energy savings

Happy METU Monday!

For this weeks METU Monday, we want to share some questions we commonly hear from our partners:

Why should I install LEDs if I get rebates on CFLs?
CFLs are a great cost-saving measure especially when replacing incandescent lamps.  However, manufacturers and building codes are increasingly moving toward LED technology.  If feasible, implementing LED technology now will save you from potentially having to upgrade again in the near future.

We have upgraded all of the lighting so there's no more savings to be achieved, right?
WRONG! This is a great start.  However, did you know the highest utility expense for most local governments is not generated in buildings but in water and waste management infrastructure?  This means pump efficiency is crucial.

We can help!
Before starting your energy project, call us! We will ensure you can take advantage of any available opportunities to save money.

What is METU?
METU is our nickname for the Municipal Energy Tune Up Program which helps your local government identify and implement energy efficiency projects.  Let's face it, project management can be as difficult as herding cats.  Why not lean on us to provide technical assistance to see your projects through from "cradle to grave".

Look out for METU near you!
We are excited to be working with so many of our local government partners.  We have begin coordinating projects for the City of Avenal and benchmarking with the City of Arvin and Kern County. Finding solutions for our local government partners is our primary focus.

Connect with us:
T: (877)748-0841
E: METU@SJVCEO.ORG

Check out our NEW website!
MUNICIPALTUNEUP.ORG

Happy METU Monday!

Although we have been experiencing an abundance of rainfall, if you are native of the central valley you know summer is on its way! So right now is a great time to start thinking about your HVAC cooling systems and ensuring they are functioning efficiently. It is essential to implement cost-saving measures such as economizers and programmable thermostats. It is also important to service your units each season and replace them when necessary. If you are thinking of starting an energy saving project, make sure you contact us first!

What is METU? This fun acronym stands for Municipal Energy Tune Up. The program helps your local government identify and implement energy efficiency projects. By providing technical assistance and project management from “cradle to grave”, local governments no longer must worry about being too short-staffed to save energy, and save money.

METU in Action: We are very excited to announce the City of Firebaugh has completed benchmarking and is in the planning stage for starting some energy efficiency projects. There were promising opportunities identified in their METU Readiness Report for water pumping efficiency and now METU is working with the APEP program which is a PG&E third party program to see those projects through. The City of Taft is poised to get going as well. Once all automated benchmarking services are back up, Taft will be ready to hit the ground running toward energy savings.

We are excited to share our progress and hope the savings bug is contagious!


Connect with us:

T (877)748-0841
E METU@SJVCEO.ORG



Check out our NEW website!

MUNICPALTUNEUP.ORG

What Has SJVCEO Been up to in December

We hope everyone had a happy holiday and a safe new years. Hopefully everyone was able to enjoy a few days at home with family and friends. Here at SJVCEO we cant believe that we are rolling into 2017 already...where did the year go. 2016 went so quickly and our team accomplished many feats and cant wait to see what the new year holds. In the final month of the year our team was busy at work tying up loose ends before heading into 2017.

For the VIEW Partnership we are happy to announce that the County of Kings has just passed its energy action plan which allows them to move up within the SoCal Edison ELP model. We are also happy to announce that the partnership will be working with the NOAA on their Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador program. The partnership will bring the message of weather readiness as well as how to build resilient communities to our partner communities. With many of the partnerships projects completed for 2016 our team began the planning process for our annual awards luncheon. At our annual luncheon we honor our partners that have moved up in the ELP model as well as made large efficiency gains. We like to take this time after the holidays to show appreciation for our partners as well as elected officials that have supported the partnerships efforts. We look forward to the luncheon as well as what 2017 brings for our VIEW partners.

With our HDR Partnership we are looking ahead to 2017 and getting together a plan to conquer energy savings. A few of our partners are looking into streetlight conversions and or upgrades. Many of the streetlights that are in existence house high pressure sodium lights. The name may not sound familiar but in essence they are the lights that provide a nice orange glow. We will report back energy projects and energy savings once they come in. We are also very excited to be holding our inaugural recognition luncheon in February. We cant wait to honor our energy partners as well as meet a few elected officials from the area.

