Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Webinars to watch in the coming weeks:

Huntington Beach Advanced Energy Community - April 25th
UC Irvine's Advanced Power and Energy Program has partnered with the City of Huntington Beach, Altura Associates, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop tools to optimally design and operate an Advanced Energy Community for the Oak View community in Huntington Beach.

Date: Wednesday, April 25th
Time: 2:00-3:00pm

Click here to register!

General Plan Guidelines Update - May 2nd
Learn about the recent changes made to the General Plan Guidelines in 2017 and the forthcoming changes for 2018. Michael McCormick Senior Planner for the Governor's Office of Planning and Research will focus on updates for environmental justice and climate change components of the General Plan Guidelines and the tools and resources available to address climate change at the local level. 

Date: Wednesday, May 2nd
Time: 2:00-3:00pm

Click here to register!


Credit: Engie Services U.S

Credit: Grist

Credit: AgriPulse

Credit: Bloomberg

Credit: Rolling Stone

Resources and Opportunities 

Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements

Upcoming events



Find more events

Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
In this two-part webinar series, participants will be equipped to communicate effectively on climate change, empowering you to create and deliver compelling messages that engage and motivate a diversity of Americans in the issue.


Resources and Opportunities
Senate Bill 350 Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Group Call for Applicants
Energy Standards Outreach & Education Unit's November Schedule
Electric Vehicle Charger Selection Guide
Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements
Business Analyst (Energy Efficiency) - City of Santa Clara
Zero Waste Program Coordinator - Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Upcoming events
Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
Climate Change Research Grant Program Fresno Workshop - Nov. 28
Climate Change Research Grant Los Angeles Workshop - Nov. 29
Webinar: Essential Tribal and Utility Relationships - Nov. 29
17th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference - Feb. 1-3
Find more events

Copyright © 2017 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

Here are your wEEkly updates:

The Coordinator would like to highlight upcoming webinars and events:

Bay Area Solar Photovoltaic Ordinance Webinar - Oct. 23
The Bay Area Regional Collaborative is hosting to the first bi-monthly work session hosted through the Bay Area Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Ordinance program.

Clean Transportation Vehicle Technologies - Oct. 24
Speakers will provide an overview of transportation electrification, natural gas vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and the role of municipalities to reduce GHG emissions in the transportation sector.

Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
In this two-part webinar series, participants will be equipped to communicate effectively on climate change, empowering you to create and deliver compelling messages that engage and motivate a diversity of Americans in the issue.

Cost Effective Zero Net Energy Practices for Production Home Builders - Nov. 1
Join the experts involved in the PG&E ZNE Production Builder Demonstration as they detail the design features that resulted in superior thermal performance, reduced material cost and waste, as well as energy and water savings for occupants.

Building Operator Certification – Nov. 9
Learn how the training program benefits building personnel, facility departments, building owners, the environment, and bottom lines.


Resources and Opportunities 

Job Announcements

Upcoming events
Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) Program Fall Symposium – Oct. 18
Webinar: Energy Efficiency Regulations for Computers - Oct. 18
Workshop on the Draft 2017 Integrated Energy Policy Report - Oct. 23
Bay Area Solar Photovoltaic Ordinance Webinar - Oct. 23
BayREN Forum on the Rise of Renewables and Its Impact on the Grid - Oct. 24
Webinar: Clean Transportation Vehicle Technologies - Oct. 24
CDP Cities North America Workshop – Oct. 25
CPUC Sacramento Voting Meeting - Oct. 26
Practical Guidance for Local Climate Engagement - Oct. 31 & Nov. 21
Webinar: Financing and Incentives to Foster Zero Net Energy - Oct 31
Cost Effective Zero Net Energy Practices for Production Home Builders - Nov. 1
Webinar: BayREN - PACE and Financing - Nov. 7
Affordable Multifamily Financing Pilot Workshop - Nov. 7
Webinar: Building Operator Certification – Nov. 9
Community Solar Pilot Workshops in California
Find more events

The Green Teams Part I

America’s favorite pastime is watching sports. Nearly every day of the year, tens of millions of us spend a few hours watching our favorite teams and athletes do what they do best either on huge, flat screen TVs at home or live, in facilities large enough to make each of us feel like an ant. I am one of these people who lap up and get lost in every bit of these crazy, energy-sucking shows. While there has been a lot of negative news surrounding some of the national sports leagues lately, I want to talk about this industry and its concentration on going green in a short series. I know it sounds a bit ironic, but bear with me; it's actually an uplifting and inspiring tale.

