Blog

April 14, 2015
Local Government climate change, GHG emissions, global warming, Green Buildings, University Students

California local governments will play an important role in the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). The initial scoping plan of AB32 called for local governments to set municipal and communitywide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets of 15 percent below current levels by 2020. To plan and implement these savings, local governments have developed local Climate Action Plans. These plans are comprehensive roadmaps that outline specific activities a local government will undertake to reduce GHG emissions.

Having a plan is a great first step. However, implementing the plan can be a challenge for many local governments. Smaller to medium-sized municipalities generally suffer from limited staff and capacity to implement stated goals or address new mandates. To overcome this barrier, the California Sustainability Alliance has developed a utility-funded program model to assist local governments: The Climate Action Fellows Program Model.

The objective of the program model is to provide a blueprint to use local university students (as Climate Action Fellows) to add capacity to local governments to address climate protection mandates, voluntary goals and commitments. Employing university students to serve as dedicated climate protection professionals provides these youth with unparalleled experience and place-based application of classroom theory, while providing the local municipality with cost conscious staffing to meet the goals set out in their Climate Action Plans. The model could be funded and implemented regionally by energy utilities. The model outlines the key steps to implementing the program including engaging and selecting partner local governments, recruiting and training fellows, supporting the fellows during implementation, and concluding fellow’s work by transitioning work back to local government staff.

The Alliance developed the Climate Action Fellows Model and pilot tested the approach with the City of Covina throughout the second half of 2014. Two fellows supported the City to address the most challenging aspect of its Energy Action Plan: reducing commercial sector energy consumption. The long-term objective of the City was to create a Green Business Certification program. The fellows supported the first steps of this process by outlining a business energy efficiency pilot program and recruiting pilot participants.

The Covina pilot culminated in a presentation by the fellows to the Covina City Council outlining the pilot program, the deliverables compiled by the fellows, and the status of Covina’s Green Business Pilot. The fellows’ support made inroads to addressing the City’s commercial sector climate and energy goals; city staff now are able to carry commercial sector efforts forward in 2015.

Read the full report outlining the program model and detailing the work done for the City of Covina. Expanding this program across California could provide much needed support to Local Governments and advance progress towards meeting the state’s aggressive climate goals.

April 13, 2015
Water Energy joint utility programs, water efficiency, water energy, water energy programs

The water-energy nexus is a critical concept in California today, due to increasingly stressed water supplies and state greenhouse gas reduction goals. The nexus is described as the interaction between water services and energy services: energy services rely on reliable access to water and water delivery services depend on access to energy. In short, saving water saves energy and vice versa. In California, water is one of the state’s largest end uses of both natural gas and electricity. Of the state’s water-related natural gas use (30% of overall natural gas use), the vast majority goes to residential, commercial, and industrial end uses, at 98.5%. Of the state’s water-related electricity use (19% of overall electricity use), 40% goes to water extraction, conveyance, treatment, distribution, and wastewater systems.

At the 2013 Utility Sustainability Roundtable, conducted by the California Sustainability Alliance and Southern California Gas Company, participants from utilities, water agencies, and cities expressed strong interest in a joint water-energy efficiency program collaboration guidebook to support and enhance coordinated efforts towards a sustainable water-energy nexus. Though progress is being made within the water and energy industries already, a guidebook was envisioned to help fully realize the synergy between these systems.

In late 2014, the California Sustainability Alliance completed the Water-Energy Program Collaboration Guidebook in response to this interest. The intended audience of this guidebook is energy utilities and water agencies in California. The goal is for readers to come away with a better understanding of how energy utilities and water agencies can work together on joint water conservation and energy efficiency programs, and apply this knowledge to new initiatives at their own organizations. The guidebook offers insight and real-world examples along the following joint program development and implementation process:

From research, interviews, and industry experience, the guidebook identifies the top nine collaboration strategies to include:

  1. Establish measurable, specific goals at the beginning of a program and conduct periodic evaluations.
  2. Dedicate a staff member/champion – someone passionate about efficiency partnerships, who actively seeks ways to overcome barriers and come up with creative solutions.
  3. Establish a clear decision-making process and rules of operations, and back this up by drafting legal documents.
  4. Effectively communicate between partners – keep in regular contact with representatives at partner organizations to stay informed and involved.
  5. Be persistent and pro-active. Sometimes a legal agreement will have to be reviewed by the legal department dozens of times – but don't give up on it.
  6. Play to partners' strengths: assume leadership roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise and/or ability to contribute to the program (e.g., one partner has the expertise to lead program design and implementation oversight while the other has the resources to handle program administration).
  7. Use a “one-stop-shop” approach where feasible so customers can find all of their efficiency opportunities and information in one place. More generally, always simplify things for the customer – this will help increase market adoption.
  8. Simplify internal joint program processes – this will reduce expenses and staff time. This includes approval, cost-sharing, and data-sharing processes. When possible, use an umbrella memorandum of understanding to formally establish these process improvements.
  9. Monitor legislation while designing programs; for example, stay current on appliance code changes that will impact rebates.