Our METU Program has been busy at work over the last month. Our project analyst met with 4 out of the 8 cities involved in the Fresno County region.  The program has also begun to benchmark for the cities of Kerman, Selma and Firebaugh and Municipal Readiness Reports are in the works.  We have completed paperwork for the City of San Joaquin as they have expressed interest to get started.  Cities within Kern County are still on the METU radar.  Outreach has continued into the month of December and and connected with the City of Wasco. We are still working with the City of Avenal and it is on track for direct installation projects at the beginning of the new year.We are also happy to say that our website will be launching in the next week or so. We will be completing an official roll out as soon as it is complete. So stay tuned!

And finally, over the last month SJVCEO was named one of the recipients of the Wonderful Communities Grant in the City of Avenal. Our team will be working with the city over the next year on improving energy efficiency for residents and homeowners. We area very excited to begin the project and report back some of our successes!


That is all for this month!



Summer Savings

It’s that time of year again… school’s out for summer!

Now that the kids are home for the next few months, you might see your energy bill increase especially on those really hot days when you need to be inside running the AC. No one likes to pay more on their energy bill, so I’m here to share some tips with you so you can keep cool, enjoy the family being together again and save money.

Leaving town? I’ll share some tips for the vacationers out there, too, so you can come home to a lower utility bill.

Don't you love the smell of air dried clothes in summer?
Photo Source: Mother Earth News
Staying home?
  • Set your thermostat as high as possible, while maintaining comfort. We suggest 78 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re in your home. Leaving to see a movie or head to the pool? Turn off the AC completely or put it well above 78 degrees. You may be too warm for comfort when you initially come home, but the AC will kick in quickly and you won’t be unnecessarily running an energy-intensive machine. A programmable thermostat will make it easier to set your temperatures throughout the year.
  • Does it cool off at night where you live? If it does, turn off your AC completely and open the windows. You’ll get a fresh breeze and you won’t be paying anything for your cooling system while you sleep!
  • Turn off fans when you leave a room. Fans cool the air right in front of it, but if you’re not there to enjoy the breeze, the energy used to run the fan is wasted.
  • Use the oven as little as possible on hot days. Grill or use the stovetop.
  • Use other large appliances like washers, dryers and dishwashers only when full. Also, make sure to run them at night when your home is already a little cooler. If you have the capacity, dry your clothes outside so you don’t have to use the clothes dryer at all!
  • Decrease the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit; you likely won’t use as much hot water in the summer as it is and this will allow you to save that energy.
  • Use weatherstripping or caulk around your windows and doors; this will prevent warm air coming in and cold air going out.
  • Keep blinds and curtains closed during the day. This will help your cooling system be more efficient.

  • Turn off all lights, inside and out. If you feel safer leaving a light on, make sure it’s on a timer so it’s only on when necessary, or from dusk till dawn.
  • Close blinds and curtains.
  • Unplug all electronics and any small appliances like microwaves, toasters, hairdryers, etc.
  • Turn off your water heater if possible. If you can’t turn it off completely, turn it down to the lowest possible setting.
  • Turn off your cooling system. Some programmable thermostats have vacation settings that will allow you to control the temperature of your home while you’re away.
  • Turn off all fans.
  • Unplug when you leave for more savings!
    Photo Source: Reglobe
  • Clear all food out of the refrigerator, clean it and unplug it. Fridges use an immense amount of energy and this can be a good time to save a little money on the energy it uses and get it sparkling again!



 How are you saving energy this summer?







Memorial Day Fun

With Memorial Day being next week we thought it might be a BRIGHT idea to talk about how you can save while celebrating! Also when I say save I am not speaking about saving on party supplies I am talking about energy savings. Many times when large holidays are being celebrated conservation ideas go right out of the window. We seem to focus on being a great host and covering all of the bases for the party. This year lets try to keep conservation top of mind starting with energy conservation.

This Memorial Day we will help you conserve energy with a few easy steps and tricks that take as little as a few minutes to do.

1.) Window Treatments

Many homeowners do not care for window treatments such as blinds because they impede the view of the outdoors. But having an exposed windows during the summer time can cause heat gain in your home. Having blinds lowered on a sunny summer day can reduce heat gain by over 45%. If you would prefer to not install blinds and already have drapes on your windows we can still help you save. If you close yours blinds on a window that is receiving direct sunlight you may be able to reduce heat gain by 33%.