Remember these days?
Photo source: ign.com
Bright lights, jumbotrons, packed stadiums. This industry has changed drastically from the small-scale games played in fields and streets and does not sound (or look, if you’ve ever been to a major sporting event) energy efficient in the least. On the surface, it seems like an energy black hole and if I were unaware of everything the industry has been doing over the past few years to increase their energy conservation, I might feel like a hypocrite, supporting the industry so whole-heartedly while I simultaneously sit here rallying for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs every day. But I know some secrets. May I let you in on them?

The NRDC caught on to this new trend in sports to go green and put together a report in September 2012 outlining some of the industry’s greatest efficiency achievements. I love the NBA like it’s my job, so I’ll briefly mention some of its activity first. The Miami HEAT and the Atlanta Hawks were the first two NBA organizations to have LEED certified arenas; the HEAT is on track to further their energy efficiency goals and be re-certified in 2014. The Staples Center in Los Angeles, which hosts hundreds of events attracting millions of fans each year (and is home to my beloved Lakers), received an ISO 14001 certification (for environmental management standards) in 2010, the first arena in the US to do so. The NBA started greening their All-Star games in 2008 with recycling and composting programs, organic cotton apparel for the athletes and basketballs made of recycled materials. The Association also sponsors Green Week each year and launched an awesome website to create awareness and promote their Green Week community projects (beach cleanups, home refurbishments). I knew there were reasons for my love of the NBA beyond my obsession with the game!
Photo source: CONCRETE jungle

This is only a taste of what is happening in this unexpected merger of sports and energy responsibility. The report presents case studies of several other teams and venues from all major sports leagues.

The posts that follow will ensure that all those torn between their love of the game and their devotion to saving the world (or just curbing energy use – no difference really) will never feel like an outcast in either circle again. I promise.

"Sping into LEED" showcasing LEED certified buildings in the Central Valley

USGBC-CC is hosting a local LEED project showcase and celebration of green building design. Keynote speaker Darius Assemi and other leaders from the green building industry will provide an overview over the benefits of green building design and LEED certification. Local LEED certified projects will be highlighted and awarded. “The evolution of peoples’ mindsets about what green buildings actually entail is evidenced by the number of certified and registered LEED projects throughout our communities.”, said Michelle Musson, President USGBC Central California Chapter: “There are no limitations as to who can benefit from these sustainable buildings, as they affect our air, energy, water, work, and personal and play environments.”

When? Thursday, February 28th 2013 5:00pm-9:00pm

Where? The Tower at Riverpark
A Lance Kashian Building with pending LEED Certification
205 East River Park Circle, Fresno, CA 93720

Sign up? www.usgbccc.org

Who? The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings. The USGBC Central California Chapter (USGBC-CC) was formed in 2005 to cultivate a healthy and flourishing environment for a more sustainable Valley.

The USGBC’s mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built, and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life. USGBC-CC represents seven counties in the San Joaquin Valley and works towards its mission through its LEED green building certification program that encourages and enables green buildings and communities.

Contact: 800-788-9013 or info@usgbccc.org

Bottlemaker, building owners embrace efficiencies & save big

Greg Rhames has been studying energy efficiency like Humphrey Bogart on the case of the Maltese Falcon.

Any clue, no matter how tiny, can yield a break in the case. And in Rhames' Madera manufacturing plant, it's the little things that add up big. Real big.

Rhames, energy manager for Verallia, a subsidiary of winemaker Saint Gobain, rattles off the upgrades and system refinements at his facility like only somebody intimately familiar with their complex industrial workings can. His fixes havve resulted in energy cost savings of about 20 percent.

Put another way: Utility bills have gone from $1 million a month some years back to about $800,000.

"A little savings can go a long way," Rhames says.

Less power, more cash

Energy efficiency continues to gain proponents across the corporate spectrum, especially as its value can be immedicately seen in reduced energy and operations costs. With recent federal encouragement through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, local governments have taken up the banner, installing myriad retrofits and sometimes preventing economic-related layoffs in the process.

