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Building Controls: The Next Code Compliance Opportunity

April 24, 2017 - 10:08am

Building system controls that automate the use of HVAC, lighting and ventilation systems in commercial buildings continue to become more sophisticated, and the model energy code is keeping pace with these changes. In fact, since 2004, a third of all changes to the model energy code for commercial buildings are related to building system controls. Given this pace of change, it is reasonable to wonder if building professionals are able to ensure that energy systems are designed, installed and configured properly.

A recent study conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) sought to answer that exact question. The study, Implementation of Energy Code Controls Requirements in New Commercial Buildings, surveyed highly experienced building commissioning agents to first understand what building control requirements have the biggest impact on energy use. They then studied various buildings in the field to determine if these requirements are being designed, installed and configured according to code.

The study analyzed 14 code requirements that address both HVAC and lighting controls in 24 buildings of various uses and sizes in the western U.S. The 14 requirements were broken out into three categories for analysis:

  1. Whether the systems were designed properly
  2. If the installed equipment was capable of meeting energy code requirements
  3. If the controls were configured appropriately

Their findings (displayed below) showed that 46% of the systems were designed to fully meet code requirements, 37% were partially compliant and the design of 17% of the systems did not meet code. However, even though over half the systems were not designed to fully meet code, 85% of the installed building systems were fully capable of meeting the code. When studying how these systems were configured, the researchers saw similar results to the design aspect of the study; 50% of the systems were configured correctly, 36% partially, and 14% did not meet code.

Energy Savings Potential

Installing properly configured building controls can improve the comfort and reduce the amount of maintenance on a new building, but how does it affect energy use? The study found that properly designed, installed and configured systems would save approximately $302,000 annually across the 24 buildings. The bulk of the savings ($288,000) was from HVAC controls. This means that if the code required controls were correctly configured, these buildings could have saved $168/1000ft2 or 12% of their total building energy cost per year!

So why are controls being installed incorrectly?

One obvious reason is that building control requirements are complicated and can be difficult to implement in the field. In addition, this study also surveyed the 10 experienced building commissioning agents on impediments to proper controls implementation. The commissioning agents indicated that insufficient information on construction documents, inadequate training for design engineers, complicated code requirements or frequent code changes, and a lack of well-defined control sequences as the top four reasons for non-compliance. However, when asked about whether code compliance verification is included in the commissioning scope, only 40% responded “yes”.

Regardless of the reason for improper configuration, installing building controls per the model energy code represents a virtually no-cost opportunity to significantly reduce energy use across the country. Indeed, 85% of the installed systems only need to be configured correctly to improve compliance by 35 percentage points – so let’s get it right!

This Home is a Total Zero (Good!)

March 17, 2017 - 9:32am

There are many paths to building a highly energy efficient new home, including Passivehaus, Living Building Challenge and the soon-to-be-released ASHRAE 90.2 standard. Policies designed to save energy are also driving up demand for efficient housing. California, for example, will soon require that all new homes be zero net energy.

Given increasing interest for such innovative homes, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which people across the country are able to just pick their favorite energy efficient home from a subdivision full of zero net energy (ZNE) homes.

Enter Pulte, the third largest home builder in the country, and their prototype zero net energy home. Their ZNE prototype is part of the ZNE Production Builder Demonstration pilot being sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in response to California’s 2020 requirement. The potential sea change is that this is not a “California only” home; forward-looking Pulte is looking to roll out these energy efficient homes across the nation.

Keys to the (Energy Efficient) Castle

The prototype is a pleasant looking two-story home with a two-car garage and large, welcoming front porch and blends in well the other “standard” homes on the block. But there are plenty of differences.

Key to the design is a building envelope with low air leakage and high thermal performance. In addition to creating a quieter, more comfortable home with improved indoor air quality, the high performance envelope reduces the heating and cooling load, allowing for a smaller, more efficient mechanical system – in this case a 19 SEER, multi-speed heat pump. The second key is reducing the overall electric load. The prototype has all LED lights, ENERGY STAR appliances and high efficiency ventilation fans. Once the building loads are as small as possible, the last step to zero net energy is on-site energy production. The prototype home features a next generation 14-panel (about 250 square foot) solar array capable of producing 4.34 kilowatts.

