so with every new development. This three part series will focus on the ways VAEEC members are meeting these challenges head on to keep their customers and their communities safe.
So what does energy efficiency have to do with COVID-19? A surprising amount. Research shows that the buildings where people work, live, and play can dramatically affect their health. A 2019 study from VAEEC member, VEIC, stated that Americans spent nearly 70% of their time in their homes – and that was well before stay-at-home orders and social distancing went into effect. Poor insulation, leaky windows, aging appliances, and improper ventilation all contribute to many of the leading causes of death in the U.S.: asthma, heart disease, chronic respiratory illness, and stroke (ACEEE 2019). While energy efficiency measures have been helping to address many of these problems for years, the new, acute threat of COVID-19 has forced the industry to rapidly adapt to changing – and sometimes contradictory – needs.
While many things about COVID-19 remain unknown, data shows that one thing is clear – the virus spreads faster indoors, and as viral load and exposure time increase, so does the likelihood of infection. ACEEE recently stated that, of 1,500 known superspreader events, only three took place entirely outdoors. This reality has brought ventilation and indoor air quality into laser focus for many businesses and commercial and multi-family building owners as they scramble to meet the changing needs of their staff, customers, and residents.
“If we can take one good thing out of [the pandemic], it’s bringing a focus to the building environment and how healthy that building environment can be for occupants,” said Chris Rawlings, Chief Energy Officer of VeteranLED. In light of the pandemic, experts recommend increasing the number of air changes per hour in a building and running HVAC systems continuously to flush out potentially infectious air. Although outdoor air dilutes contaminants, increasing ventilation rates reduces the energy efficiency of the space, leading to a tricky balance between safety and rising energy costs. To solve this problem, many are looking toward technology.
VAEEC Board member George Barnes, Account Manager for Complex Solutions for Trane said, “the challenge is to complete [measures] in an energy efficient manner. If done correctly, spaces will be safer, occupants will be healthier, and any cost increases will be mitigated.”
Customers aren’t the only ones looking for ways to help keep their businesses afloat. The energy efficiency industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, causing many businesses to adapt to a new set of needs. For Rawlings, this meant a hard pivot into previously unknown territory – installing UVGI systems.
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) has been used for decades to help stop the spread of infectious diseases. It uses shortwave ultraviolet radiation, or UV-C, to damage the microbe’s DNA, which in the case of coronaviruses, causes the outer protein coating to break down and render the virus inactive. Because UV-C radiation is only effective when in direct contact with a pathogen, it has to be correctly implemented to combat COVID-19 and other diseases. There are two common strategies for using UVGI systems: integrating the fixtures into the HVAC system, and using “upper room” systems.
In-Line Duct systems use UVGI lighting inside the ducts of a building, passing air through the radiation and rendering microbes incapable of replicating. These solutions also incorporate HEPA or other high-efficiency filtration systems to remove the contaminants from the air.
Meanwhile, “upper room” systems irradiate the air near the ceiling of a room, above the heads of any inhabitants, and use fans and circulators to move the air in the lower part of the room into the irradiation zone. While UV-C is less harmful to humans than other types of UV radiation, UVGI still must be carefully and correctly implemented to reduce exposure.
VeteranLED has been installing and designing energy efficient building systems since 2014, but incorporating UVGI technology was a completely new challenge. By “really diving into the research” and applying his experience, Rawlings developed an integrated air purification system that uses UVGI lighting in an in-line duct system and hospital grade UV-C fixtures that can sterilize surfaces when the space is not occupied.
“We’ve been able to tap into resources and networks where [health] has been a priority since the get-go, like hospitals and laboratories,” said Rawlings. VeteranLED was hired to install their air purification systems in 20 Silver Diner restaurants across the Midatlantic region.
For other organizations, COVID-19 has meant doubling down on the technologies they already offer. Siemens has been a long time leading provider of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The question, for them, was how to adapt their existing portfolio to meet the changing needs of Siemens’ customers?
“As a company that diligently practices a ‘Zero Harm’ culture, we had to learn how to protect our employees and our customers while ensuring our communities most important infrastructure assets were operating and available to serve their mission,” said Michele Mitch-Peterson, Ingenuity Consultant for Siemens Smart Infrastructure team. Siemens provides an array of high-performance building systems, including occupancy and temperature sensors, energy performance management systems, and non-ozone producing ionization technology.
Building automation systems, or BAS, is an automated, central control system that manages the HVAC, lighting, security, and other interrelated systems in a building. Automation systems use a variety of tools such as sensors and controls to improve comfort and reduce energy use and maintenance costs. These technologies have been advancing in both complexity and popularity since the early 2000’s, and have been adopted in most new commercial, industrial, and institutional construction. Siemens has been on the forefront of much of this innovation.
“In the midst of all the uncertainty COVID-19 caused, we really sought to find projects and innovations to minimize the impact on our customers and give them certainty around energy savings, especially with buildings not being occupied,” said Peterson. Siemens was able to work with customers to implement specific energy reduction plans based on current usage. Using a variety of their proprietary solutions, they were able to automatically adjust systems due to reduced demand, continuously monitor buildings via Fault Detection and Diagnostics, and analyze sub-meter data to determine the effects of actions taken and identify areas where further energy savings could be achieved.
“It has been an extremely challenging period, but also extremely rewarding as we have found new ways to serve our customers.”