Upcoming Webinars

I just want to remind folks that we have launched a “Webinars” page to feature interesting online presentations. You can navigate to the Webinars page using links at the right side of the blog.

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November 10, 2010 (Wednesday)

Pacific Energy Center: “Chris Hammer – What’s Behavior Got To Do With Energy Efficiency?”

6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

We often look to technology to capture energy savings. What about the behavior of individuals in the home and workplace? Chris Hammer will describe occupant actions that save energy, discuss social science research on behavior and energy, and review case studies of organizations that implemented behavior change programs.

Free event. For more info and links to register here.

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November 18, 2010 (Thursday)

Build It Green: “Passive House – A Sustainable Building Revolution in California”

11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Expectations for building occupant comfort, health and efficiency are increasing simultaneously. The Passive House standard meets all of these requirements at once. By producing buildings with energy demands that can be met at a renewable scale of production, Passive House can future-proof our communities and put California on track to meet our greeenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The future of building is here!An in-depth look at the Passive House standard by the leading local experts in the field, this webinar will:

  • Detail current retrofit and new construction Passive House projects and approaches in the Bay Area
  • Retrofit lessons learned and phased approaches
  • Illustrate how Passive House meets or exceeds the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, and makes net-zero and energy-positive buildings feasible TODAY in the most cost-effective way possible
  • Explore how the Passive House standard can integrate with and enhance GPR and other green building rating systems.

Free for Build It Green members, $10 for non-members – more info and links to register here.

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Major Appliance Efficiency Agreement

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, appliance manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates announced an agreement to call for new national minimum efficiency standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and room air conditioners. The coalition of major appliance manufacturers, their trade union, and the energy efficiency advocates propose that the new national minimum efficiency standards and tax credits be instituted through action by the Department of Energy and by Congress.

According to the press release, the recommended standards and tax credits would save more than 9 quads of energy over 30 years. The recommended water efficiency standards and tax credits for clothes washers and dishwashers would save about 5 trillion gallons of water over 30 years.

Below, I’ve put together a rough timeline of how the proposed standards would take effect:

  • January 2013 – dishwashers would see 14% energy savings and 23% water savings
  • January 2014 – new refrigerator and freezer energy reduced up to 30%
  • June 2014 – room air conditioners would increase in efficiency 10-15%
  • 2015 – top loading clothes washers would have 26% energy savings and 16% water saving compared to current standards
  • 2015 – front loading clothes washers would have 43% energy savings and 52% water savings compared to current standards
  • 2015 – clothes dryers will increase in efficiency 5%
  • 2018 – top loading clothes washers would have 37% energy and water saving compared to current standards

An overview of the agreement is here.

The agreement was signed by major appliance manufacturing members of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and by major energy and water efficiency organizations, consumer groups and environmental organizations including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Alliance for Water Efficiency, Alliance to Save Energy, Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships.

Finding California Incentives and Rebates

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There are hundreds of energy, water, and waste incentives, rebates, and services available for homes  in California, but it can be daunting to find them. Here are a few places to start:

Flex Your Power allows you to search for energy-related incentives and technical help available from utility companies, water agencies, and other organizations by entering your zip code.  A search in my zip code (in Berkeley) found 71 incentives and 18 services.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) lists state and local incentives by category and also lists related programs and initiatives. It can be much harder to figure out which specific programs are applicable, though. The database also lists federal incentives.

The California Urban Water Conservation Council lists programs participating in its Smart Rebates by water utility district.

For folks living in the East Bay:

East Bay Municipal Utility District lists its residential conservation rebates and services.

StopWaste.Org lists waste prevention and recycling services available to residents of Alameda County.

Current Events – The Cost of Energy Production

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There have been many analyses of the financial cost of energy production – in this post I am focused on the human and environmental costs.

It can seem like a huge practical joke – the fossil fuels that we have become so dependent on are tucked away into all kinds of inaccessible corners of the planet. And the more we need them to keep up with increasing demand, the harder and harder they are to find and to safely extract.

This issue of “safe” extraction has been in the news and on my mind a lot lately.

First, there was explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.

Then, the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that is presumed to have killed 11 workers. The estimates of the size of the resulting oil spill are being revised upwards (again).

There have been numerous other disasters over the years, both in the United States and the rest of the world.

There is always initial shock and outrage at these disasters, of course. But the focus of the outrage is on whether proper permits were acquired and safety procedures followed. Doubt is and will be expressed at company management and government for their oversight and handling of the crisis.

But there is little shock and outrage over the potential long-term human and environmental cost of extracting these fossil fuels, and over how little we seem to value the resulting energy. There is real risk involved in getting energy from the source, into a usable format, and transporting it to the location where it will be used.

While we should absolutely improve oversight and regulation of these enterprises, a major lesson of these disasters is that we need to rethink why we really need this energy in the first place and to use this precious commodity with increased care.

RECO

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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I am not (and have never been) a Bay Area homeowner, which is perhaps why I was not very familiar with the term “RECO” until recently.

There are many well-publicized programs aimed at making new buildings as “green” and energy efficient as possible. These efforts are viewed as integral to efforts to reduce future energy use and combat climate change. But in many places, we’re mostly stuck with the buildings that we’ve got. And we’ll likely be stuck with them for many years to come. So how do we influence and improve the energy and water performance of these buildings? One answer is a RECO.

Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO)

The purpose of a RECO is to improve the energy (and now water) efficiency of housing stock at the point of sale and major renovation.

In Berkeley, CA, the majority of the housing stock was built before the introduction of state building energy codes.  The buildings are often drafty, with no insulation and single-pane windows. Further, more than half of the city’s housing units are occupied by renters. In rental units landlords must approve and often conduct and pay for any major energy retrofits. However, the retrofits primarily benefit the renters, who pay the utility bills. Because of these split incentives, an obvious point of intervention to improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock over time is at transfer of ownership or major renovation. The Berkeley RECO, which has been in place since the 1980s, applies to all residential homes and units, whether single-family homes, condos, multi-family properties, or live-work spaces, and requires that the home or unit comply with specific energy and water performance measures at the time of sale or major renovation.

The Berkeley RECO has ten prescriptive measures covering toilets, showerheads, faucets, water heaters, hot and cold water piping, exterior door weather-stripping, furnace ducts, fireplace chimneys, ceiling insulation, and lighting in common areas (for multi-family buildings).

It is tempting to say the measures are not enough, that much more drastic intervention (and more quickly) will be needed to achieve dramatic energy savings. This is probably true. But many approaches will be needed, and the gradual but consistent improvement of existing housing stock is a good place to start.

Since 1994, Berkeley has also had a Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinance (CECO).

Participants in Berkeley FIRST (Berkeley’s solar financing program) have to comply with RECO/CECO.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.