Looking to the Future

The prototype home will be monitored for a full year after it is sold with the energy consumption and overall performance continually assessed. Lessons learned will then be applied to future ZNE homes, and the implications for utility load balancing and fuel mix assessed.

When one of the largest home builders in the county gets behind ZNE homes, it makes you think that the day may not be far off when a ZNE home no longer needs the acronym – it will simply be what a buyer or renter expects from a home. And that will be a healthy change for everyone.

Michigan’s IRP Assessment Kicks Off this Week

March 7, 2017 - 5:30pm
The MPSC’s IRP Authority

One big story coming out of the Michigan energy package enacted this past December is the significant authority given to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on a number of critically important facets of energy policy analysis, administration and implementation.

The MPSC’s new IRP process (PA 341 Section 6t) is one of numerous changes to Michigan’s energy administration and planning framework enacted at the end of 2016. The IRP will serve as the utilities’ short-, medium- and long-range supply-side and demand-side energy capacity planning process. This planning process will work alongside the annual energy waste reduction requirements to bolster the state’s energy savings and economic impacts. The new laws (PA 341 and 342) position Michigan as a regional leader and will move the state forward on clean energy investment, including energy waste reduction in particular.

An Opportunity to Shape the Process

This week, the MPSC will hold a meeting to initiate the newly-enacted integrated resource plan (IRP) assessment process. The meeting on March 10 will initiate discussions amongst the various stakeholders, during which interested parties will form working groups to shape the eventual utility IRP filing process. The MPSC’s IRP assessment is required in order to provide utilities with the necessary assumptions and modeling scenarios they will need to file their IRPs.

MEEA will be in attendance on March 10, and we look forward to participating in the IRP stakeholder process to ensure energy efficiency is valued as a resource on equal footing with other generation.

The initial meeting will be held on Friday March 10, at 9:30am at the Michigan Library and Historical Center, 702 W Kalamazoo St, Lansing, MI 48915, in the Forum Room. For those unable to attend on March 10, the MPSC intends to provide further information at www.michigan.gov/energy and at www.michigan.gov/mpsc, including ways for stakeholders to become involved, in the coming weeks.

For a primer on integrated resource planning, download our IRP fact sheet.

Background on New Energy Laws

On December 21, 2016, Governor Snyder signed into law a comprehensive energy bill package (PA 341/PA 342) that the Michigan legislature passed on December 15, 2016, the very last day of its “lame duck” fall session. At present, the laws bring to a close the debate that began in early 2015 with a proposal for full repeal of the mandated electric and natural gas energy optimization standards.

The new laws will require the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to initiate a process for, and the utilities to file, three-year integrated resource plans, wherein such plans will serve to compliment the 1% (electric) and 0.75% (natural gas) energy efficiency standards. The law also removes a 2% cap on the rates that utilities can charge customers to pay for energy efficiency programs – a move that will ensure the programs are adequately funded to achieve the required annual targets.

Lastly, numerous mechanisms are now in place to spur utility investment, including: cost-recovery, electric decoupling, financial incentives and tiered shared savings incentives.

New Research: Tailoring EE Programs for Multifamily Buildings

March 3, 2017 - 10:52am

Multifamily housing is a substantial portion of the housing stock in Midwestern states, making up 11-22% of the housing market, depending on the state. Energy efficiency for multifamily housing seems like a sure bet. Estimates show possible energy savings in multifamily affordable housing as high as 22-31%. Nevertheless, there are significant barriers in the way of achieving those savings. A combination of program design and policy approaches can overcome these challenges.