2.) Set Your Thermostat

Many people are not made aware of the proper temperatures to keep their thermostats at to save the most energy and to stay comfortable. Let us help you with that. When you are home and occupying spaces try to keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or a little higher. When you are away bump up your thermostat that 85 degrees. These temperatures have been trusted numbers to go to for the most energy savings. If you don't want to think about lowering or raising your temperature you can try one of the many programmable thermostats that are on the market. With programmable thermostats  you can set it and forget it.  And if you are a techie you can also try one the smart learning thermostats which learns your schedule and sets the temperature that is optimal for each situation.

3.) Fire Up the Ceiling Fans

If you happen to be staying inside this holiday weekend give your air conditioner a break and kick on those ceiling fans. If you happen to have ceiling fans in your home you can turn them on and get away with raising your AC temperature by 4 degrees and not notice a difference. If you are looking to install a fan in your home make sure to look for the ENERGY STAR® label. Those with the label can move air 20% more efficiently than other models. Also, just as a friendly reminder make sure to turn off the fan once you leave the room.

4.) Fire Up the BBQ

With Memorial Day being the kick off to the summer; barbecuing season will be in full swing. Cooking outdoors can save you a bit on your home energy costs. First you are not consuming electricity or gas to cook your food items. Secondly you are not heating up your home and having your AC work double duty to cool. If you are able to cook outdoors during the summer season you will see a difference in your home energy bills.

5.) Enjoy the Outdoors

Go out and enjoy a day by the pool or the neighborhood block party. Having an extra day away from work  or school should be enjoyed with family and friends.



We hope that these tips and tricks help you with saving this Memorial Day. 
We wish everyone a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. 




What Has SJVCEO Been Up to?

SJVCEO hopes that everyone's been enjoying their summer and are ready to head back to school or work. During the past month the team has been busy working away on energy projects and planning community outreach events.

The organizations VIEW Partnership has been very active during the summer months. Many of their Cities and Counties are continuing to get projects moving along with each utility. One of the more exciting items to announce is that the City of Hanford has adopted its Climate Action Plan. This CAP as they term it in the office was all the hard work of one of their dedicated employees, Sarah Farell. A CAP is a plan for ways to reduce emissions in a cost effective manner after green house gas inventories are collected and analyzed. The team is also starting work on the County of Kings Energy Action Plan (EAP). In a EAP the Cities and Counties lay out how they will be using their energy resources in the future as well as how they plan to conserve.

Also, the VIEW Partnership is beginning their planning process for their upcoming "Energy Awareness Month" campaign in October. This year they are looking to expand the number of events that the Partnership will be doing. They will also be expanding events to include their Southern California Edison territories. So be on the lookout for event information that will uploaded to their VIEW the Savings webpage (http://www.viewthesavings.com).

As for the Municipal Energy Tune Up (METU) program they are making huge leaps and bounds. The METU team is about done with the benchmarking of Kern County and will then analyze the data collected to see what projects can be recommended for energy savings. Also, while the team has time they will the begin benchmarking the City of Selma. With the City of Selma having fewer accounts than a County would the team should have the project completed quickly. Our METU team here at SJVCEO is very excited to continue the work that they do with City and County officials. They enjoying bringing a smile to faces once officials hear how much they can be saving in energy and on their bills.




Stay Tuned for Next Month's Update!




What Has SJVCEO Been Up to in May

During the month of May SJVCEO has been very busy cracking down on killowatts in our jurisdictions. Each of our programs have been working hard saving local governments, homeowners and businesses energy and money on their electricity bills.

For the VIEW Partnership our team members have been busy planning community outreach events as well as benchmarking away! We have been working on updating all energy data in our online benchmarking system and moving projects through the energy pipeline. We are happy to announce that we are well on our way of meeting our energy saving goal for the year!

