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New and Notable

November 02, 2011
November/December 2011
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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A Citizen's Guide to Green

Most of us have wondered if a new development in our community was a good idea, whether it was environmentally friendly, or whether or not we should support it. A Citizen's Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) is a hands-on introduction to making our communities better and greener that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has developed for local environmental groups, smart-growth organizations, neighborhood residents, and anyone else interested in the cause.

CitizensGuidecover

LEED-ND is a comprehensive and logical rating system that reflects current thinking about smart, green, sustainable, and well-designed neighborhoods. For neighborhood-scale development to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as environmentally exemplary, it must meet the criteria listed in the LEED-ND system.

Projects that score higher under the criteria are awarded higher ratings. Developments and neighborhoods that earn high scores under LEED-ND will generally have lower emissions of CO2 and other common air pollutants. They will generate less storm water runoff; use land more efficiently and wisely; conserve natural and material resources better; be more walkable; and promote public health.

But the principles embodied in LEED-ND can be applied to situations other than those in which a development is seeking certification. While the formal LEED-ND process is a technical one, the Citizen's Guide is user-friendly and aimed at helping residents learn about environmental standards for green land development, and advocate the implementation of these standards in their own communities.

Following two short introductory sections ("How to Use This Guide" and "What Is a Sustainable Neighborhood?"), the Guide identifies three key sustainability concepts for neighborhoods. They are "Smart Location and Linkage: Where to Build"; "Neighborhood Pattern and Design: What to Build"; and "Green Infrastructure and Buildings: How to Manage Environmental Impacts."

The Guide also includes a "Sustainable Neighborhood Development Checklist." The checklist is a sort of crib sheet for every LEED-ND credit and prerequisite. It's organized by topic and presents these credits and prerequisites in an easy-to-use format for evaluating development proposals, assessing existing neighborhoods, and informing community planning and policy. It includes an optional scoring exercise so users can estimate what an approximate LEED-ND score might be for a particular project or proposal. It is also a great source for nationally tested standards or numerical thresholds that users can incorporate into design guidelines or planning policy.

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Get a free download of the book.

Smart Meters Deserve Privacy, Too

Recently, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) adopted the world's first comprehensive set of rules to ensure that consumers can access the detailed energy usage data gathered by their smart meter — while also protecting the privacy of their data.

This decision applies to the three large investor-owned utilities that serve 80% of Californians with electricity — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison. At last count, these three utilities had installed 8 million smart meters. By the end of 2012, they will have installed the final 3 million.

The decision called for:

Web presentment. Utilities must provide via their web sites the following information, updated daily: detailed energy usage, bill to date, month-end bill forecast, and projected month-end energy price. (The more energy Californians use, the higher the price they pay, progressing through up to five price tiers.)

Tier alerts. When customers move from one price tier to the next, the utilities must notify them "via e-mail, text message, tweet, chat, or some other form of rapid communication." (PG&E already does this for its smart meter customers.)

Rate option calculator. Though few customers are aware of it, all residents and businesses served by California's three largest utilities have the option of switching to a time-of-use rate. The newly required calculator, which will appear on these utilities' web sites, will help consumers understand whether they would save money by switching.

Real-time data. The smart meters installed by these three utilities all contain a radio that uses the ZigBee standard for transmitting data to homes and businesses. This means of transmitting data is called the Home Area Network (HAN) interface.

Third-party data services. Consumers will be able to authorize third parties to receive their backhauled smart meter data directly from the utility (as opposed to receiving data directly from the meter). This will support services such as demand response and energy advice.

The three major utilities will submit to the CPUC applications that will include specific plans that state which standards they will use — probably the "Open Automated Data Exchange" (OpenADE) standard, which is currently in final development by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and the North American Energy Standards Board. Furthermore, to protect consumer security, the CPUC is exercising jurisdiction over third parties who receive data in the course of providing services to utilities, or when authorized by consumers. However, the CPUC is not exercising jurisdiction over third parties who receive energy usage data directly from a device that receives data via the HAN interface.

In this decision, the CPUC relied mainly on existing privacy law, using the Fair Information Practice Principles, which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed as its privacy framework.

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Get information about the decision.

Weatherization-technician-dril-7a588d9f-2

What Do We Do Now?

After the ARRA funding runs out at the end of March 2012, what do we do? That was the big question on the minds of attendees today at the 2011 National Association for State Community Services Program (NASCSP) Training Conference in Seattle. At the same time everyone felt the need to recognize the huge success achieved by WAP in the three years covered by the ARRA funding, especially because of recent criticism of WAP in Congress.

WAP is on track to weatherize up to 700,000 homes by next April; more than 15,000 direct jobs were created, and by a conservative estimate 30,000 were created indirectly, including the jobs of manufacturers of audit equipment, weatherization materials like insulation, and equipment such as insulation blowers; more than $5 billion worth of energy savings is being achieved over the life of all the home retrofits; and there have been great strides in weatherizing multifamily buildings, a previously neglected housing sector. In fact, more than 90% of the homes weatherized in the past three years in Alaska have been multifamily buildings. In New York it's more than 70%.

