Energy Efficiency

New Winners in the 2018 Blueprint for Fuctional Sustainability Competition!

Rob Slowinski

The 2018 Blueprint for Functional Sustainability's final event took place on Friday, June 1st at REDCAT's black box theater in downtown Los Angeles, below the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In front of an audience of about 100 of their peers, the 16 finalists continued to raise the bar for sustainable design and community architectural integration.

New Energy Efficiency Financing Risk Assessment Case Study

A widespread interest of commercial energy efficiency lending from financial institutions is limited by undefined risks associated with energy efficiency projects. The lack of data and information on predictable performance remains as one of the biggest challenges with loan underwriting. Hence, improvements in presenting data that captures the level of uncertainty in energy performance is a critical step towards stimulating greater deal flows in the commercial energy efficiency financing field.

In fact, Class B office buildings projects present good investment opportunities for lenders due to project size, attractive project ROI, and that Class B office building owners tend to have constrains in capital and liquidity.  Aiming to help building owners and investors understand performance risks of energy efficiency retrofit projects, the California Sustainability Alliance conducted a case study on a Class B office building in SoCalGas® region. The whitepaper entitled “Energy Efficiency Financing Risk Assessment Case Study” demonstrates a streamlined standardized protocol for data collection, analysis, and reporting. In addition, the whitepaper discusses financing options available to Class B office building owners.

Key study conclusions include:

  • Industry standards are available to help guide the data collection and analysis process to ensure the validity of the energy savings projections.
  • Once project data is collected and analyzed, the range of expected savings should be estimated through building simulation modeling to capture performance uncertainty.
  • Cash flow analysis should be performed on the high, expected, and low energy savings scenarios to capture financial risk associated with the retrofit project.

As part of the study, the Alliance developed a cash flow analysis calculator customized for Class B building owners to structure their loan proposals after they have completed a building audit. Download the full report for more details.

Video Highlights City of Riverside’s Leadership in Sustainability

The California Sustainability Alliance and the City of Riverside have released a video showcasing the City’s award winning sustainability efforts. “The City of Riverside: Leadership in Sustainability” video highlights the unique local government leadership qualities that led the City of Riverside to win the Grand Prize of the Alliance’s 2011 Sustainability Showcase Awards. The video features some of the City’s best practices in sustainability and includes interviews with Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge, Public Utilities Commissioner Dr. Justin Scott-Coe, and Sustainability Officer Michael Bacich.
This video showcases several sustainability initiatives within the following areas: energy, water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and alternative fuels and transportation. These initiatives include Riverside’s Free Sprinkler Nozzle Program, which provides efficient sprinkler nozzles to residents, and the City’s Grease-to-Gas program, which generates 1.6 MW electricity per day and saves Riverside more than $1 million annually in operating costs.
While the nuances of sustainability efforts are often complex, the video is presented in simple terms and is designed to appeal to a wide audience by featuring interviews with local residents and employees who are making sustainable choices in Riverside. The video provides examples, such as waterwise landscaping and edible gardens, that will inspire viewers to make smart sustainable choices in their everyday lives.

Energy Efficiency Financing-Models and Strategies

In October 2011, Capital E for the Energy Foundation released the “Energy Efficiency Financing – Models and Strategies” report.  This report summarizes energy efficiency financing models and strategies that are applicable to industrial, commercial and residential sectors.   In preparing this report, Capital E ran a meeting with leaders from banks, industry organizations, project developers, and regulatory agencies.  The collaboration led to the design of new mechanisms for energy efficiency financing.

As stated in the report, the most cost-effective energy efficiency investments in the United States would be around $150 billion a year.  With this amount, within a decade, American residents and businesses would save $200 billion annually and create over a million full time jobs.  Current financing, however, totals only $20 billion, leaving approximately $130 billion of cost-effective potential investments unfunded. To close this gap, energy efficiency financing must become more mainstream and there must be some sort of standardization, such as green appraisal standards and performance data, for banks and financial institutions to compare.  Capital E has included multiple models and strategies in their report that will help create pathways to scaling energy efficiency financing from $20 billion to $150 billion annually. 


The models described in this report are analyzed according to funding sources, program structures, limits to scale, repayment vehicles, and project risks.  The models considered include:

Many advantages of these models include facilitated collaboration across numerous governmental departments, job creations, reduction of project risks, and removing of split incentives.  Disadvantages of a few models include state-level authorizations, funding limitations, higher transaction costs, and longer processes and negotiations.


