Infrastructure & Services

Energy report cards firststep towards conservation

Energy report cards will soon be sent to some residents in hopes that the data will spur residents to make energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes. It’s the first step in a community-wide energy-efficiency project that kicks off at a public meeting next week on Saturday, March 12, at 3 p.m. at the Glen Helen Building.

Village Council, at its Feb. 22 meeting, officially endorsed the project, a collaboration of the University of Dayton’s Building Energy Center with the Village’s Energy Board and the local non-profit Community Solutions.

Some 200 households released their natural gas data for the two-year study and will receive a report card detailing their cooling, heating and electrical energy use compared with the average village home. The partnership will soon offer $60 energy audits to participating villagers, who will receive a prioritized list of building upgrades and behavior changes that can save energy with the fastest payback on their investment.

Those households that have not released their natural gas data for the study can do so by filling out a form in their upcoming utility bills. They may also do so at the March 12 meeting, when University of Dayton Building Energy Center Director Kevin Hallinan, who spearheaded the individual home analysis, will explain the project.

“The goal is to work with existing communities to educate them, get access to their energy data and help them understand where they stand — how good they are,” with their energy use, Hallinan said.

Each of the 1,165 single-family residences in the village was evaluated using an algorithm Hallinan created that combines utility data with basic home information and eliminates weather variability. First, home electricity data released by the Village for the project was merged with public information from Greene County detailing square footage, number of floors, type of construction and foundation type. Then typical and actual weather data were added to the database to normalize energy-use patterns. Finally, some residents signed a waiver to release their natural gas data from natural gas supplier Vectren to the project, resulting in a near-complete picture of a home’s energy use.

Just by looking at the data, Hallinan, a professor of mechanical engineering, can tell how much energy an individual household uses to air condition and heat their home, power their appliances and provide lighting.

Yellow Springs homes, taken as whole, use less energy for cooling, and about the same for home heating and appliances as the typical home in the Midwest, according to Hallinan. From the data, villagers seem to use their air conditioning only as needed on the hottest days of the year, he said. As for appliances and lighting, Yellow Springs consumes about as much as the average.

“People here are leaving their lights on just as much as everyone else,” Hallinan said.

Home heating is also on par with a typical home in the region. Yellow Springers on average keep their thermostats lower in the winter but live in older homes that have less insulation than their newer counterparts.

Hallinan estimates that if residences using more than the community average were to bring their use down to the typical village home’s, the community could realize $1 million in annual energy savings after four to five years.

“The report card tells people if they’re good or bad and what potential they have to save energy,” Hallinan said. “Step two is to provide a much more thorough analysis of what they’re doing, with an audit.”

The $60, 45-minute audits, conducted by University of Dayton graduate students, will use an audit tool that Hallinan developed.

“We will provide a report that will say this is what you do first, this is how much it costs and this is how much it saves,” in both cost and greenhouse gas emissions, Hallinan said. “Then it’s up to the resident to say which payback they will go for.”

On their report cards, villagers will get a rating from 0 to 100, with 0 being the score of the best-performing home in the village and 100 the rating of the home that has the most potential to cut consumption. A score of 50 is average.

Hallinan, who is leading a similar effort in Wilmington, hopes that the data analysis and audit tools will help communities around the country save the most energy with the lowest investment by targeting the worst-performing homes. He also is working with Vectren to identify the commercial buildings in Montgomery and Clinton counties that have the greatest opportunity for energy savings.

The University of Dayton brings some technical expertise to the project. It hosts the top ranked of the more than 30 Department of Energy Industrial Assessment Centers in the country, which have together achieved more than $1 billion in energy savings over 30 years. And its Strategic Center for Energy and Environmental Informatics, which Hallinan heads, was selected as one of the seven university energy centers of excellence in Ohio, according to Hallinan.

Helping with community education is the Village Energy Board and Community Solutions, which were brought into the project when the Village applied for a $4 million federal grant for a version of the project last year. Though the grant application was denied, the partnership continued. The organizations will educate homeowners and train local contractors in energy-efficiency, in part using a grant Community Solutions received from the Morgan Family Foundation in 2009.

In a presentation at the Feb. 22 Council meeting, Energy Board Chairman Jerry Papania said that the project could result in a five-percent reduction in village-wide energy use per year and lead to green jobs as local contractors get more work.

“The intent for the home energy reduction program is to be win-win,” said Papania in a later interview. “In the long run, people are going to reduce their energy costs. It’s going to be good for the environment and green house gases and it will stimulate the local economy with contractors making necessary improvements to village residences.”

The program will supplement another energy-efficiency program the Village is participating in called Efficiency Smart. AMP was ordered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to implement the program using money from fines levied against AMP for failing to upgrade its Gorsuch coal-fired plant and reduce emissions. As an AMP member, Yellow Springs’ share of the fine is $181,500, which it will use over three years to pay for the Efficiency Smart program.

Efficiency Smart, a division of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, will save the Village 483 megawatts of energy, or about 1.71 percent per year. Efficiency Smart will work individually with large commercial users, offer deep discounts on energy-efficient lighting, work with local stores to carry energy-efficient products, offer $50 rebates for the purchase of new energy-efficient refrigerators and washing machines — plus pay village homeowners $35 to allow pickup of second refrigerators in their homes.

“These things would definitely put Yellow Springs on the map as an energy-efficient town,” said Energy Board member Reggie Stratton. “Between Efficiency Smart and the [University of Dayton] project we’re on the cusp of some pretty significant things happening as far as energy is concerned.”

In addition to the residential energy-efficiency project, the Energy Board continues to find other opportunities for the Village to reduce its own energy use by allocating the $50,000 the board receives per year from the Village general fund on various energy-saving measures.

For more information, contact Pat Murphy from Community Solutions at 937-767-2161 or pmurphy {at} communitysolution(.)org.

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