John Davies, director, Building Performance Center, Opportunity Council, Bellingham, Washington, outlined the challenges:

  • lack of state and federal funding in the near future;
  • maintaining the infrastructure of equipment, space, and trained staff;
  • how to market to a whole new group of potential homeowners/clients; and
  • overcoming the nonprofit mentality in the minds of staff who may not know the real market value of their work in homes and the public perception that they can get weatherization services for free.

Jennifer Somers, Team Lead for training and Technical Assistance/Policy Advisor, Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program, U.S. DOE offered, if not cut-and-dried answers, at least some directions to go in. DOE has helped create 39 training centers in 29 states. Those centers are being used already to train technicians to perform more than weatherization — for the Weatherization Plus Health program. A pilot program in New Hampshire is developing a "One Touch" audit approach, where auditors assess a home's safety, air quality, and other health factors in the initial visit. DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is developing a Healthy Home Assessment Audit Tool, as well as a Multifamily Home Energy Assessment Tool.

Somers also mentioned a $5 billion backlog of retrofit needed for HUD housing. DOE's Bob Adams says, "It took us a long time to figure out how to partner with organizations like HUD, but we have and it is working. The best thing is that now we have greater advocacy for our work in Congress. HUD too wants us to get the money to do the work they need done." Collaborations with NIH, the CDC, and other organizations in the area of healthy housing hold great potential for the future of weatherization. There is much evidence piling up in academic journals and elsewhere that shows that children in clean, dry homes with good air quality do better in school and have to visit the emergency room much less often with asthma attacks. Weatherization Plus Health is a natural fit.

Davies added to the list of directions the WAP community can go in, and thrive. Just as we are beginning to understand the need for healthy housing for kids, as the nation gets older there will be a greater need to provide healthy housing for seniors. Weatherization agencies can combine grant funds with private-company investment and offer whole-house retrofits to middle- and high-income families. New energy codes in Washington State (and elsewhere) require duct testing when a furnace is changed out. Some states are investigating the idea of requiring that a home energy audit be performed before an existing home is sold. And weatherization agencies and contractors can offer environmental services such as lead, asbestos, Radon, and mold abatement. And the many training programs around the nation can keep training people to do all kinds of home performance work.

It's not a happy time now. Joel Eisenberg of Oak Ridge says about the pending end of ARRA funding, "It was a lot more fun on the way up." But people are not too discouraged. When one door closes, new ones open. At the NASCSP Training Conference in 2016, I bet we'll be saying things like, "No one expected this. Who knew we would be thriving the way we are thriving now?" Retrofitting homes on Mars may be a stretch, but a thriving home performance market nationwide — with guidance and regulation from the government, but not a whole lot of money — sure isn't.

Posted on HomeEnergy.org by Jim Gunshinan on September 22, 2011.

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For more about NASCSP, visit http://nascsp.org.

Online Energy Management

As energy conservation goes mainstream, more and more resources that allow homeowners to monitor their energy use become available. Here are two fairly new online resources that provide a unique look into energy use and conservation — both in homes and on a national level.

Lowfoot.com. Lowfoot allows homeowners to connect to their smart meters via a server that the organization hosts online for free. Once you've signed up online, you can connect your Lowfoot account to your utility's smart meter account. The company will read your meter and calculate your personalized usage targets (which you set when you sign up). Next, Lowfoot puts your data into easily readable graphs and sends daily notifications to help you learn how you're using your energy. The site offers resources, tips, and suggestions for helping you manage your usage to meet your targets. If your targets are met, you earn Lowfoot Credits, which can be exchanged for rewards every month. Currently, Lowfoot Credits are converted to cash and members are paid via PayPal.

Energy.Data.gov. This web site combines data and insight to facilitate public discussion and awareness of the nation's "energy activities." The site offers information on alternative fuels, and tools to help users manage energy in public buildings and in private homes. Some of the site's apps include EnergyIQ, a tool that was developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; this app enables building owners and contractors to benchmark the energy savings that can be realized by implementing various building efficiency upgrades. EnergyIQ utilizes data from the California Commercial End-Use Survey (CEUS) database and ASHRAE best practices.

Energy.Data.gov also offers the Portfolio Manager. This interactive energy management tool allows you to track and assess energy and water consumption across your entire portfolio of buildings in a secure online environment. Whether you own properties, manage properties, or hold properties for investment, Portfolio Manager helps you set investment priorities, identify underperforming buildings, verify efficiency improvements, and receive EPA recognition for superior energy performance.

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Lowfoot can be found at http://lowfoot.com. Energy.Data.gov can be found at www.data.gov/energy.

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