New and Notable
March 06, 2011
A version of this article appears in the March/April 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Haiti—One Year Out
As the January anniversary of the 7 moment magnitude earthquake came and went, leaders of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity and Kevin Rowell of Kleiwerks International, weigh in on postearthquake recovery. Sinclair reports in a blog in the online news outlet Huffington Post, We've established a rebuilding center, distributed a basic guide to rebuilding safely to thousands, provided urban planning and construction expertise to our partners, and, most critically, worked to rebuild schools. All told, our design services have impacted the lives of more than 37,935 to date.”
Rowell reports that Kleiwerks International’s Technical Working Group, in partnership with other NGOs, such as Builders Without Borders, Ecological Building Network, Architecture for Humanity, and the American Bamboo Society, has rebuilt schools and orphanages, provided training in ecological building practices, published open-source manuals on ecological building in both English and Creole, and trained Haitian builders in improvements to traditional architecture as well as bamboo construction.
If you take a long or wide-sweeping view of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, NGOs working on rebuilding are all holding hands across political, ethnic, and organizational lines. Many seem anxious to stand out of the way of the Haitians themselves, who are working to rebuild their lives. “To implement visionary plans, you need to build a strong foundation, one that is responding to immediate needs but making sure we are enabling projects for economic stability and local ownership,” Sinclair says.
Rowell notes that according to an AP story in Valley News Live, “Out of every $100 of U.S. contracts now paid out to rebuild Haiti, Haitian firms have successfully won $1.60.” That’s 1.6%. “In development work,” Rowell says, “there are ways to empower communities and there are ways to undermine them. You get to decide how we will live on this planet together when you donate this year. Will we continue with development that leaves children begging in the streets year after year, or will we support community leaders to face the issues today and tomorrow with a vision for the next 1,000 years.”
Architecture for Humanity runs a small volunteer outfit from its office in Pétionville, Port-au-Prince. As of October 2010, volunteer needs on the ground were for highly skilled builders, architects, and architectural designers to work on a variety of assignments—from site surveys and documentation to CAD drafting to research; from assisting to facilitate meetings to working on impromptu construction projects.
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Learn and Earn, Share the Flair:
Using Social Networking to Spark Some Friendly Competition
Two recent graduates of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business created an online service that encourages people to save energy at home. It’s called Energy Flair, and it not only teaches people how to lower their electricity and natural-gas bills, but also rewards households that reduce their usage with virtual pieces of Energy Flair, or digital merit badges. Users can track their savings over time with charts and post their collection of Energy Flair on Facebook and Twitter, giving them a way to showcase their accomplishments in saving energy and money. They can also compare their Energy Flair collection to those of their Facebook friends, telling them how they’re doing relative to others—and sparking some friendly competition. Energy Flair helps people save money by offering discounts on products and services, such as a discounted energy audit in southeastern Michigan.
People can create an Energy Flair account for free in less than a minute at www.EnergyFlair.com. They can then learn how to improve their home’s efficiency by browsing a list of energy-saving tips, which can be filtered by category and by the level of effort required to implement the tip. Users can also view graphs of their energy usage over time. As they reduce their monthly energy consumption compared to the previous year, they earn digital Energy Flair buttons. Energy Flair partners with the member’s utility (with the member’s consent, of course) to find out how much energy the member is using. To verify reductions, users send in an electronic copy of their utility bill.
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For more information on EnergyFlair, go to www.EnergyFlair.com.
Lakeland Electric Puts Its Customers in Hot Water
Lakeland Electric, in Florida, is offering its customers an option to use solar hot-water systems to save on their utility bills.
Lakeland residents who have unobstructed south-facing roof space to accommodate a solar-thermal collector can now pay a locked-in monthly fee of $34.95 and receive a solar hot-water system with an 80-gallon water tank, plus installation and ongoing maintenance, all at no further cost. Households of four or more (with average water use) will see their utility bills decrease from day one while the sun offsets their electricity use for heating water. Additional benefits include decreasing long-term electricity demand for the utility and increased public exposure to renewable energy. Lakeland Electric hopes that this project will be a model for the rest of the country; at present, only about 1% of U.S. households are using the sun to heat their water. When the house is sold, the equipment and the rate stay with the home and can be passed along to the next owner.
The program, launched by Regenesis Power, is part of a 30-year contract with Lakeland Electric. Headquartered in San Carlos, California, Regenesis Power is a renewable-energy service company that owns and operates solar assets in the United States. Its goal is to bring commercial-grade solar-energy solutions to its customers. Once a Lakeland Electric customer qualifies for the service, a solar crew member will perform a brief site survey to make sure the home will benefit from the service. The $34.95 per month fee is locked in for 20 years and never rises with energy prices or inflation.