Universities and government agencies have begun to retrofit entire buildings to conform to the stringent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings through the U.S. Green Building Council. The rigorous LEED certification process has multiple levels, right up the line to platinum. About 9 billion square feet of building space participates in the suite of ratings programs.

In fact, platinum LEED is the high-orbital level that the University of California Merced is pursuing for many of its buildings on campus. The university, like other institutions of higher learning, has discovered that not only does meeting the rigorous environmental standards earn the goodwill of its students, but the enhanced building techniques, retrofits and materials enable it to better deal with crippling state budget cuts.

LEED gains increasing foothold

A little to the south of Rhames in Fresno, the former headquarters of regional clothing retailer Gottschalks has undergone a serious transformation. The 88,000-square-foot property at 9 River Park Place East was in sad shape back in 2009 when the retailer closed and sold off assets to pay creditors.

Don Veatch, property manager for Lance-Kashian & Co., says the owners are progressive and looking to give the property an edge. The building received extensive upgrades, and it's a candidate for a LEED gold rating.

Rhames and Veatch presented their project accomplishments before a recent meeting of the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County's Clean Energy Cluster.

"We had to make a lot of changes," Veatch says, referring to water, lighting, AC and roof upgrades. "It's quite extensive," but "we thought it was the right thing to do."

Veatch says additional payback will come as the building attracts bigger and better tenants. It already has attracted Decipher Inc., a marketing research services provider that significantly expanded its Fresno offices.

Metering & monitoring is key

Energy efficiencies pay off in other ways, Rhames says.

"You can get a lot more light with a lot less energy," he says. But Rhames says the key is in the metering and monitoring, even after the upgrades have been done.

"It's critical," he says.

Verallia produces more than a million wine and champagne bottles every day in its Madera plant, using manufacturing processes that require a huge amount of glass feedstock and compressed air, which is used to blow the near molten bottles into shape, writes John Kalkowski of Packaging Digest. All that air, measured in cubic feet per minute, "does not come cheap," Kalkowski says.

The plant recently became the first Verallia North America facility to achieve the International Standards Organization's 14001:2004 environmental certification, a rating that means it minimizes its impact on the environment, complies with applicable laws and regulations and works toward continuous improvement.

Minimize the footprint

Verallia officials say the certification "is an essential part of Verallia’s strategy to minimize its environmental footprint through targeted efforts in the manufacturing process."

Rhames explains that much of his job requires him to investigate the various pathways of that air and search for unexplained consumption. He says in one case, his electronic monitors showed a major decline in airflow after a retrofit. But then the monitors showed a steady increase. It turns out a faulty piece of equipment had sprung a leak, something that wouldn't have been noticed without strict monitoring, he says.

He's also to the first to admit he's not performing some sort of miraculous transformation on the 42-year-old glass plant. "For the most part, I'm not recreating the wheel," he says. "I don't do anything until PG&E says I'll save money on it."

UC Merced sets the sustainable bar way, way up

The newest campus in the University of California system is quietly becoming a sustainable model and developing a reputation as a center for world-class research.

The University of California, Merced just had its seventh building certified gold by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.

Its long-range plan, which embraces economic, social and environmental sustainability in campus facilities, was named to the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment Top 10 Green Projects program.

And physics professor Sayantani Ghosh, along with Richard Inman, Georgiy Shcherbatyuk, Dmitri Medvedko and Ajay Gopinathan recently won recogntion of their research in renewable energy in the clean energy press.

Renewable research leader

Zachary Shahan of cleantechnica.com explains the research breakthrough as an effort "to redesign luminescent solar concentrators in order to make them more efficient at sending sunlight to solar cells."

Efficiency is the key to commercial viability in the renewable energy game. Keeping up with lower priced fossil fuels is the ultimate goal. Ghosh explains in Shahan's article that his team tweaked the traditional flat design for concentrators and made them hollow cylinders. Should the technology prove itself in cost and efficiency boosting, many, many more will hear about UC Merced.

The concentrator project is just one of a number of top-notch research programs that involve renewable energy at the San Joaquin Valley institution. Open just since Sept. 5, 2005, UC Merced is the 10th campus in the University of California system and calls itself "the first American research university of the 21st century."

