energy efficiency

Alliance Releases Emerging Trends for Greening Class B and C Existing Buildings

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.

New Concept for Local Governments to Partner with Utilities and Participate in the Cap-and-Trade Market

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.

Working together to further sustainability goals

The path to sustainability is difficult. Collaboration and joint efforts can help ease our journey. To this end, leaders from water and energy utilities as well as representatives from local governments of Southern California recently participated in a roundtable to discuss the opportunities to support each other in their efforts to promote energy and water efficiency. The 2013 Utility Sustainability Roundtable, the fourth such event, addressed three main topics: The Water-Energy Nexus, Aligning City Planning and Utility Incentive Cycles, and Cap-and-Trade.

Starting with the Water-Energy Nexus, attendees identified finding ways to present both water and energy efficiency opportunities to customers simultaneously as key to increasing participation in these programs. Such joint marketing must be specific to the customer and therefore requires water and energy suppliers to work together to raise awareness about savings opportunities and available incentives in their overlapping service territories. Joint water-energy audits have also proven to be a successful way to coordinate for increased customer participation.

The discussion then moved to Aligning City Planning and Utility Incentive Cycles. Coordinated communications between utilities and local governments may allow more trust to build and incentive funding to better enable scheduled system renovations in municipal buildings.

The last discussion topic related to an emerging topic: Cap-and-Trade. A forward-looking concept was presented that provides a framework by which utilities might be able to put additional funds toward the energy efficiency projects of local governments in return for the resulting emissions reductions.

The study also highlights a couple initiatives that would help move the ideas discussed forward. Download  the full report for more details.

New Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit for Local Governments

As part of its efforts to help local governments comply with federal and state retrocommissioning codes and policies, the California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) has developed a Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit specifically for municipal facility use.

Retrocommissioning (RCx) is a method of systematically examining the operation and maintenance of an existing building’s systems in order to identify ways to improve overall building performance. It offers a relatively quick and low-cost way to help building owners ensure that energy efficiency features and equipment specified in the building design are installed and operating as intended - and as required to meet occupants’ needs. 

The Alliance created its RCx Program Toolkit to help local government staff develop and implement a municipal facility retrocommissioning program.  The RCx Toolkit complements existing portfolio management tools and utility management systems, helping the user take the “next step” once a decision has been made to incorporate retrocommissioning into municipal facility standard operating procedures.  Although focused on the performance testing and documentation components, the Toolkit also provides resources, such as model commissioning specifications, to facilitate the entire commissioning process.

In addition to a detailed step-by-step description of the RCx program development processes of planning and preparation, creating data infrastructure, and collecting baseline data, the Toolkit includes necessary tools and resources to implement the program such as:

  • Sample RCx Action Plan;
  • References to common RCx resources and procedures;
  • Model Request for Proposals (RFP) language;
  • The RCx Dashboard, a spreadsheet tool that allows the user to enter basic building information to identify potential RCx candidates and track RCx program accomplishments.

The RCx Toolkit is designed to be flexible enough to be a complementary resource for an energy manager in a large local government or to be the sole RCx Program management tool for facility and public works staff in smaller jurisdictions.  It may be used to facilitate RCx for an entire portfolio of buildings, or for a defined sub-group, such as all fire stations or libraries.  Alternatively, a subset of the Toolkit’s procedures can serve to guide local government staff through retrocommissioning those measures for which that team is responsible, or to provide to its maintenance contractor. 

Depending on a government’s specific situation, the RCx Dashboard can aid in prioritizing buildings and identifying RCx candidates.  Data or analyses from other tools such as the EPA’s Portfolio Manager or a utility management system also function to prioritize the buildings, in which case, the Toolkit can work as a complementary resource library and tracking tool.  For example, for planning a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system replacement, the Toolkit includes sample retrocommissioning RFP language to ensure the HVAC contractor performs functional tests and provides the required documentation to the project team.  For projects completed by internal staff, such as lighting replacements, the Toolkit’s RCx functional tests can be used to document proper installation and operation of the newly installed lighting system. 

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.

Shutting the Door on Inefficient Retail Practices

Walking in any of California’s major retail zones (or in most of the U.S. for that matter), it is common to see inviting store fronts with highly planned out – even artful – window displays. There is little mystery or confusion about why retailers do this. They are designed to pique our interest, draw us inside and result in our making a purchase.

But, there is another part to the façade of any establishment that goes less-noticed, which is worth a look: The door. Barring severe weather, many retailers choose to keep their doors open during business hours—helping to make their stores even more accessible and inviting. This practice, however, has costs, both for the retailer and its customers. The costs are in the energy that is required to keep the store temperature at comfortable levels for both employees and shoppers.

In 2008, the shopping mecca of New York City passed a law requiring that retailers meeting specific criteria must keep their doors shut while the air-conditioning is running. ConEdison of New York helped to inform retailers of their role in energy efficiency by publishing The Price of Open Doors, a widely distributed informational flyer providing information on kWh and dollar savings, and the impact of lost energy in the region.

With all of this information, one could wonder why retailers simply don’t just close their doors and save energy? It boils down to today’s highly competitive retail environment; retailers have [legitimate] concerns that keeping the door closed will negatively impact sales. Doors create, quite literally, a physical barrier between potential customers and merchandise. And, to be successful, retailers must minimize barriers that keep “window shoppers” from turning into product purchasers. 

So, how can retailers reconcile aspirations to be environmentally responsible and drive sales? Two key starting point are:

  • Introduce a code– When local and/or state governments pass codes, as New York City did, a level playing field exists for retailers. Customers would be equally drawn into stores by the other merchandisingapproaches available, not though the doors being left wide open.
  • Turn it into a marketing opportunity – Nowadays, it’s quite common for retailers to publish their sustainability statement as a way of winning favor with their clientele. Retailers can use this environmentally-responsible action to their favor by informing current and prospective customers of the change—perhaps with a sticker on the door (that can only be seen when it’s shut) to remind customers of their commitment to sustainability.

Let us know what you think!

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.

Ocean Friendly Gardens

Approximately half of all residential water use in California is for outdoor purposes—and, of that, the majority is used for watering lawns and gardens.  In total approximately 1,300,000 acre feet of water is used for watering lawns and gardens; enough to cover the entire County of Los Angeles with six inches of water.  Producing, transporting, treating and delivering that water requires a significant amount of energy.  In a state that had below-normal precipitation in 8 of the last 10 years (including a 3-year drought), can using such significant amounts of water (and related energy) in this manner be considered sustainable?

New technologies and approaches allow for greater efficiency of outdoor irrigation.  Options range from high efficiency nozzle replacements on sprinklers to weather sensing irrigation controllers.   Meanwhile, some have suggested outright replacement of grass with synthetic turf.  However, one option stands out for not only reducing water use but also adding to the property values of California homes, while at the same time reducing ocean pollution: ocean friendly gardens (sometimes referred to as xeriscaping).

Ocean friendly gardens utilize drought resistant California native plants in plots that are designed to capture home stormwater runoff.  They require little, if any, irrigation.  Water is supplied to the gardens by rerouting downspouts that would normally send rainwater to the streets or sewer systems—water that would otherwise wash pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and oil into California’s rivers and ultimately pollute our oceans and beaches.  Ocean friendly gardens are specially designed to retain the influx of storm water and achieve near-zero runoff.  Contours and dry creek beds built into the landscapes retain water, allowing it to percolate into the ground.

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