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Creating Greener Learning Spaces: 2016 Illinois Healthy & High Performing Schools Symposium

MEEA Unplugged Blog - April 19, 2016 - 12:18pm

MEEA Sr. Program Associate Catie Krasner leads a session on building a sustainability roadmap.

At this year’s Illinois Healthy & High Performing Schools Symposium, representatives from across industries rallied around the concept of getting each child into a green facility in this generation. On April 8, MEEA joined sustainability professionals from across the State to address how we can continue greening our schools in order to create healthy and high performing environment for students. Held at Chicago Public School’s Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, the event was sponsored by the USGBC- Illinois Chapter and the Association of Learning Environments.

Conversations ranged from sustainable restroom design to commercial composting, with a number of presentations highlighting how real schools throughout Illinois are using their campuses to teach students about energy efficiency and sustainability. As The Center for Green Schools’ Rachel Gutter remarked, “What if a classroom could help teach rather than act as a container for learning?” This concept resonated strongly with the teachers, administrators and staff in attendance, who share a passion for creating better learning environments.  It also reflected the spirit of the Department of Energy’s three pillar framework  for Green Ribbon Schools (outlined below).

Three Green School Pillars:

  1. Reduce environmental impact and costs
  2. Improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff
  3. Provide environmental education (incorporating STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways)

MEEA staff Rose Jordan and Catie Krasner led a session walking Illinois school representatives through Pillar 1 and the concept of building a sustainability roadmap. The presentation included advice, guidelines, and resources available for energy benchmarking and auditing as well as free EPA tools available to measure other sustainability metrics (e.g., water, waste, etc.). MEEA plans to make these resources available on our STEP webpage. Learn more about USGBC’s green schools advocacy efforts here.


2016 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Recap

MEEA Unplugged Blog - March 16, 2016 - 3:08pm

On February 24-26, more than 650 energy professionals (a new attendance record!) gathered at the Chicago Hilton & Towers to discuss energy efficiency, the utility industry, benefits to economic development, industrial efficiency and the potential impact of state and federal regulations at the 14th annual Midwest Energy Solutions Conference. With experts and business leaders from around the globe, MES was an unparalleled opportunity to network, swap best practices and plot the future of the energy efficiency community.

This year’s MES conference tackled critical questions like:

  • How is energy efficiency achieved overseas?
  • What is the state of residential LED lighting?
  • How are Chicago-area media covering climate and energy issues?
  • What is the future of utilities around the Midwest?

The conference kicked off Wednesday with an opening keynote address from Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council, followed by a plenary session overviewing recent actions surrounding the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  The rest of the day explored new partnership opportunities in energy efficiency in breakout sessions like “kWH2O: A Mashup of Water and Energy” and “Energy Efficiency and Demand Response: Now Offered in One Convenient Package.”


Colin Thurmond of Digital Lumens presents on LED lighting during the Exhibitor Demo Showcase.

Thursday’s sessions looked at EE both globally and locally with the plenary “Energy Efficiency Outside the Midwest: A Global Perspective”, where speakers from Germany, France and Canada shared best practices from their home countries, and “EE Pluribus Unum: Cities United in Energy Efficiency Efforts.” While visiting the Exhibit Hall to chat with exhibitors and play the Passport to Prizes sweepstakes, attendees had the opportunity to see live presentations on the brand new demo stage, as well as a Q&A with utility reps catered to EE businesses. The day wrapped up with a member reception and the 12th Annual Inspiring Efficiency Awards.


One of this year’s most well-liked sessions came on the closing morning of the conference. “Freaky Friday: An Evaluator, an Implementer and a Utility Swap Roles and Gain Perspective” flipped the tables and allowed evaluation and implementation teams to present from each other’s viewpoint, discussing the issues the respective sector faces, opportunities for improvement and strategies for building more effective partnerships moving forward. Friday morning started out with even more insight into utilities with the roundtable “Utilities Take Center Stage,” which included utility executives from ComEd, Duke Energy and Xcel Energy review the necessary business case for energy efficiency.

Friday’s panel “Navigating the New Media Landscape: The Rise of Digital Newsrooms and How to Get Your Story Out”

Thank You

MEEA would like to thank the speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, attendees and board members who made MES 2016 a tremendous success. See you at MES 2017!

Join Us at the Better Buildings Summit

MEEA Unplugged Blog - March 9, 2016 - 12:19pm

The Better Buildings Summit is the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual event, this year held May 9-11 in Washington, D.C. The event is designed for partners and stakeholders of DOE’s programs to exchange ideas and best practices towards improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s homes, buildings, manufacturing plants, and public facilities. This year’s meeting is expected to include over 900 attendees, who will be able to choose from nearly 250 speakers – sharing their proven success stories.