"We’re attempting to set new standards for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship,” says Thomas Lollini, campus architect and an associate vice chancellor, in a statement, referring to the buildings on campus. However, the campus has embraced sustainability on multiple fronts.

Green building movement

The U.S. Green Building Council reports that LEED certified projects are pushing 1.9 billion square feet nationally. The designation was set up in 2000 to provide independent, third-party verification of cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings.

In the United States, buildings account for about 36 percent of total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent of raw materials use, 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually) and 12 percent of potable water consumption.

Any dent in that is a big deal.

Effort already a decade old

Richard Cummings, principal planner at UC Merced, says the green building movement on his campus began in 2002, when founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey established the goal of the campus meeting LEED silver for all buildings. What ended up happening is that all buildings but one ended up LEED gold, he says.

"As a result, our new 2009 master plan requires that all new buildings meet LEED Gold at a minimum and that the campus be zero net energy, zero waste and zero net emissions by 2020," Cummings says, adding that the campus also uses an internal, more-rigorous-than-LEED, benchmarking approach to energy efficient buildings.

The buildings certified LEED gold on the campus include the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library, Classroom Office Building, Science and Engineering 1, Sierra Terraces Dormitory, Joseph Gallo Recreation Center and the Central Plant. The Valley Terraces Dormitory is certified LEED silver.

Going for gold

Buildings expected to achieve gold certification include the Dining Expansion, the Early Childhood Education Center, Housing 3 and Social Science and Management Building. Building pursuing certification are Housing 4, Student Activity and Athletic Center, Science and Engineering Building 2 and the Student Services Building.

"UC Merced's commitment to LEED Gold combined with its aggressive energy saving design standards enables the campus to reduce energy costs by approximately $1 million per year when compared to typical university buildings in California," Cummings says.

"In addition, UC Merced's state of the art buildings are supplemented by a campus solar array that routinely produces half of campus electricity when the sun is shining and 1/6th of annual electricity needs."

Newest green building

Construction of the Logistical Support/Safety Facility, the seventh building certified gold, featured a number of sustainability-related achievements. About 77 percent of construction waste did not go to landfills but was ground up for reuse by farmers and nurseries.

Water use in the facility was reduced by 48 percent via the installation of waterless or low-flow urinals, lavatories and sinks. And 24 percent of the materials used in construction were made from recycled content.

All of those factors contributed to the high LEED ranking, officials say.

“This is a profound example of taking the long view of the built environment, setting out an early plan, identifying benchmarks, designing and building a campus, seeing if you are meeting your benchmarks, and continuous improvement until hopefully you reach the goals of zero energy and zero waste for 10,000 students in 2020,” wrote one juror who contributed to the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment ruling that put the campus on its Top 10 list.

“It’s an astonishing ambition, and they are on track.”

Energy efficient construction gains ground and saves money

My Uncle Dave Wakefield lives in Anchorage, Alaska in a tiny house built when efficiency meant minimal construction cost and square footage.

The house, which he's lived in the past two decades, has changed little since its construction sometime before or during World War II. It has 2-by-4 walls, low ceilings, tiny rooms and a draftiness consistent with old homes built by homeowners who used whatever was lying around. In this case it probably meant surplus wood from nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base.

When I called Dave recently, he expressed happiness that the winter temperature had finally risen. "The high was 4 degrees today, and it feels almost tropical," he said.

Turning up the heat

Tropical is relative. Dave said deep cold slammed them hard the week before.

Dave keeps the furnace cranked. But because so much of the heat leaks through the attic, walls and windows, massive icicles form, looking like clear, pristine stalactites. Hardly energy efficient.

Ironically, his house is green.

Building goes green

Construction methods certainly have changed since Dave's house was built. In fact, better windows and thicker walls are the norm. The move to energy efficiency can be seen in the latest from the U.S. Green Building Council, which released its 2011 list of top 10 states for LEED-certified commercial and institutional green buildings per capita. The list is based on the U.S. 2010 Census.

Alaska didn't make the cut, and Dave's house certainly didn't help.

However, the little house on Third Avenue across from the site of the old Native Hospital does provide an example of the importance of using techniques to improve efficiency in the nation's homes, commercial structures and institutional buildings.