The strategies in this report consider applicable building sectors, applicable models, level of establishments, growth potential, advantages, and disadvantages.   The report includes analysis of the following financing strategies:

  • Intermediary Aggregated Scale Purchasing
  • Revolving Loan Fund
  • Preferential Loans
  • Risk Reallocation
  • E-Loan
  • Point of Purchase Interest Rate Buy-Down
  • Re-Align Incentive Structures.

Certain strategies, such as unsecured consumer loans, have advantages like easier access to capital but have disadvantages such as higher interest rates.

The full report provides an overview of energy efficiency financing models and strategies.  It is important to understand and spread this knowledge because increasing energy efficiency financing will help businesses and residents reduce their energy costs, create more jobs, and improve air quality.

View the full report here to look more closely at the models and strategies included. 

T12 Lighting Phase Out

Are T8s the new T12s?  According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s fluorescent lighting mandate they should be.  Starting last year on July 1, 2010, the magnetic ballasts that operate T12 lamps were no longer produced for commercial or industrial applications.  Since then, there have been progressively fewer T12 ballasts available for purchase and production has focused on the T8 and T5 systems. 

Starting July 14, 2012, most T12 lamps will also be phased out of production, including the following[1]:

  • Most F40 and F34T12 lamps and almost all FB40 and FB34T12 U-lamps
  • All 75W F96T12 lamps
  • All 60W F96T12/ES lamps, with the exception of a few 700/SP and 800/SPX lamps
  • All conventional 110W F96T12 HO lamps that deliver fewer than 10,120 lumens
  • All 95W F96T12/ES/HO, unless they can provide at least 8,740 lumens

It’s definitely a good time to get on board with the more efficient T8 and T5s. These lamps have lower mercury levels, longer lives, contribute to LEED points and are at least 30% more efficient. Compared to the T12 system, switching to a T8 system can save $7.20 a year and a T5 can save up to $13.60.[2]  If commercial and industrial owners make the switch there will be significant energy and money savings.

Speaking of savings, the Energy Independence Act of 2007 (EISA) has extended the tax deduction for qualifying projects that will be completed before January 1, 2014.  By recognizing the availability of incentives and rebates currently offered, commercial customers can save on retrofits if they act fast. Once all the DOE mandates are in effect, removing less efficient T12 systems will become a regular practice and the only option for customers with the inefficient lighting system. Rebate and incentive programs will likely disappear when this happens, so retrofitting sooner may have its added benefits.

What do you think about the T12 phase out?

New Light Bulb Efficiency Standards

Next year, under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), increased energy efficiency standards for light bulbs will go into effect. This mandate will gradually increase the required efficiency of bulbs over the next few years. Starting in January 2012, the 100 watt bulb will be required to drop 30% so that it emits the same amount of light while utilizing only 72 watts.  The increased bulb efficiency requirements will continue in 2013 with the 75 watt bulb and in 2014 with the 60 and 40 watt bulbs. 

These EISA standards will produce huge energy cost savings while eliminating wasteful products from the market.  The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that this new standard could save nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone. By significantly reducing the amount of electricity required to light America’s homes and businesses, mostly generated from coal-fired power plants, the standards will also reduce harmful emissions from those coal  plants including emissions of mercury, arsenic and greenhouse gases.[1]

New labels for light bulb packaging, designed by the Federal Trade Commission, will also take effect in January and will highlight bulb measurements in lumens.  While watts tell us how much energy the light bulb uses, lumens measure the brightness.  These labels, similar to nutrition labels found on grocery items, will also include the bulbs’ energy costs, life expectancy, mercury levels (if any) and the lights’ appearance ranging from warm to cool.[2]

So what do these bulb changes mean for the commercial consumer?  Simply put, customers will be able to save energy and money without losing the amount of light displayed. Since light bulb purchases will focus on brightness, ambiance and life length, the new labels will allow consumers to purchase the most efficient bulbs for their specific office, business and industry needs.  With the new label it will also be easy to estimate the yearly cost of specific bulbs, letting commercial customers manage their budgets and make practical choices about which bulbs are the most cost-effective.

Despite the energy and cost saving benefits, many people are still skeptical about the changes. Will the market of incandescent bulbs be overtaken by compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs)? Certainly some incandescent bulbs currently on the market won’t make the cut, but they will not be banned, they will only need to be reinvented.  By utilizing a halogen technology with the incandescent bulb, lighting companies can reach the new standards, which are currently available in the standard bulb shape.[3] Since this efficient technology is already accessible, and means savings for most customers, bulbs will most likely transition to these new standards even if the mandate wasn’t set to take effect.      

Let us know what you think about the new bulb standards.