Bridging Theory and Practice

Given the number of recent papers about multifamily efficiency, we were interested in whether these approaches for reaching more multifamily buildings with energy efficiency are making their way from theory to practice in the Midwest. MEEA’s latest report, Well-Suited Energy Efficiency: Tailoring Programs for Multifamily Buildings , analyzes the trends in multifamily building energy efficiency programs in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio. We chose these states for a couple of reasons: first, utility reports from those states had sufficient program-level data to enable our analysis; and second, they provided an interesting mixture of policy environments. Iowa and Minnesota are states with long experience in energy efficiency with stable, long-term energy efficiency policies. Indiana and Ohio, on the other hand, adopted strong energy efficiency policies less than a decade ago but have had subsequent changes that eliminated or weakened those policies.

We classified the multifamily (MF) energy efficiency programs offered by the investor-owned utilities in the four states as being “MF-Inclusive” – programs that include multifamily as one of a number of eligible customer types – or “MF-Exclusive” – programs that are targeted at multifamily as the only eligible customer type. We then classified these programs further as to whether the programs were Residential (providing EE measures inside the residential unit), Commercial (providing EE for building common areas, Low-Income (specifically targeting low-income customers), or Cross-Sector (providing EE measures in both residential and common areas of the building).

What We Found

What we found was generally encouraging. Our analysis shows that:

  • There is a gradual shift toward MF-Exclusive programs, and these programs are growing as a percentage of total energy efficiency portfolios.
  • MF-Exclusive programs account for 1.3–6.0% of annual electric energy efficiency spending and provide 0.3–2.9% of annual electricity savings.
  • MF-Exclusive programs account for 2.3–4.1% of annual natural gas energy efficiency spending and provide 1.4–3.6% of annual natural gas savings.
  • Multifamily customers make up about 8 to 12 percent of participants in MF-Inclusive programs (based on very limited data).
  • The proportion of spending on multifamily programs compared to the total spending on all energy efficiency programs is substantially lower than the proportion of multifamily to single-family housing, though it is generally rising.
  • The shift toward MF-Exclusive programs and the growth of multifamily programs as a component of energy efficiency portfolios is strengthened by a stable, long-term energy efficiency policy environment, where programs can mature over time and be tailored based on performance and evaluation over successive program cycles.
Dive Deeper with our New Whitepaper

We are making progress on getting a better fit between energy efficiency programs and multifamily customers, but we aren’t all the way there yet. Leading utilities in the region are tailoring their programs to multifamily customers and working to close the gap. The proportion of multifamily housing in the market is still higher than the proportion of multifamily energy efficiency in portfolios; however, the trend in the states we studied shows that utilities are trying to reach multifamily customers with programs that seek deeper energy savings for these customers.

Read the paper for our recommendations to drive greater savings in the multifamily sector.

Ditch the Switch

March 2, 2017 - 10:00am

At any moment there are thousands upon thousands of lights on all across America that are lighting rooms that no one is in. These unattended lights are wasting countless kilowatts of energy and a ton of money for the owners. But there is a simple solution that is becoming more and more common: the occupancy sensor. Currently, automatic lighting shutoffs of some kind are required in commercial buildings that are greater than 5,000 square feet, but there are a lot of smaller spaces, residences and public buildings that can benefit from the use of occupancy sensors as well.

The EPA estimates energy savings from occupancy sensors to be 40% to 46% when installed in a classroom, 13% to 50% in private offices, 30% to 90% in restrooms, 22% to 65% in conference rooms, 30% to 80% in corridors and 45% to 80% in storage areas. Depending on the sensor’s location and settings, the up-front costs can be covered by the savings on your utility bills within just months of installation.

Not only are occupancy sensors great for energy savings, they are also great for security by showing whether an area is occupied or not. They help reduce light pollution as well by reducing light usage at night.

And on top of all the other benefits, they’re also incredibly convenient. There is no more need to blindly search for a light switch in a dark room or put down everything you’re carrying. And don’t worry about forgetting to turn off the lights – they’ll take care of themselves.

Photo credit: Scott Robinson / Flickr / link

St. Louis Passes Benchmarking Ordinance

February 7, 2017 - 10:46am

On Monday, January 30, St. Louis, MO became the fifth city in the Midwest to pass a mandatory energy benchmarking ordinance.