Efforts grow to improve construction

Buildings consume about 40 percent of the overall energy and 70 percent of the electricity in the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Many efforts, including the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, ratings system, are under way to reduce that and in the process lower production of greenhouse gases.

At the top USGBC's list is Washington, D.C., which completed about 19 million square feet of LEED-certified space for a whopping 31 square feet per person in 2011. Colorado takes the No. 2 spot with 2.74 square feet per person, followed by Illinois, Virginia and Washington state.

California stands at No. 8 in the per capita ranking but scored first with total square footage at about 71.6 million. New York was second in overall square footage with 36.5 million.

People matter most

"Looking past the bricks and mortar, people are at the heart of what buildings are all about," said Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of USGBC, in a statement. "Examining the per capita value of LEED square footage in these states allows us to focus on what matters most -- the human element of green buildings."

LEED certification, one of a number of ratings systems, measures site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality."

LEED and other efforts -- such as the net-zero, whole house and passive house movements -- promote construction and retrofit practices that save long-term operational costs. Frequently, the measures can be paid off quickly and even then only add marginally to the overall cost of construction or remodel.

Reducing energy consumption

An NREL report, "Zero Energy Buildings," says "energy consumption in the commercial building sector will continue to increase until buildings can be designed to produce enough energy to offset the growing energy demand of these buildings."

Awareness of the value of energy and other efficiencies is gaining recognition. Corporations are embracing sustainability, consumers have begun to recognize the importance of using technology to manage their electricity use and utilities across the country are finding ways to help stakeholders use less so they can delay adding generating capacity.

Passive house

In northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History recently completed a passive house for its Climate Change exhibit. The 2,500-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath home "assembles some of the world’s greenest technological advancements and packages it in a super-insulated shell," writes Marc Lefkowitz for GreenCityBlueLake Institute, which is the center for sustainability at the museum.

The house, one of the first in the region, is so well insulated, so weather tight and so efficient that it will need no furnace.

Going net zero

Although few buildings can claim net-zero energy consumption status, more are on the horizon. A study from Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says the net-zero world market, currently measured at a relatively small $225 million, is "set to explode," growing to $1.3 trillion by 2035.

The chief cause cited is the European Union's introduction of net-zero building codes at the end of the decade. Pike says the EU's commercial and residential construction will account for about 90 percent of the total.

The North American market, meanwhile, would grow incrementally, researchers predict.

Home batteries

Of course, everything depends on energy prices, political climate and consumer mood. Katie Fehrenbacher of gigaom.com writes that Japanese consumer electronics giant Kyocera is working to package its solar collectors and energy management systems with lithium ion home battery systems from developer Nichicon Corp.

Fehrenbacher writes: "Kyocera says there’s been a growing demand for Japanese homes to be able to generate and store their own power following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters last year."

Who knew that smart phones would take as much computing capability as they have? Who seriously predicted clean energy getting as far technologically as it has and preparing to challenge fossil fuels on their own terms. So why should we not allow the possibility for energy independent homes?

Solar Decathlon housing

In fall 2013, 20 teams that know all about the subject will unleash their creativity. They hail from colleges and universities across the country and will unveil the next generation of technological advancements, building and design techniques and energy efficiencies for home building in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.

The site for the biennial event will be on the West Coast this time around, at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Since 2002, it's been held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Teams have two years to build solar-powered, energy-efficient homes that are supposed to "combine affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the Solar Decathlon will "unleash the ingenuity, creativity, and drive from these talented students to demonstrate new ideas for how families and businesses can reduce energy use and save money with clean energy products and efficient building design."

WaterShed winner

In 2011, the the University of Maryland won with its WaterShed entry. The home had a "split butterfly roofline" that managed storm water, filtered pollutants from greywater and minimized water use. Solar, tight construction and efficient mechanical systems reduced energy use.

I'd love to unleash such a team on my Uncle Dave's house. Actually, the best idea would involve an excavator and a dump truck and building fresh. Dave lives on a fixed income and pinches pennies to get by. Reduce his heating costs by 90 percent and he'd feel rich.

And he'd no longer have icicles that could kill a wandering moose.

Net zero construction gains a foothold

A net-zero building consumes no more energy than it produces.

Cool idea but until recently was about as practical as living off the grid in a yurt. OK for some but hardly a sales feature Joe Sixpack would embrace.

