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Greening the Co-op: Improving Energy Efficiency Means Saving Money
Emily Gertz, 21 Jul 07

Around 85 percent of all the buildings that will exist in New York City in 25 years are already standing, according to reporter J. Alex Tarquino in this past Sunday's edition of The New York Times. 80 percent of the city's greenhouse gas pollution is created by building energy use -- with residential buildings taking up about one-third of that energy.

So however advanced green building methods become, however energy-efficient, we're going to make the biggest gains in cutting energy use -- thus lowering particulate and greenhouse gas pollution -- by transforming these older buildings.

Even though the New York way of living is inherently very energy-efficient, compared to other American cities or communities, we can do better, reports Tarquino:

Sure, New Yorkers have the benefit of an extensive mass-transit system, which means lower auto emissions, but the city’s residential buildings are less energy-efficient than those in many other places in the country, particularly in eco-friendly states like California and Vermont.

“The main reason that New Yorkers use much less electricity is that our apartments are so much smaller” than homes in other cities, said Rohit Aggarwala, the director of the Long-Term Planning and Sustainability Office, part of the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

In fact, most big New York buildings, both commercial and residential, are wasting thousands of dollars a year on energy, the city says. Energy use by buildings accounts for almost 80 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, and residential buildings for about a third of that. These gases are released in creating the energy used to heat, cool and light the buildings, as well as to run myriad household appliances and gadgets.

Apparently, most co-ops haven't even picked the low-hanging fruit when it comes to cutting energy overhead by changing out their incandescent light bulbs in common areas for compact fluorescents. This simple step can be done by in-house staff and provides the satisfaction of an immediate and detectable reduction in the electric bill; my own co-op's bill went down by about $200 a year after we made the switch. (And then there's worker satisfaction: From what I hear, our super's happy not to be going up and down ladders all the time replacing burnt-out bulbs). And we're slowly installing the thermostatic radiator valves mentioned in the article, which allow much more precise control (than opening a window in the dead of winter, say) over how much heat a radiator emits.

Weatherizing is another simple step any co-op can take right away to cut energy costs.

So, how do we decide what our next steps ought to be? Tarquino profiles the experiences of co-ops that made changes after energy audits. A Manhattan co-op spent almost $8,000 updating its internal heating system, and paid $8,500 less on fuel in the first year alone. And, the apartment dwellers within were a lot more comfortable.

This kind of change, which makes back its costs within a year or two, is very appealing. Others take longer. It still takes around 15 years for an installation of solar panels on the roof to pay for itself, even after cashing in on currently available subsidies and tax breaks. New York State offers some help with paying for solar installations, and Mayor Bloomberg is apparently proposing an additional solar panel subsidy.

The NRDC's Ashok Gupta suggests that co-ops develop a broader perspective on assessing these costs:

Mr. Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council contends that environmentalists often sell themselves short by focusing too much on payback periods. “Nobody asks what the payback period is for a marble lobby,” he said. But if a lot of large commercial and residential buildings installed solar panels, he said, that could go a long way toward reducing the city’s overall impact on global warming.

“From a societal perspective, the benefits are huge,” Mr. Gupta said.

One approach to putting a more realistic spin on how long these investments take to recoup their costs -- on how we would make back the expense of stemming the emission of climate-disrupting gasses -- would be to include the economic and health benefits of the ecosystem services that current methods of accounting take for granted -- all of which will be changed for the worse if climate change isn't slowed -- like our mild climate, wealth of urban forest, and rare encounters with extremely destructive storms.