During sessions, attendees will delve into sector trends, participate in forward-looking discussions, and engage on a range of diverse topics. These include sessions focused on emerging technology innovation, creative organizational strategies, practical financing, strategic partnerships, data-driven decision-making, and future opportunities for scaling energy efficiency across portfolio of buildings. Topical areas are sub-divided by building types including commercial, industrial, multi-family, and public.

New this year, DOE is hosting a pre-conference event on Monday morning to showcase projects through hands-on building tours. Tuesday and Wednesday will debut a Partner Pavilion where attendees can engage informally with technology experts, network with peers, sit down for an interview for the DOE “Beat Blog,” or be filmed making an energy efficiency pitch inside of an elevator.

For a closer look at 2016 DOE Better Buildings Summit sessions, please visit http://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/summit. More information on workshops and special events will be posted on the summit soon. MEEA hopes to see you there!

MEEA Trains at AEA Chicago Facility

MEEA Unplugged Blog - March 3, 2016 - 10:29am

Several employees from the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) had the opportunity to test out the Association for Energy Affordability Inc. (AEA) building efficiency training facility on South Central Ave., near Midway International Airport. A MEEA member, the Association for Energy Affordability is a non-profit organization “dedicated to achieving energy efficiency in new and existing buildings in order to foster and maintain affordable and healthy housing and communities, especially those of low-income.” This training facility provides an excellent space for building professionals to sharpen their building efficiency retrofit and new construction practices and obtain one of many Building Performance Institute (BPI) and other certifications.

MEEA is grateful for the invitation from AEA, as this training allowed MEEA employees focused on residential building efficiency policy and programs to practice what they preach and gain hands-on experience.

In the above image, Steve Kismohr (MEEA’s Senior Technical Manager) demonstrates how to effectively use spray foam to seal penetrations and gaps in a manufactured attic space. The AEA trainers, John Yi and Steve Marchese, highlighted areas in the attic that are commonly missed by building professionals and recommended techniques to obtain a secure and long lasting seal to prevent air leakage. Sealing building penetrations is a relatively easy and cost-effective approach to improving the energy efficiency of a building, and in reducing the potential for harmful contaminants to enter into the living space of a home or apartment.

In addition to providing training on effective air sealing techniques, the AEA trainers also demonstrated how to ensure a quality installation of dense-pack cellulose insulation. In the above image, Chris Burgess (MEEA’s Technical Manager for Codes Compliance) is trying his hand at dense-packing a wall and AEA trainer, Steve Marchese and MEEA’s Isaac Elnecave (Senior Policy Manager) are providing support and recommendations. Using dense-pack cellulose insulation is one of many methods to effectively insulate a home or apartment. In addition to the thermal barrier gained from insulation, this method is also effective in helping to ensure a tight home and in preventing air leakage in walls.

Ta da! MEEA’s Kelsey Horton (Senior Program Associate), Isaac Elnecave and Chris Burgess inspect their work and note techniques to use when dense-packing an above grade wall in the future. Nice work, MEEA team!

MEEA wants to thank AEA for the knowledge they imparted to us and for the opportunity to test out their building performance training facility. We had a great time as a building performance contractor for the day!

DOE Announces New Asset Score Partnership Program

MEEA Unplugged Blog - March 2, 2016 - 1:17pm

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced partnerships with 21 companies, federal agencies and state and local governments to promote the use of DOE’s Building Energy Asset Scoring Tool (the Asset Score). First released in 2014, the Asset Score is a free, web-based software tool that identifies opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of a building and its energy-related systems. Nationally, 825 commercial and multifamily residential buildings, totaling more than 83 million square feet, have utilized the tool to date.

What are Energy Assets?

While the tenants and energy usage patterns within a building frequently change, its physical structure and major equipment remain mostly constant. These underlying energy “assets” include the building envelope (roof, walls and windows), lighting, hot water and HVAC systems. Each component has a significant impact on the energy consumption of a building, regardless of how the building is operated or the behavior of its occupants. The Asset Score assess the efficiency of these static assets and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Program Leaders Include MEEA Members

DOE’s 21 identified partner organizations comprise the Asset Score National Leadership Network. Each organization has has committed to use the Asset Score on at least 10 buildings within its portfolio, work with DOE to produce a case study using the tool or promote Asset Score usage through educational activities, as well as help guide future improvements of the tool. By pledging their partnership, these organizations will receive technical assistance from DOE throughout 2016 on the tool. Two MEEA members, DNV GL and the State of Missouri, are part of this leadership group and will be key leaders of this initiative in the Midwest. The City of Milwaukee, WI has also pledged to facilitate use of the Asset Score on buildings participating in its city-led Better Buildings Challenge program.