Our community outreach events are beginning to take shape for the fall. This year we are planning to have around 4 events during the months of September and October. These events are in the early planning stages and will be announced and shared on our webpage once plans are finalized. The VIEW Partnership is also happy to announce the expansion of our community outreach events. Starting in 2016 the Partnership will be working with SoCal Edison on putting together summer outreach events. We will be looking into partnering with Edison and the local communities for fun summer events as well as cooling centers. We here at VIEW are very excited about our upcoming events. We enjoy being out in the community educated residents on energy efficiency programs that are available to them. 

Our METU program that is working with municipalities in PG&E territory is making great headway. We have just completed benchmarking the City of Fowler and found some savings in both their lighting as well as their HVAC systems.  After we presented our data analysis to the City of San Joaquin we found savings potential in their waster water treatment plant, water wells, lighting and HVAC and are moving those projects forward. We will report the savings back to you once we get the final numbers. Our METU team will be beginning to benchmark the City of Firebaugh the end of this month and hope to have large potential savings in their waste water treatment plants. Our next presentations of our program will be at the Cities of Reedley and Kingsburg.

Since we are part of the EV Partnership here in the San Joaquin Valley we are happy to announce that the Partnership now has a new webpage. Click here to check it out. Make sure to check up on the website since it is loaded with important EV tips and news updated on a regular basis.



Check in next month to see what else we have been up to!


Lighting the Way to Savings

We have all gotten used to having lights to guide us down the road or down the sidewalk, but do you know how much electricity it takes to light that path? Many American’s have no idea what it takes to keep common area lighting going, but your cities and counties do. If you were to ask them how much it costs they would most likely state…TOO MUCH!

Cities have held back on making the leap to LED streetlights, since it comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Many city councils and or county supervisors get hung up on the price tag and vote no, but there are many more added benefits to making the change than one would think. When streetlights are upgraded to LED streetlights cities will gain more than energy savings and energy usage. They will be improving light pollution, wasted lighting and public safety. Many may doubt that the items listed above can be improved with just lights, but I am here to prove it to you!

Most of the older streetlights that you see today were installed in the 1970’s and give off an orange hue. The hue is caused by the lights containing sodium, which takes a lot of energy to keep lit.  Estimates show that for outdoor parking and roadway lighting the US spends around $10 Billion dollars’ each year. That same amount that goes to those outdoor lighting structures would be able to power around 6 million homes.  [i]  Besides the conservation of energy look at the dollars and cents that would be saved. That is a large chunk of money that a city or county could put toward a large improvement project.

When a city decides to make the switch to LED streetlights they would be able to use 60% less electricity. One such success story was featured in SF Bay. The City of San Jose is retrofitting 63,000 of their streetlights by the year 2016. [ii] It is one of the biggest lighting retrofits in the country. The city is doing a two part retrofit with the first part consisting of 18,100 lights and comes at a cost of $10.5 million. The city is working with PG&E on their streetlights program, which will provide around $900,000 in rebates once all is said and done. With the incentive taken into consideration the city will cut the big price tag down to $9.6 million. Not too shabby of a savings in my book.

Besides the money and energy savings cities can improve light pollution and wasted light as well. Having LED streetlights allows the lighting to be directed to where you would like the lighting to go to.[iii] Along with having directional light LED’s are able to deliver a more even light to the area being lit. With more even light you do not get the glowing sensation like you would with the older orange lights.

Now when it comes to improving public safety street lights help to improve pedestrian safety and traffic safety. With well thought out plans of street lights pedestrian can become more visible along the sidewalks as well as in the crosswalks or roadways. When it comes to traffic safety improved lighting would be a no brainer. With well-lit roadways and intersections you have improved visibility of vehicles. Most of your high lit areas would be those that have high traffic, high volume and dangerous or blind curves.

Though city officials would receive praise for making such large investments and upgrades they can also receive national recognition. Just this year President Obama launched the Presidential Challenge for Advanced Outdoor Lighting. This challenge is to help push municipalities to make the upgrade to better outdoor lighting. For those cities and local governments that would like to gain that recognition and complete the work they will be listed on the white house partners listing as well as gain press attention.  