The “Building Energy Awareness” ordinance requires certain buildings to record annual whole-building energy and water consumption data into the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software. City-owned buildings will lead the way benchmarking in the first year under the ordinance. Privately-owned commercial buildings 50,000 sq.ft. and larger will need to comply by April 1, 2018. Both city- and privately-owned buildings will be required to report their consumption information each year thereafter.

The ordinance passed unanimously in less than two months from its introduction, likely because St. Louis is no stranger to taking action to reduce energy consumption in buildings. The St. Louis High Performance Building Initiative was launched in 2014, which includes building benchmarking and goals of reducing energy consumption in buildings 25% by 2020. St. Louis is also part of the City Energy Project, a national initiative to cut energy waste in buildings in twenty US cities.

Cities across the nation continue looking to benchmarking ordinances to help achieve energy reduction goals. Benchmarking is the first step to achieving deep energy savings in buildings, which comprise around 40 percent of energy consumption in the United States.

ASHRAE Residential Code Nears Completion

February 6, 2017 - 11:37am

After a hiatus of more than a decade, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is close to completing the update of the residential building code ASHRAE 90.2: Energy Efficient Design of Low Rise Residential Buildings. ASHRAE 90.2 is the companion standard to the better-known ASHRAE 90.1, which is the energy efficiency standard for commercial and high rise residential buildings.

The new code will provide a powerful tool to help advance energy efficiency in residential buildings, providing long-term cost saving, comfort and health benefits to homeowners and renters. It also will provide a template available to utility above-code programs, municipalities and states looking for stretch codes.


ASHRAE 90.2 is a leadership standard in that ASHRAE intends it to be more energy efficient than current energy codes. Dwellings that meet this standard will use significantly less energy than a building meeting even the most recent energy codes. The foreward to the code says:

“This new Standard 90.2 seeks to deliver residential building energy performance that is at least 50% more efficient than the energy efficiency defined by the 2006 IECC.”

IECC is the International Energy Conservation Code, which is widely adopted across the nation as the energy code for residential buildings. The most recent code is the 2018 IECC, though 90.2 uses the 2006 IECC as a baseline standard to compare itself against.

ASHRAE 90.2 is a performance-based standard tied to aggressive Energy Rating Index (ERI) targets. In the most recent version of the IECC (2018), the ERI compliance path has values between 57 and 62 depending on the building’s climate zone (an ERI of 100 is roughly equivalent to the 2006 IECC and an ERI of 0 is a zero energy building). The proposed ERI values in ASHRAE 90.2 are slightly below 50. Moreover, ASHRAE 90.2 incorporates on-site renewables as well as enhanced sections on lighting and HVAC equipment. Finally, the standard has added sections on reporting and verifying results as well as guidance on verifying that the dwelling meets the requirements. While these sections are typically not included in codes, they are important to helping ensure that promised energy savings are realized.

What’s Next?

Currently, ASHRAE 90.2-2007R (the name of the proposed update), is under public review. A first round of review is being completed, and there will be at least one additional round prior to final publication (targeted for the Fall of 2017).

The Clean Power Plan Roller Coaster

January 24, 2017 - 12:09pm

A year ago, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) – a federal rule aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil-fuel burning power plants – was in peak health. The rule had been finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Several states were on their way to preparing their initial plans for complying with the CPP. The EPA had begun gathering public input on draft documents that would supplement the rule, including the Clean Energy Incentive Program, Model Trading Rules and Evaluation, Measurement and Verification (EM&V) Guidance for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency. Despite the chill of winter, there was no lack of CPP-activity.

What a difference a year can make!

On February 9, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the CPP. This barred the EPA from enforcing the rule until its legality was resolved by the courts in a separate proceeding – currently before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The decision raised questions about the position that the Supreme Court would take if the case against the CPP on the merits reached the highest court. The subsequent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a typically conservative member of the bench, further muddied the waters on the prospective fate of the CPP. Nine months later, the CPP suffered another setback as the candidate who promised to undo the Obama Administration’s climate-protection policies was elected as the next President of the United States.