Solar Access

Can you force your neighbor to trim their trees if it shades your PV system? As California moves towards reaching the goals of the California Solar Initiative and beyond, disputes relating to solar access are likely to grow. In California, the Solar Shade Control Act (sections 25980–25986 of the California Public Resources Code) governs solar access. The Act was passed in 1978 and until 2008 stated that trees or shrubs may not cast a shadow over more than ten percent of a solar collector on a neighboring property at any one time during the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

A dispute between two Santa Clara County neighbors[1] was one of the first to raise widespread awareness of this conflict.  Citing the Act, a PV system owner brought criminal charges against a neighbor because the PV system he installed in 2001 was shaded by the neighbor’s trees that were planted six years prior to the installation. The lawsuit lasted from 2001 to 2008 and cost $37,000 in legal fees.  Ultimately, the tree owners were convicted and ordered to cut down a portion of the trees. Six months after this ruling, California amended the Act to account for existing trees.   The amended law “exempts all trees and shrubs planted prior to the time of the installation of a solar collector.In other words, the Act allows trees and shrubs to grow and shade solar panels without penalty as long as they predate the neighboring solar collector.[2]

Since 2008, lawsuits in California[3] and the rest of the country[4] have continued to surface. In all these lawsuits, both sides argue their environmental benefits. PV system owners cite that the PV system avoids more CO2 emissions over the course of a year, while tree owners argue that trees provide shading which offsets the need for air conditioners to run as much in warm summer months and provides habitat and food for local animals. No matter the merits of either argument, recent rulings have been decided by local laws.

The revised Act has implications for both residential and commercial building owners in California. Before installing PV, the site analysis must take into account not only shading from current trees, but also future impact of nearby trees that will grow over time. Likewise, someone planting a tree must see if any PV systems are installed nearby and either select a different location for the tree or plan to prune it over time.

[1] California Vs. Bissett

[2] Anders, et. al. California’s Solar Shade Control Act, A Review of the Statutes and Relevant Cases, Energy Policy Initiatives Center University of San Diego School of Law, March, 2010

California’s Revised Energy Planning Guide for Local Governments

What is it?

The California Energy Commission has recently released the 2011 Energy Aware Planning Guide, an update to a 1993 version. The guide is geared towards local governments and planning organizations including cities, counties, and regional transportation districts or any other local entity that influences energy usage in buildings, land use, transportation, water delivery and waste processing. The guide’s goal is to provide technical information to local governments seeking to improve energy efficiency, reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance renewable sources of energy.

Why is it Important?

Recent California legislation – the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act 375 – are starting to impact energy usage in California and local governments play a big role in influencing energy demand. Examples include local government’s influence on building code enforcement, land use planning, public transit and sometimes local governments run an electric and/or gas utility. This is in addition to the local governments own energy usage. The Guide provides processes, tools and templates to help local government’s make strategic energy plans and implement them.

How is it Helpful?

The Guide starts with a systematic process for creating an Energy Action Plan to inventory sources and uses of energy and identify opportunities for improvement. The Guide then presents many strategies to reduce energy use. Ideas include parking supply management, ridesharing, planting shade trees, implementing solar energy and water reuse and recycling.  The Guide then ends with metrics and guidelines for quantifying the impact of the recommended strategies. All of these ideas and examples can save a local government time and effort – generally in short supply during this era of budget deficits - in reducing energy usage for its own operations and its residents and businesses. 

Best Practices: The Solarize Portland Community Initiative

Community action on resource efficiency is an essential element of achieving a low-carbon, sustainable human relationship with the planet. This November, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting on behalf of the California Sustainability Alliance at the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference convened by Stanford University, the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, where I received first-hand accounts of a wide range of exciting ideas and programs being implemented in communities across the United States.

One of these presentations was given by Sue Jamison, Residential Marketing Manager at Energy Trust of Oregon, a non-profit organization funded by Oregon energy consumers to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy across the state. Jamison’s presentation was on Solarize Portland, an innovative, community-driven program launched in 2009 to increase residential solar adoption in Southeast Portland.

Despite Portland’s deserved reputation as an environmentally-minded city, in 2008 the city was lagging in residential PV installations—just 38 were installed that year compared with 168 in San Francisco. In fact, Energy Trust had observed through its own programs that the perceived interest in residential solar did not match up with installations. Through non-profit marketing agency SmartPower, which conducted a study on market barriers in Oregon, Energy Trust found that the main issues for residential customers were upfront costs, the wide range of price quotes from contractors, and the buyer fatigue associated with a complicated, and often protracted, process of picking equipment and getting it installed.

Solarize Portland came into being as a partnership between Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition (SE Uplift) and Energy Trust, with the goal of getting more solar panels on Portland homes by addressing the key barriers identified by SmartPower. So how did this work? Several core elements created a simple, unique, and highly effective program:

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