Readers are encouraged to use the guidebook as a foundation for further independent reading and conversations, as the water-energy collaboration effort must extend far beyond these pages. Additionally, stay tuned for further work in this area, as the California Public Utilities Commission is developing tools to assist energy utilities and water agencies in determining the cost effectiveness of joint water-energy efficiency programs. Download the full guidebook here.

April 2, 2015
Agriculture agriculture, food processing, irrigation, water

California growers and post-harvest processors are among the most progressive agriculturalists in the state. At a recent forum in Tulare, agriculturalists offered input regarding their efforts to reduce inputs and described the assistance that would enhance their current sustainability efforts.

While long-term, successful farming is, at its core, “sustainable,” short-term demands of planting and harvesting make it difficult to focus on the future. The current crop’s immediate need for water may trump the future benefit of conservation. However, some growers have perfected practices that reduce both energy and water use.

Growers and processors are eager to learn about these best practices, such as integration of renewable energy and deployment of energy management systems – but opportunities for this type of education are limited.

The following recommendations include those most frequently cited by forum participants where SCG could add value to sustainability efforts in grower operations:

  1. Collaborate with growers and processors to evaluate and maximize well “life” in order to maintain or improve energy and water efficiency.
  2. Support natural gas-fueled pump deployment and retirement of diesel-fueled irrigation,
  3. Provide grants and incentives that meet the needs of smaller “family farms.”

To provide a full description of this event, the Alliance has released a new report entitled Sustainability Forum for Southern Central Valley Agricultural Growers and Post-Harvest Processors. The report documents the participants’ perspectives and conclusions, including:

  • Wanting more programs for converting water pumps and diesel powered wind machines to natural gas,
  • Opportunities to develop SCG supported programs to evaluate well efficiency and “life” potential,
  • Support for natural gas powered generators for cold storage at packing houses,
  • Providing easy to download grid maps showing natural gas distribution lines,
  • Wanting grants and rebates specifically focused on small family farmers as perception is that large firms dominate the programs, including offering a “call-in” number for smaller growers to contact SCG for information on programs and incentives,
  • Increase the number, distribution and teaming-up of water pump testers and irrigation specialists to conduct more audits and field operation reviews, and
  • Providing incentive programs to support larger water lines for drip systems.

Download the full report for more details.

December 29, 2014
Green Buildings benchmarking, energy efficiency, green building, real estate resources, water efficiency

The California Sustainability Alliance is proud to announce an industry report which summarizes the outcome of the Existing Buildings Think Tank Roundtable held in partnership with the USGBC-LA Existing Buildings Committee. Over 70 participants representing building owners and managers, engineers, utilities, government, trade associations, and other industry professionals were in attendance to discuss ideas and emerging trends related to the operation and performance of existing buildings. The Alliance is managed by Navigant Energy Services and funded by Southern California Gas.

The Think Tank Roundtable is an annual, half-day event hosted by the USGBC-LA Existing Buildings Committee and chapter strategic partners typically focusing on Class A buildings. This year, the Alliance sponsored an expanded scope of the meeting to include an afternoon session for Class B and C building owners. The purpose of the Think Tank Roundtable is to share best practices, lessons learned, resources, challenges, and opportunities around topics relevant to owners and managers of Class A, B & C buildings as well as tenants, brokers, government, and building professionals from all sectors. Two industry reports (one for Class A owners and one for Class B and C owners) were produced as a result of the Think Tank event and follow-up interviews with key stakeholders.

Green and energy-efficient buildings demand higher rent, increase tenant productivity, reduce operating costs, and have higher occupancy rates. The upfront cost of green building improvements is a deterrent commonly cited by building owners. However, data show that green retrofits and increased energy and water efficiency increase property values and many upgrades can deliver attractive, short-term returns. During the meeting, industry leaders from the Greater Los Angeles area identified best practices, new opportunities, and existing resources in multiple topic areas to help Class B and C building owners and managers take charge of their building performance. The report summarizes industry leaders’ discussion of these topics:

  • Building Codes and Standards
  • Energy Efficiency and Energy Management Plans
  • Water Efficiency Opportunities
  • Financing Green Retrofits
  • New Building Technologies
  • Building Sustainability Trends
  • Climate Change
  • Other Industry Updates

The recently released reports highlight key outcomes of the roundtable discussions and integrate feedback from additional stakeholders during the months following the event. The findings and objectives of the reports are to:

  • Help utilities understand how to improve their regulatory and incentive programs by providing feedback about how they can best serve these critical yet often under-represented customers.
  • Encourage owners and managers of Class A, B and C properties to improve portfolio-wide energy and water efficiency and implement green building practices.
  • Inspire action to deepen environmental goals in the existing building sector by defining critical challenges and potential solutions, and by inviting key stakeholders to engage in the discussion.
  • Provide resources and education to service providers that are in a position to help building owners design and implement energy and water conservation strategies.