[i] “LED Outdoor Lighting: A $6 Billion Annual Savings Opportunity”, Mar. 18, 2015, http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2015/03/led-outdoor-lighting-a-6-billion-annual-savings-opportunity
[ii] “San Jose Flips Switch on LED Streetlights”, Mar., 18, 2015, http://sfbay.ca/2015/02/11/san-jose-flips-switch-on-led-streetlights/
[iii] “Improving Efficiency in Municipal Street and Public Space Lighting”, Mar., 26, 2015, http://www.efficiencyvermont.com/Docs/for_my_business/lighting_programs/StreetLightingGuide.pdf


Would You Stream Your Energy Data Like A Netflix Movie?

As we embark on the the second month of 2015 we have already seen how our government feels about a clean energy future in the United States. The Obama administration is pushing for an 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction by the year 2025.[i] But, wait to get those reductions don’t "we the people"need to make a change too? Homeowners as well as business owners are not large government entities that have endless amounts of disposal income. So, where does one start to becoming “green”?   Well let us here at SJVCEO help to point you in the right direction, since we have a bit of experience with energy benchmarking and upgrades.

When SJVCEO takes on a project with one of our local governments we always start with gathering energy usage data. To some this task may seem daunting, but trust us this step can be pretty easy when you have the right tools. The obvious choice would be to get your utility data downloaded monthly from your utility website. But, for those of us that like to know the up to the minute data there are a few new options on the market this year.

The first option for those types is wattvision. This product has you set up a sensor on your meter outside and connect that to the gateway that transmits the data. Your energy usage is then stored in the “cloud” of wattvision. Then you are able to login and access your up to the minute energy data, which comes in intervals of 15 seconds. This device will also alert you when you have an energy spike; that’s only if you tell the app to do so.  Wattvision also has a fun competitive nature about it. The product will allow you to share and compare with other users. Who knows you may even show up on their “Top Energy Savers Leaderboard.”

The second option would be the PowerCost. This tool has s sensor that is installed on your meter and will information wirelessly to a hand held monitor, pictures to the left. This tool allows you to see your kilowatt usage as well as cost per hour. PowerCost as is developed to work with 3rd party apps. One app that the company recommendeds is PloWatt.

Now we come to the third and final option Bidgely HomeBeat Energy Monitor. This device takes energy usage collection to a whole new level. This device doesn’t need to have anything connected to your meter, since it uses a specific program that allows it to wirelessly communicate.  This energy monitor collects data every 5 to 10 seconds and can be called somewhat of a “detective”. [ii]  This gadget can be put to detective mode, which will then allow you to see how much energy is being used by household items. One other fun item that Bidgely has to offer is the customer support tool. This tool helps to show utility customers why their utility bills are as high as they are. It makes it easier on everyone involved when it comes to billing disputes.

When all is said and done energy saving is in the hands of those that use the energy. If we are aiming to hit the 80 percent reduction we all need to make a change. Take the first step in making that change by monitoring your energy usage today!





[i] “The Obama-Biden Plan”, Feb., 9, 2015, http://change.gov/agenda/energy_and_environment_agenda/

[ii] “Bidgely’s New Real-Time Energy Disaggregation Tools”, Feb., 9, 2015,  http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/biddgelys-new-real-time-energy-disaggregation-tools




Energy Use Tracking Now at Your Fingertips


Tracking your energy usage in the past has been a pain for many home owners and business owners alike. Now in 2014 there are many options available for download on your smartphone. Having your energy usage at your fingertips can make it easy to see when and how you can conserve and SAVE!

Most applications offered are compatible with iPhone and Android operating systems. Most of all they are generally FREE! We have done some investigating and found the top 5 ranking energy tracking/efficiency apps available today. (Note: these apps are not listed in ranking order)

1.      Kill-Ur-Watts
This app allows you to track your monthly energy usage month-to-month as well as show you what your carbon footprint may be. The app will also make recommendations for how to conserve energy based on your energy usage.

This app lets you put in the wattage information of your appliances so that you gain a clear picture of what it costs to operate them. The cost is based on watts, hours of use and the cost of electricity in your area.

3.      VELObill
This app works as a dashboard of energy usage for the consumer. It will give you insight into where your energy consumption is coming from and how you rank compared to your neighbors. This app goes beyond the others and allows you to measure water and natural gas usage if you have those as well.On top of it all the app will help you identify trouble areas and propose ways to reduce your overall utility bill.