New Features Simplify the Process

A new feature within the Asset Score tool, the “Preview,” was recently launched to assist users conduct a simple energy efficiency analysis by entering just a few data points on their building. Asset Score Preview users receive a score between 1 and 10 and can help them determine the ranking of each asset to a baseline, thereby alerting them to potential energy savings if the asset was to be upgraded. Although this scoring does not substitute for an investment grade energy audit, it does help building owners, managers and service providers a quick assessment of their building’s assets.

Learn more about the Asset Score, the Asset Score Preview, and the Leadership Network by visiting DOE’s Asset Score website. For more information on this and other energy saving tools, contact Steve Kismohr, MEEA’s Sr. Technical Manager, at skismohr@mwalliance.org.

See you at the Summit? The 2016 Midwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit: Promoting and Expanding Industrial Efficiency

MEEA Unplugged Blog - February 18, 2016 - 2:24pm

MEEA would like to invite you to participate in the 2016 Midwest Industrial Energy Efficiency Summit.

This free-to-attend meeting preceding the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference will be held on February 24 from 8:15 am – 11:30 am at the Chicago Hilton and Towers International Ballroom South. The agenda features presentations from industrial businesses that are capitalizing on opportunities in industrial energy efficiency, as well as a discussion on the role of industrial efficiency in Midwestern states’ compliance with the Clean Power Plan.

Speakers include:

  • Larry Fabina – Manager of Continuous Improvement, ArcelorMittal
  • Paige Knutsen – Regional Director, Franklin Energy Services
  • Jeff Bair – Energy Manager, Keystone Steel
  • Ted Michaels – Partner, AJW, Inc.
  • Owen Kean – Senior Director, American Chemistry Council
  • Molly Lunn – Deputy Director for the Energy and Recycling Office, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

Click here to register or learn more about the Midwest Industrial Efficiency Summit. You can also register at the door on the morning of February 24.

This event is sponsored by the Midwestern Governors Association, Great Plains Institute, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Institute for Industrial Productivity, Energy Resources Center, Midwest Cogeneration Association, and Alliance for Industrial Efficiency.

Supreme Court Stays Clean Power Plan

MEEA Unplugged Blog - February 18, 2016 - 10:19am

Credit: NCinDC, Flickr

On February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in a 5-4 decision.  The court’s decision does not overturn the CPP, nor decide the legal merits of the challenges brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for issuing the CPP. Rather, the court’s decision stalls the implementation of the CPP while lawsuits challenging the legality of the plan are adjudicated by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Lawsuits challenging the CPP in the D.C. Circuit were brought by 29 states, including 10 states within MEEA’s territory. These lawsuits assert, in general, that the EPA overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act in issuing the Clean Power Plan. The D.C. Circuit will hold a hearing on the merits of the CPP on June 2, 2016, and is likely to issue its decision on the legality of the CPP as early as the fall of this year. If the D.C. Circuit upholds the CPP on the merits, the states challenging the CPP are widely expected to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. In that scenario, the stay on the CPP would terminate either once the Supreme Court denies the states’ petition (known as a petition for a writ of certiorari), or, if the writ is granted, once the Supreme Court decides the case on the merits.

Looking Forward

While the stay on the CPP is in place, the EPA will not be able to enforce any deadlines or requirements associated with the CPP. If the stay is terminated, however, the EPA will regain the authority to enforce the deadlines or requirements contained in the CPP. A number of states in the Midwest have initiated internal and public stakeholder processes to assess viable pathways for compliance with the Clean Power Plan.

MEEA will continue to work with state energy offices, air regulators, utilities, businesses and advocates throughout the Midwest to advance robust energy efficiency policies that will save ratepayers money, create in-state jobs, improve air quality, and pave a path to least-cost compliance with the carbon emission targets contained in the CPP.

What is Intelligent Efficiency?