The Future of the CPP

So where does that leave the CPP today? Even if the CPP survives legal challenge, the likelihood that the rule will be fully implemented, in its current form, appears slim. Although President Donald Trump has not specified exactly how his administration would go about undoing the CPP, the rule may be eliminated or minimized in several different ways. This includes both legislative action (legislation invalidating the rule) and executive inaction (the incoming EPA withholding enforcement). If the case against the CPP reaches the Supreme Court (which is not expected until the Court’s 2017-18 term), the administration’s appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice to fill Justice Scalia’s seat may impact the rule’s fate as well.

Perhaps tacitly recognizing uncertain times ahead for the CPP, the EPA recently withdrew from interagency review a number of draft documents it had proposed in August 2015 when it issued the final CPP. These documents include the draft Model Trading Rules and draft EM&V Guidance for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency.  The draft Model Trading Rules offered pathways for states to use emissions trading to reduce carbon pollution. The draft EM&V guidance offered states a set of presumptively approvable practices for evaluating, measuring and verifying demand-side energy efficiency in order to support the incorporation of energy efficiency in state compliance plans. While withdrawing these proposed documents, the EPA made working drafts available to the public in order to share the agency’s work to date and aid states that are considering or are already implementing policies and programs that would cut carbon pollution from the power sector. The EPA specifically noted, in a blog post announcing the withdrawal, that “states interested in using or expanding energy efficiency programs” might find the material presented in the draft EM&V Guidance useful.

What This Means for Energy Efficiency

The CPP is not the first federal air quality rule allowing the use of energy efficiency as a compliance strategy, but it is arguably the most prominent. While the future of the CPP remains indeterminate, the work done by the EPA and other stakeholders supporting the incorporation of energy efficiency into state compliance plans can be a valuable resource going forward. Taken together, this work strengthens the case that energy efficiency provides not only important economic, health and job-creation benefits, but also can be a cost-effective pathway to improving air quality.

Benchmarking Heats up in the Midwest

January 17, 2017 - 10:00am

In the last month, energy benchmarking at the city level has really heated up in the Midwest. Benchmarking policies have proven to be a crucial first step to achieving energy savings for cities. Buildings comprise around 40 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States.

Kansas City, MO

Kansas City is preparing for its first privately-owned buildings to report under the Kansas City Energy Empowerment Ordinance. All non-municipal buildings (institutional, commercial, and multifamily residential) of at least 100,000 square feet must submit their energy and water consumption data by May 1, 2017.

In preparation for the reporting deadline, MEEA, the US Green Building Council – Central Plains chapter and the Kansas City Energy Project are providing free benchmarking technical support for multifamily buildings on January 25, 2017. Attendees will learn how to use the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software and even set up their own buildings with the help of energy professionals. Space is limited; click here to sign up for this free event.

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis, Missouri is aiming to become the fifth city in the Midwest with a mandatory energy benchmarking ordinance. On December 9, 2016, Alderman John Coater introduced the potential benchmarking ordinance, which unanimously passed the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee on January 10, 2017. It will likely be voted upon by the city council on January 17th.

If the ordinance passes, city-owned buildings, and privately-owned buildings 50,000 sq.ft. and larger will be required to report their annual whole-building energy and water consumption data into the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software. The ordinance would help reduce building energy use, which is an objective of the city’s Sustainability Plan. Read more about the ordinance here.

Evanston, IL

On December 12, 2016, the Evanston City Council voted 7-2 to pass the Building Energy and Water Benchmarking Ordinance that had been in development since March 2015. The ordinance will help Evanston meet energy goals by requiring city buildings and buildings over 20,000 square feet (besides small condos) to report annual energy and water consumption. Buildings will be phased in according to size, with the first phase of buildings beginning to report June 30, 2017.