View the full reports here:

Video interviews from multiple experts at the event were also produced.

June 19, 2014
Local Government climate change, economy, energy efficiency, GHG emissions, global warming, green local government, municipal facilities

The Cap-and-Trade market has added a new dynamic to California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Utilities are faced with finding cost-effective ways to comply with their emissions reductions requirements. Energy efficiency at the local government level presents a large opportunity for saving energy that is currently not incentivized by the Cap-and-Trade system.

The coalescence of these three related factors presents an interesting nexus for solutions. The emissions reductions resulting from saved energy can be valued against the cost of compliance to utilities, which is projected to increase over time.

In response to this nexus of opportunity, the Alliance has released Exploring Utility and Local Government Partnerships to Fund Energy Efficiency Projects for Compliance with AB 32, a whitepaper that outlines a new concept that would enable local governments to participate in the Cap-and-Trade market. Under the presented framework, local governments could partner with their load-serving utilities to move cost-effective energy efficiency projects forward. The concept presented follows this basic framework:

  • Local governments receive upfront capital from their load-serving utility.
  • These local governments undertake projects with measureable energy savings.
  • These energy savings result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the utility, helping them meet their compliance obligation under AB 32.

This possible fit between the utilities’ needs for compliance and local government opportunities for energy efficiency needs to be explored for cost-effectiveness. Local governments require additional funding mechanisms for expansive energy efficiency projects. Utilities are some of the largest entities covered under Cap-and-Trade regulations, leading to large compliance obligations. Energy efficiency is also known to be the most cost-effective way to balance supply and demand for electricity. The key to this new concept is that the funding comes from the utility’s compliance budget. Therefore, it is in addition to existing energy efficiency incentive programming. There are challenges to the framework. Thus, the Alliance addresses each of them individually in the whitepaper. The paper also includes recommendations for implementing this new framework for harnessing potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Key study conclusions include:

  • There is an anticipated shortfall of compliance instruments (allowances and offset credits) occurring as early as 2016.
  • Alternate cost-effective means of compliance will be needed, and this mechanism could greatly benefit both utilities and local governments.
  • Working locally to permanently reduce emissions is a win-win opportunity for local governments and utilities.
  • There is widespread support among key stakeholders and industry subject matter experts to test this concept.

The study also summarizes key stakeholder feedback gathered as a part of concept exploration. Download the full report for more details.

May 3, 2014
Agriculture agriculture, co-generation, conservation, flowers, greenhouse, natural gas, nursery, vegetables

The California Statewide Agriculture Market Characterization Study completed in 2013 examined the opportunities for energy efficiency across all agriculture sub-segments. The study identified the Greenhouses and Nurseries segments as a good candidate for improved energy savings. The study found that:

  • Relative to other segments, greenhouses and nurseries did not prioritize energy metrics or monitoring, presenting opportunities for increased deployment of energy management systems and greater uptake of related utility incentives;
  • Growers within the segment communicate most frequently through grassroots networks that often share information about new technologies;
  • While a few leaders within the greenhouse community have educated themselves and taken up a host of basic to advanced energy measures, there is a need for more technology demonstrations and other collaborative programs that could help the rest of the industry move forward.

To better serve and understand this market the California Sustainability Alliance held a forum for the greenhouse, floriculture and horticulture customers in Santa Barbara, CA. Growers offered input regarding both their efforts to reduce energy and water use and describe the assistance that would enhance their current sustainability efforts. The Alliance recently released a summary the forum in a new report entitled Sustainability Forum for Greenhouse, Floriculture and Horticulture Customers.

The report documents key recommendations from participants regarding potential improvements to utility programs. These recommendations include:

  • Streamline the paper work and reduce the processing time needed to qualify for and receive utility rebates and incentives
  • Provide more technical and design information, including pre-engineering support, and increase financial support for advanced energy and water efficiency technologies
  • Provide more support to qualify cogeneration and alternative energy projects
  • Increase utility support of agriculture customers by increasing account executive support and offering regular grower forums
  • Team up pump and irrigation specialists with utility account executives to conduct more audits and field operation reviews
  • Provide help to perform financial analysis for energy efficiency projects

Download the full report for more details.