The mere mention was limited to science fiction stories like "Logan's Run," in which the hero escapes with his life from a closed net-zero society of limited resources that could support only a limited population. In 2116, residents in the story who turn 21 are killed.

Net zero, however, has eclipsed such apocalyptic visions. In fact, it's arrived.

Rick Daysog of the Sacramento Bee reported that Pacific Housing Inc. plans to break ground this spring on a 34-home project in Sacramento, Calif. that produces as much energy as it uses. Daysog said Stockton, Calif.-based Sunverge Energy will install the $300,000 homes' solar systems.

And on the opposite side of the country in Fort Lauderdale, a company that last year decided to build all its new locations to the exacting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, platinum standards decided to go a step further. TD Bank, which has more than 1,250 locations on the East Coast, is building a bank officials say will be the first registered in the U.S. Department of Energy's net-zero energy building, or NZEB, classification system.

The reason, said Jimmy Hernandez, a TD Bank spokesman based in New Jersey, is relatively simple.

"It just makes sense," he said.

Hernandez said bank officials learned that for a little more than what achieving LEED energy efficiency standards cost, they could add solar panels and actually produce more energy than they consume. And the solar panels will eventually pay for themselves, he said.

The bank will consume about 97,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year to operate but produce at least 100,000 kWh.

Buildings consume about 40 percent of the overall energy and 70 percent of the electricity in the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Many efforts are under way to reduce that and in the process lower production of greenhouse gases.

Those measures include sustainability policies from some of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies, measures by states to increase efficiency through building codes (California's new rules took effect Jan. 1), efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to fund energy efficiency retrofits in municipal government buildings across the country, the whole house and passive house movements to increase efficiency in residential and commercial buildings and a number of others.

An NREL report, "Zero Energy Buildings," says "energy consumption in the commercial building sector will continue to increase until buildings can be designed to produce enough energy to offset the growing energy demand of these buildings."

To address that trend, the U.S. Department of Energy is seeking to develop the technology and a knowledge base for cost-effective zero-energy commercial buildings by 2025. NREL already has created a classification system for net-zero energy buildings to aid in the standardization process.

Buildings aren't the only target. A move is afoot in the San Joaquin Valley to bring solar to the region's farms and use untapped or marginal lands to produce energy. That effort remains in its infancy but could show big dividends and additional revenue streams to farmers, who are themselves big energy users.

Photo: TD Bank branch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

US builds energy efficient embassy in Addis Ababa

President Obama in his State of the Union address challenged America to get 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2035.

Optimistic? Perhaps. But look at it this way: Many of the heavyweights in corporate America already have jumped on the energy efficiency and sustainability bandwagon. GM, GE and Procter & Gamble are among recent professed converts. And U.S. government agencies have been going all out with the concept, doing more with less energy as far away as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The site on the African continent is rather exotic and about 7,000 miles from the nation's capital. But a new building there -- that integrates green building techniques and was one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, registered facilities in Ethiopia -- provides a glimpse of evolving building trends regardless of location.

The facility, the $157 million U.S. Embassy, features high-efficiency mechanical chillers; variable frequency drives, or VFDs, for all pumps, fans and motors over 5 horsepower; instantaneous water heaters; and a building automation system, said Christine T. Foushee with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, in an email.

"The automation system allows the facility manager to view equipment consumption, schedule equipment run-times, and shut down systems when they are not required," Foushee said.

The embassy, which was completed last fall and dedicated this week, measures about 205,000 square feet and covers several buildings at the foot of Entoto Mountain, according to officials. The complex provides about 1,000 jobs. The builder was B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Ala., and the architect Page Southerland Page of Arlington, Va.

Other energy-saving features at the embassy include occupancy sensors that automatically turn off lights, automatic daylight dimming illumination for fixtures adjacent to windows, energy efficient compact fluorescents and light-emitting diode, or LED, lamps and electronic lighting ballasts. Energy saving is estimated to be 14 percent lower than the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard established in 2004.

And more State Department buildings like the embassy are coming. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has seven projects in design or construction in Africa.

The energy efficiency movement and push to incorporate renewable energy and alternative fuels are well on their way. In the just released "State of Green Business 2011" report, Joel Makower and the editors of GreenBiz.com write that a dramatic shift is occurring in business despite the lingering effects of recession.