Chicago, IL

Chicago released their 2016 Energy Benchmarking Report and the second annual release of building-level energy performance data for properties reporting under the Chicago Benchmarking Ordinance. The ordinance now covers more than 3,500 properties across Chicago, and boasts a 91% reporting rate. Initial analysis also indicates that regular energy tracking and reporting is having a significant impact on supporting energy reductions, with potential to achieve additional energy savings of over $200 million a year across the city. The next reporting deadline for all buildings covered by the ordinance is June 1, 2017.

Clean Power Plan Update

January 13, 2017 - 12:29pm

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon emissions standards for existing power plants, otherwise known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), are currently stayed by the Supreme Court and are being litigated on the merits at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Even if the CPP survives legal challenge, the likelihood that the rule will be fully implemented appears slim following the U.S. presidential election. President-elect Donald Trump has stated that he wants to eliminate the CPP, although he has not specified how his administration plans on doing so. Eliminating or minimizing the effect of the CPP may be accomplished in several ways, including via legislative action (legislation invalidating the rule) and executive inaction (EPA withholding enforcement). MEEA is continuing to monitor the approach taken by the incoming administration towards the CPP.

The EPA recently withdrew a number of draft documents it had proposed in August 2015 when it issued the final Clean Power Plan. These documents include the draft Model Trading Rules and draft EM&V Guidance for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency.  The draft Model Trading Rules offered pathways for states to use emissions trading to reduce carbon pollution. The draft EM&V guidance offered states a set of recommended practices for evaluating, measuring and verifying demand-side energy efficiency in order to support the incorporation of energy efficiency in state compliance plans. While withdrawing these proposed documents, the EPA made working drafts available to the public in order to share the agency’s work to date and aid states that are considering or are already implementing policies and programs that would cut carbon pollution from the power sector. The EPA specifically notes, in a blog post announcing the withdrawal, that “states interested in using or expanding energy efficiency programs” might find the material presented in the draft EM&V Guidance useful.

If you have any questions concerning the CPP, please contact MEEA’s Senior Policy Manager, Julia Friedman, at jfriedman@mwalliance.org.

Iowa Releases State Energy Plan

January 9, 2017 - 2:48pm

On December 21, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, along with  the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress released the Iowa Energy Plan. The plan will serve as a guide for the development of an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy system within the state that maximizes Iowa’s economic potential.

The Iowa Energy plan is the result of a yearlong collaboration between state government, utilities, universities, business organizations, nonprofits, energy trade organizations and the public. As part of the plan’s stakeholder engagement effort, six public forums were held throughout Iowa in March and April to provide members of the public with an opportunity to share input. To leverage expertise from a variety of disciplines and industries, 48 individuals were selected through an application process to form four working groups. These four working groups were aligned with the strategic energy pillars identified as integral to the development of the plan, they include: 1) economic development and energy careers, 2) Iowa’s energy resources, 3) transportation and infrastructure and 4) energy efficiency and conservation. Working group members met over a six-month period to provide input to shape the recommended objectives for each pillar.

Energy Efficiency Objectives

The energy efficiency and conservation working group members identified three objectives: 1) increase the energy efficiency and decrease the operating costs of Iowa’s existing and new buildings in all sectors, 2) encourage the expansion and diversification of energy resources, incentives and programs and 3) lead by example in Iowa’s government practices. To achieve these objectives, several strategies were identified, including benchmarking commercial and industrial utility rates to similar states, benchmarking industrial sector ratepayer program contributions, reinvesting public building energy savings in infrastructure, combined heat and power opportunity analysis, improve building energy code compliance, foster collaboration between the state energy office and Iowa Energy Center and expand the existing public building benchmarking program.

Moving Forward

The next phase of the Iowa Energy Plan will involve the implementation of the identified objectives and strategies. Entities involved in the development of the plan, as well as additional stakeholders and members of the public, are invited to reconvene to discuss successful plan implementation. Look to the Iowa Energy plan website or join the Iowa Energy plan email listserv for more information regarding the specifics in the near future.

For questions about MEEA’s resources and activities related to energy efficiency policy in Iowa, please contact Policy Associate Leah Scull at lscull@mwalliance.org.