“Enabling utility companies and municipal organizations to offer a clear choice for clean energy that delivers immediate value to the customer, benefits regional job creation, and increases our energy independence is right on target for Florida,” said Regenesis Power’s Dell Jones, vice president of Renewable Project Development. “We are pleased to be working together with Lakeland Electric on the first of these solar-service programs. As we continue to build relationships with like-minded partners and investors, we’re confident and excited about the potential to make a meaningful imprint on America’s emerging green economy.”
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Keeping Up—or Down—with the Joneses
In “Evidence from Two Large Field Experiments that Peer Comparison Feedback Can Reduce Residential Energy Usage,” a study published earlier last year in the National Bureau of Economic Research, Ian Ayres, Sophie Raseman, and Alice Shih showed that when customers received information on their neighbors’ energy consumption, average energy use declined by 1.2–2.1%.
When utility customers are told how much energy their neighbors use, those who are consuming more than average tend to cut their consumption. The authors of the study examined data from two field experiments carried out by West Coast public utilities. Their sample was larger than the samples in any similar past studies: 35,000 customers of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) over a period of 12 months, and 40,000 customers of Puget Sound Energy (PSE) over a period of 7 months. “Together, the two experiments provide compelling evidence that properly framed peer comparisons can predictably lower energy consumption, particularly of the highest energy using households,” they write. The study of the two groups of utility customers looked at the daily impact of comparison information on energy use, measured changes in the use of both electricity and natural gas, and investigated the effects of the timing and formatting of energy-saving messages. In both field experiments, certain households were randomly assigned either to a control group or to a test group. The test groups were sent reports, on either a monthly or a quarterly basis, showing the energy use of homes in their area that were similar to their own homes. These reports contained not only data but also messages (including emoticons and computerized happy faces) designed to convince customers that saving energy was a good thing.
In the SMUD experiment, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “the energy reports did not produce a ‘boomerang’ effect—there was no evidence that households using the lowest amount of energy increased their energy consumption once they found out how much more energy their neighbors were using. But in the PSE experiment, the homes using the least amount of energy before the study did boost their consumption by an average of 3.4%. By contrast, the highest energy-using households decreased their energy use by an average of 6%, so overall energy demand declined.”
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To read a digest of the study described in this article, go to www.nber.org/digest/feb10/w15386.html.
Congress Likely to Extend, but Modify, Energy Efficiency Tax Incentives
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reported in mid-December that the tax package that had just passed the Senate and that was likely to pass the House of Representatives includes extensions and revisions to three existing federal energy efficiency tax incentives. They are for appliances, a one-year extension; for new homes, coverage for 2010 and 2011; and for home retrofits, extension of one year with modifications.
The new-homes credit is for homes that use no more than half as much energy as homes that just meet the SB 2003 Federal Model Energy Code. The credit is $2,000 and goes to the home builder. Since this credit was enacted in 2005, the market share of homes that qualify has gone from less than 1% of new construction in 2005 to 12% of new construction in 2009. The credit expired at the end of 2009, but the new bill extends it to cover new homes that are built in 2010 and 2011.
The home retrofits provision covers the installation of insulation; the sealing of leaky building shells and ducts; and the installation of efficient windows, furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters, and woodstoves. The original 2005 incentive reimbursed 10% of the cost of the measure, up to $500 per homeowner. In 2008, as part of legislation passed in the closing days of the Bush administration, this was increased to 30% of measure cost, up to $1,500 per homeowner for installations through December 31, 2010. The new bill extends eligibility to the end of 2011, but reduces the incentive to the original 10%, up to $500. Included are provisions limiting window incentives to $200, oil and gas furnace and boiler incentives to $150–200, and water heater and wood heating-system incentives to $300. As part of these amendments, Congress is loosening the qualification for window incentives (Energy Star windows now qualify) and tightening the specifications for oil furnaces and boilers and gas boilers to 95% efficiency, up from the 90% efficiency in current law.
Next year, Congress is likely to consider further extensions of these incentives into 2012 and beyond. Key congressional offices have already indicated that the existing-homes incentives are likely to
receive a major overhaul at that time. In 2011 there are also likely to be discussions about improving incentives for energy efficiency investments in commercial buildings—incentives that, under current law, continue until the end of 2013.
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