"Companies are thinking bigger and longer term about sustainability — a sea change from their otherwise notoriously incremental, short-term mindset," the report says. "And even during these challenging economic times, many have doubled down on their sustainability activities and commitments."

The Obama Administration directed $3.2 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, targeting inefficient lighting and electrical systems across the country for retrofits. Once completed, the program will enable local governments and others to reap huge saving on utility bills. And it will no doubt provide a further example to businesses and residents that they can do the same thing.

Likewise, domestic security efforts by the U.S. military to ween itself from imported fuel offer a high-profile example to consumers. Last month for instance, the Navy said at a symposium that is moving forward with aggressive targets, including reducing petroleum use in its commercial fleet by 50 percent by 2015 and getting half its energy from alternative sources by 2020.

Obama said: "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all."

Just what technology will win out or if all alternatives will be embraced remains a question. The Greenbiz.com report says great transformation is taking place. But its authors ask whether the public take notice and whether political leaders will "position themselves at the front of this parade?"

That of course depends on many factors. Economics will play a big role. Renewable energy remains a premium, but parity is coming closer with technological advances. And there's the price of oil, which is trading in the $91 per barrel range and is forecast to climb to $105 in the next year by oil-price.net.

'Passive' house saves 90% on energy bills

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History plans to build a house on its grounds that will be so well insulated, so weather tight and so efficient that it will need no furnace.

That's right, no furnace. And Cleveland can have some nasty, bone-chilling weather.

The house is of the "passive" variety, a movement gaining major steam in Europe and apparently here too. The superinsulated home boasts 18-inch walls, triple-pane and glazed windows and overall efficiency that should make it one of the museum's biggest attractions when the house opens for three months in June 2011.

"You can walk around barefoot in the middle of winter where there are no drafts, no cold spots," said David Beach, director of GreenCityBlueLake Institute, which is the center for sustainability at the museum, in a video on the official site. "And it's a wonderful place to live."

No doubt. But it's hardly the norm.

Buildings account for about half of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. There's a big push nationally and worldwide to address that with retrofits, upgrades and better building practices through efforts like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED building certification system, which was designed to improve energy savings, water efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction.

Adoption of more stringent building practices would make a big dent in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

But for consumers adding energy efficiency means lower energy bills. Way lower with a super-insulated house. For instance, my house was built in 1961 with 2-by-4 walls, single-pane windows and no insulation in the floors. I blew in a bunch more insulation in the ceiling, replaced the windows and upgraded the heating system to a 95 percent efficient furnace. My bills dropped like a rock.

My co-worker Sandy Nax lives in a 1990s vintage home with 2-by-six walls and stock double-pane windows. He's got a better design. Even so, his cooling costs in the summer sometimes exceed $500 a month. Mine's smaller, and it's cheaper.

Both of us would love to lower our bills. Like many who chose the newspaper profession, we got used to low pay and being frugal. We lived in pretty dicey places at the start of our careers.

Many others trod the same road, learning along the way that saving money is practical.

The Cleveland Museum believes people will appreciate the benefits of the passive design once they tour the exhibit. Beach, the museum official, said he hopes the concept will catch on, certainly in his own city where it adoption by builders and architects could "bring industry to Cleveland." The Passive House Institute U.S. says, the design technique "provides a solution that puts true carbon-neutrality within reach. Today."

And why not. U.S. Green Building Council Central California Chapter official Loren Aiton has said that adding energy efficiency and other measures to buildings add relatively little to the overall cost.

Still, upgrades come at a premium. LEED standards are graduated, starting with little or no difference in cost to tacking on 4 percent to 10 percent or more. The higher gold and platinum standards cost more to implement. But the savings are greater.

Chuck Miller of Doty & Miller Architects, who designed the Cleveland project, said the passive house was crafted to look conventional inside and out. While materials cost more initially, he said, "it will be a more affordable house over time. It will use 10 percent of the energy of other homes."

Back to that furnace or lack of one. Miller said the house will boast "very sophisticated ventilation and heat recovery equipment."

My friend lives in a small town just south of Tacoma, Wash. and has ducted electric heat. The system is very inefficient. He weatherproofed his home and added a plug-in heater -- an EdenPure, pitched by Bob Vila -- that uses light bulbs to generate heat. He dropped his winter electric bill 40 percent. And the mobile heater keeps his house just as warm.