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Comments

Going Green without Going Broke!
We are all overlooking an important issue here, what can we do as individuals to have an effect on the global energy problem we face today. The answer is simple Make Solar Power Affordable to the masses. Alternative energy is moving in the right direction to meet the demand but, what effect will it have on homeowners who can not afford it. I recently ran across a company that has removed the tradition cost to Solar Power. They do it with a rental agreement and with an electric rate locked in at or below what you are paying to your electric provider now. They provide a worryfree system, they install it, and maintain it without any addition fees. Imagine every home producing their own electric Solar power on their roofs without going broke. Now the average homeowner in America can take the power back and take action as a collective force with solar power. Think of it, millions of homes across America savings energy and producing their own electric power not including the money saved by the homeowners or CO2 emmissions on the environment. http://www.solarforusa.com


Posted by: Antonio on 21 Jul 07

I was just at the DOE Energy Codes 2007 conference in Pittsburgh last week, and heard someone say (might have been during a small group discussion with a rep from the National Association of Homebuilders Research Council-NAHBRC-a group that is really big on the simple payback as the only reason to do anything), "Yeah, but what is the payback period on a granite countertop?"

Nice to hear the same thoughts articulated in your article! I've heard it in two places in a week, might just qualify as a meme...

For what it is worth (and I believe it is worth rather a lot!), most of the credible research I have seen puts energy efficient building measures in well under the typical 7-year simple payback that is required under some state's "cost effectiveness" guidelines for building codes (such as Michigan's Stille-Derossett-Hale Single State Construction Code Act of 1973). Especially as you move into colder climate zones.

New York, according to the DOE, has a mandatory state building energy code for commercial buildings that is an amended version of the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), so at least you have a strong worst-case baseline for any significant rehabs and new construction. ASHRAE 90.1 (the commercial building energy standard promulgated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air conditioning Engineers, and referenced in the IECC) is set to go to a 30% beyond-current-level for energy efficiency in their upcoming 2010 revision, so as long as New York keeps up on their code update cycle, that baseline will keep getting better.

The Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Energy Efficiency said that the DOE believes that we can achieve a 50% or greater reduction in building energy use by 2025 without even having to *touch* renewables and that we really will only need them when we want to get to zero net-energy buildings.

So I say, "solar, schmolar." Efficiency is the first, most cost-effective energy resource. We don't need distributed solar generation until we have our building envelopes sealed and insulated, our lightbulbs replaced, our second fridges out of basements and garages, our plug loads reduced, and so on. No point in generating green power if we are just going to waste it through inefficiency.


Posted by: Greg Ehrendreich on 30 Jul 07

I was just at the DOE Energy Codes 2007 conference in Pittsburgh last week, and heard someone say (might have been during a small group discussion with a rep from the National Association of Homebuilders Research Council-NAHBRC-a group that is really big on the simple payback as the only reason to do anything), "Yeah, but what is the payback period on a granite countertop?"

Nice to hear the same thoughts articulated in your article! I've heard it in two places in a week, might just qualify as a meme...

For what it is worth (and I believe it is worth rather a lot!), most of the credible research I have seen puts energy efficient building measures in well under the typical 7-year simple payback that is required under some state's "cost effectiveness" guidelines for building codes (such as Michigan's Stille-Derossett-Hale Single State Construction Code Act of 1973). Especially as you move into colder climate zones.

New York, according to the DOE, has a mandatory state building energy code for commercial buildings that is an amended version of the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), so at least you have a strong worst-case baseline for any significant rehabs and new construction. ASHRAE 90.1 (the commercial building energy standard promulgated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air conditioning Engineers, and referenced in the IECC) is set to go to a 30% beyond-current-level for energy efficiency in their upcoming 2010 revision, so as long as New York keeps up on their code update cycle, that baseline will keep getting better.

The Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Energy Efficiency said that the DOE believes that we can achieve a 50% or greater reduction in building energy use by 2025 without even having to *touch* renewables and that we really will only need them when we want to get to zero net-energy buildings.

So I say, "solar, schmolar." Efficiency is the first, most cost-effective energy resource. We don't need distributed solar generation until we have our building envelopes sealed and insulated, our lightbulbs replaced, our second fridges out of basements and garages, our plug loads reduced, and so on. No point in generating green power if we are just going to waste it through inefficiency.


Posted by: Greg Ehrendreich on 30 Jul 07

Sorry, it lagged and I double posted. Please delete the repetition.


Posted by: greg ehrendreich on 30 Jul 07



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