Do You Live in One of the Energy Efficient Cities?

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Managing the amount of energy used in office buildings is becoming easier to monitor with innovative technology that can give updates as often as every 15 minutes.

Programs in cities throughout the U.S. are working to create more sustainable offices by reducing the amount of energy being consumed and to spur more efforts by residents.

In 2011, Charlotte, N.C. started an effort to be more sustainable. Using new data and software, office managers can monitor the water, air and waste being used in office buildings with real-time data. The goal is to reduce the energy use in Charlotte's uptown by 20% over five years by partnering with Duke Energy, Cisco Systems and Verizon involving a network of 70 buildings.

By accessing a digital grid infrastructure, owners and managers of the buildings can see the energy usage. Electronic communication kiosks are installed in the lobbies of buildings and give information on how to lower the amount of energy being used.

"The energy program helps lower the cost of doing business by bringing down energy costs for companies in the urban core and engaging with thousands of individuals," said Tom Shircliff, chairman of the Envision Charlotte board of directors.

The city of San Jose, Calif. and WattzOn, a site for home energy assessments, started a Green Energy Match program in 2012 to help residents save energy and money. It is estimated that residents can save an average of $20 to $45 each month from making simple changes and can track their usage from the web or their smartphones.

"A greener economy is a stronger economy," said Martha Amram, CEO of WattzOn. "When residents stop sending dollars outside the city boundaries to the regional utility, they shift spending to local retail since almost all shopping is done within ten miles of home."

One way that municipalities are addressing sustainability is through using data and social networking technologies to increase transparency, accelerate retrofit projects and drive innovation in buildings.

The state of New York created BUILD SMART NY, a database of all the energy efficiency projects occurring in the state's buildings and to improve efficiency by 20% by 2020. The program will start with retrofits in the largest and most inefficient buildings.

"Utilizing technology to increase transparency in the environment is starting to prove to be an important initiative," said Riggs Kubiak, CEO of Honest Buildings, which developed the technology for BUILD SMART NY.

Washington, D.C. is embarking on a similar project for its portfolio of 30 million square feet in 400 municipal buildings, said Sam Brooks, associate director of the D.C. Department of General Services. The goal is to save $100 million in energy costs over the next ten years, he said.

The technology created by Honest Buildings will allow the city to display 35,000 data points for each building each year at 15-minute intervals. Over the next 20 months, the city plans to focus on reducing energy use by 20% at various schools.

"This is a game changer," Brooks said. "The organic quality is pretty powerful. There is a belief that transparency is a transformational tool."

Reducing energy use is now being incorporated in cafes at companies such as SAP and colleges like Auburn University who are using a web-based tool called Carbon FOODPrint, which was developed by FirstCarbon Solutions, a consulting, data management and software solutions company, to lower costs and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Chefs and managers can create strategies to reduce their operations' carbon footprints by decreasing waste disposal and energy and water use by making changes to the menu, kitchen services, site equipment and facilities.

One company will be able to reduce 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and $300,000 in operating savings at their 40 cafes in just one year by making changes to their menu items and reducing equipment use, said Marc Zammit, VP of sustainability initiatives at Compass Group, a Charlotte N.C. food services management company.

"I think the outcome is already starting to show," he said. "Most clients have an interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's almost a no-brainer, because it is good business sense."

In 2010, the town of University Park, Md. received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund the Small Town Energy Program (STEP). The goal of the program is to create a roadmap for other small towns to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. STEP activities include home energy efficiency upgrades and adding a 216-panel solar installation to rooftop of a local elementary school, which will contribute 85,000 kWh of clean electricity into the grid annually. In addition, the town and its public school system will share a revenue stream of up to $18,000 annually from the sale of electricity and renewable energy tax credits that will likely be used for ongoing environmental projects, according to Chuck Wilson, program director of STEP.

"We want the project to demonstrate that clean energy is possible and practical," he said.

Businesses are also cutting down their overall energy use by forging partnerships with utilities companies and working with ConsumerPowerLine. During times of peak energy use, CPower helped utility customers cut down on their own power consumption to lower overall market energy prices and stabilize the power grid, said CPower founder Mike Gordon.

CPower's clients included Wal-Mart, Sears and NYU Medical Center and their utilities partnerships included Allegheny Power and Potomac Electric Power Company.

Even upgrades help consumers save money. Utility Partners of America helps utilities install and upgrade water, gas and electric meters and recently connected 100,000 Texas homes and businesses for the Texas-New Mexico Power Company and 40,000 Albuquerque homes and businesses for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Smart electric meters allow customers to see how much energy they consume to actively manage their daily usage and save on their electricity bill.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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