It just goes to show that the efficiency concept is sound and can be done in different ways.

At summer's end, the Cleveland house will be moved to a permanent site a few blocks from the museum where it will be sold to a family. There it will continue to save its owners money, even in winter. And that's saying something. For instance, Cleveland has an average January temperature of 30.7 degrees. When I looked on Weather Underground, it was 21.3 degrees with a wind chill of 13 degrees.

That passive family will be toasty.

And others could be too. I've written in the past about Ed McGrath of superinsulatedhouse.com who began pushing many of these ideas decades ago. I can't help but think he'd be impressed.

Photo: Passive house is the one in the center. Courtesy of Doty & Miller Architects in Cleveland

Fresno Church Gets LEED Gold Rating

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno has received LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Gold certification, the first development in the central San Joaquin Valley to gain this prestigious designation.

A plaque honoring the LEED rating will be affixed to the church in a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 5. Tours will begin immediately afterward, followed by the program, “The UUCF LEED Gold Project, a Case Study,” at 6:30 p.m.

The church, near Alluvial and Willow avenues, finished construction in 2008, and is the first new construction project between Merced and Bakersfield to be certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council.

A project must achieve at least 39 points out of a 69-point rating system to achieve that status. The church project reached 41 points, said George Burman, LEED Project Administrator for the church.

The congregation strongly endorsed the LEED efforts, even though it added 1% to 2% to the cost. In fact, the members were willing to pay as much as 10% more to get the certification.

“It was more a matter of principle than cost, Burman said. “It was not a question of financial payback, but rather of our responsibility to the environment.”

“With each new LEED certified building, we get one step closer to the U.S. Green Building Council’s vision of a sustainable built environment within a generation,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, chief executive officer and founding chair of the council. “The Unitarian Universalist Church is an important addition to the growing strength of the green-building movement.”

Energy efficiency is the hallmark of the new building; an analysis of the energy consumption indicates that the church uses 53.6% less energy than what is required under California’s Title-24 energy efficiency standard. The church also received points for use of recycled and non-toxic building materials, use of natural daylight, site location, landfill waste diversion and even waterless urinals.

Green press chronicles clean energy evolution

Green jobs, green business and green energy. The terms are batted around like crazy, especially on the clean energy news sites we follow here at the SJVCEO.

And according to a series of studies, the sector is due for substantial growth -- or could be depending on friendly legislation, according to a series of studies.

Here are a couple of stories offering anecdotal evidence of that green surge. Tony Illia of the Las Vegas Business Press does a good job showing the connection clean energy and green practices have to saving money and providing value in a battered economy in his story "Green's monstrous growth."

The gist of the story is perhaps best reflected in a quote Illia got from McGraw-Hill Construction Vice President Harvey Bernstein, who said, "Green growth is phenomenal across the globe. The expansion of green products and services will have a long-term impact on our future economy and ability to build green."

He also quoted Rick Van Diepen, 2010 president of the Nevada chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, as saying, "Developers and owners are seeing the value in green building as a competitive differentiator. The bottom-line decisions are becoming paramount in terms of lowering operating costs."

We've heard the same from Loren Aiton, board president of U.S. Green Building Council Central California, who says building green pays for itself and is relatively cheap on the front end. He said LEED certification adds 4 percent to 5 percent to construction cost and a little more if you go to the ultimate platinum level, but the building's efficiency pedigree speaks for itself in the marketplace for buyers and renters. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and has become an industry standard for energy efficiency and green building practices.

Another round-up of green energy activity comes from online news service sierra2thesea.com in the story, "Tulare & Kings Counties Going From Nada Watts To Mega Watts."

The Central San Joaquin Valley, sierra2thesea founder John Lindt offers, "is suddenly ground zero for the solar transformation of California." His story lists a range of projects: "Tulare County has attracted 13 applications for special use permits mostly 20 megawatts." Kings County has potential projects from 20 to 5,000 megawatts.

We'll be watching closely.

Photo: Kern Schools Federal Credit Union in Bakersfield, among the first LEED certified buildings in the Central San Joaquin Valley, courtesy USGBC CC.