MEEA Unplugged Blog - February 5, 2016 - 1:23pm

As MEEA continues its efforts to make valuable contributions to the national conversation on intelligent efficiency, it’s important to step back and take a moment to define this somewhat nebulous concept. ACEEE has done a great job of helping energy efficiency stakeholders understand what this term means through several research reports, web outlets and two high-quality conferences on the subject. Their 2013 report, Intelligent Efficiency: Opportunities, Barriers, and Solutions, defines intelligent efficiency as:

“…the deployment of affordable next-generation sensor, control, and communication technologies that help us gather, manage, interpret, communicate, and act upon disparate and often large volumes of data to improve device, process, facility, or organization performance and achieve new levels of energy efficiency.”

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it gives us a useful framework. MEEA gets a lot of questions about this from our stakeholders, and we’ve realized that it isn’t always obvious what makes efficiency “intelligent.”

Here are a few lessons MEEA has learned that might help clear things up:

The system is greater than the sum of its parts

A central idea behind the concept of intelligent efficiency is that savings can be accounted for at the system level. This is contrary to more traditional energy efficiency approaches that rely on discreet measures and deemed savings. An intelligent efficiency system may have many contributing components, such as sensors, software, dashboards, algorithms and controls, all working in tandem to bring about deep energy savings.

The opposite of intelligent efficiency isn’t dumb efficiency

Calling this new wave of developments “intelligent” doesn’t mean traditional efficiency efforts or measures have less value – rather, intelligence means those efforts or measures are “adaptive, anticipatory and networked” (Elliot, Molina, & Trombley, 2012).

Intelligent efficiency doesn’t mean Artificial Intelligence

For most of these solutions, humans are still the critical element, as they simply enable users to make better, faster decisions and improve upon inevitable behavioral inconsistencies. A recent paper from the Information Technology Industry Council predicts that these systems “will encourage a significantly greater number of uses and users, facilitate a more collaborative engagement of consumers and producers, and amplify learning and productivity” (Laitner, McDonnell, & Keller, 2015).

The savings potential is worth your attention

ACEEE estimated the annual energy cost savings potential for the commercial and manufacturing sectors from intelligent efficiency to be $50 billion (2013). In the industry-heavy Midwest, the potential for savings is massive.

Efficiency as a concept hasn’t changed…

Stephen Lacey of Greentech Media says “at its core, energy efficiency is still about the nuts and bolts of changing equipment and improving the physical components of a facility. Information is not a panacea and is not a substitute for the physical integration of new systems. But it is becoming the glue binding the holistic, system-wide approach that is starting to define the intelligent efficiency business” (2013).

… But, intelligence could change the way we do it

By predicting the weather, enabling communication across production lines, providing real-time savings measurement and verification, preventing savings degradation, enabling system self-diagnosis and prioritizing maintenance needs, dematerializing infrastructure systems, enabling energy managers to collect and analyze large amounts of complex data, and enabling access to a host of non-energy benefits heretofore unavailable to traditional efficiency approaches, intelligent efficiency has the potential to maximize, expand and dramatically improve existing efficiency efforts.

So how do you tell if something is intelligent efficiency or not? For MEEA, whether or not a solution fits into these parameters is less important than its potential to improve how we do energy efficiency in the Midwest. For many consumers and energy managers, the non-energy benefits of smart, networked devices and systems are already changing the economics of efficiency opportunities. For utilities and program administrators, we are already experiencing a wave of new products, solutions and platforms that can be employed as exciting, new program measures or as useful tools that enhance the delivery and management of programs.

Whatever the technology, if it helps us collect and act on big data, enhance device and process efficiency, enable system-wide performance improvements, or adapt to changing conditions, we’ll call it intelligent, and we’ll encourage all our stakeholders to take a closer look.

Further reading

Elliott, N., Molina, M. & Trombley, D. (2012). A Defining Framework for Intelligent Efficiency. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Research Report E125. Link to report.

Lacey, S. (2013). Intelligent Efficiency: Innovations Reshaping the Energy Efficiency Market. Greentech Media Special Report. Link to report.

Laitner, J.A., McDonnell, M.T., & Keller, R.M. (2015). ICT-Enabled Intelligent Efficiency: Shifting from Device-Specific Approaches to System Optima. Digital Energy and Sustainability Solutions Campaign, Information Technology Industry Council. Link to report.

(2015). Opportunities for Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) in Advancing Residential Energy Efficiency Programs. Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, Research Report. Link to report.

Rogers, E.A., Elliott, R.N., Kwatra, S., Trombley, D. & Nadadur, V. (2013). Intelligent Efficiency: Opportunities, Barriers, and Solutions. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Research Report E13J. Link to report.

2015 ACEEE Intelligent Efficiency Conference

Earlier MEEA Unplugged post on intelligent efficiency efforts

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