4.      Electrify
This app has a main focus on energy efficient home improvements and lowering monthly utility bills. It will provide you with a range of calculators and guides that will help reduce your energy consumption and energy loss.

5.      Leafully
This app will allow you to see your energy use habits and alert you when your usage is out of the ordinary. It also allows you to see how many trees it will take to offset your carbon footprint.

Money Money: 10 ways to save on heating bills



California has been having an extended summer, especially here in the San Joaquin Valley where we've been experiencing 95+ degree temperatures into October, so late last week I got ready for work and put on a sundress.  To my surprise it had rained and my car--which of course was just washed the day before--was wet! 

Hmm, perhaps the sundress was a poor choice?

The quick turn to real fall weather got me to thinking about the impending winter, and since my job is what it is my thoughts immediately turned to my winter energy bills and what I can do now to save this winter.  

Here are 10 things you can do right now to help lower your energy costs this winter:

1. Check Your Insulation. If you haven‘t looked in your attic lately (or ever!) then get up there and take a look around to make sure the insulation is in good condition. Make sure there are enough air pockets to trap cold air. Old insulation can become brittle and ineffective so if your insulation is not doing the job it might be worth the time and energy to replace it.


2. Check Your Windows. You can lose a lot of heat through the cracks around your windows and the windows themselves. Check each window and make sure it is well sealed. You can buy kits that will help you test this. Be sure to caulk and seal around windows where you find leaks, and replace any interior seals that are damaged. If your windows are old, it might be worth the money in the long run to replace them with new triple pane replacement windows.

3. Weather Proof Your Entryways. Along with the windows, check your doors for drafts. Using weather stripping around the doors will help keep your heat from leaking out and the cold from getting in. 

4. Get a Ceiling Fan. Just like you learned in 4th grade - heat rises so you want to keep the warm air down in the room, especially if you have high ceilings. Most ceiling fans have a switch to reverse the direction so you can use them for cooling in the summer and pushing hot air down in the winter. Be sure you run it in the right direction or you might end up with cold air in the winter and warm in the summer!


5. Shut Off Unused Rooms. If you have a room or rooms that you don‘t use, keep the doors shut. Try to remember to shut doors if you will be in the room for a long time. Rooms which are used only sometimes will have the door fanned which allows cold air to escape into your others rooms. This, in turn, will make your furnace work harder and increase your heating costs.

6. Let The Sun Shine In. On sunny days, open your curtains and mini blinds but make sure you close them when darkness falls or on cloudy days. Getting insulated curtains can help keep out drafts from around the windows.

7. Get A Door Alignment. Over time, doors can sag and get out of alignment. Take a good look at your doors to see if they still fit in the casing properly. If they don‘t then adjust them for a tight fit.

8. Have Your Furnace Checked. Spend the money to have a professional give your furnace a checkup to be sure it is working at peak performance. This is important not only from a cost perspective but also from a safety perspective. A system that is not running as efficiently as it can cost you money in heating bills so the money to have it inspected will be well spent.

9. Change Your Air Filter. Air filters can get clogged with ends up costing you money in fuel - it causes your heating system to run inefficiently and can be a safety hazard. Changing out the filter once a year is a good idea and something you can do yourself with minimal cost.

10. Close Your House Vents. House vents allow circulation of air during the warmer months but it’s a good idea to close them at the end of fall before the real cold weather comes. Cold air seeping in can drive up heating costs and make your house feel drafty. (Best not to use a cat to close the vents, but in a pinch it will work!) 

Taking the time to follow a few of these tips will result in lower heating bills. Also, check out your energy providers’ web site for suggestions on how to practice energy efficiency and save money at the same time.

For those in the San Joaquin Valley ere are links to PG&E, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas Company. All three sites have great suggestions on saving energy. Of course, you can always find energy and money savings tips over on our website for VIEW the Savings! 


--Dee Cox


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Benchmarking: Shooting hoops for energy efficiency

Benchmarking sounds a little like being the sixth man on basketball team.

You're not in the starting lineup, but you're good enough to provide the spark off the bench. The player who can make a difference down the stretch. There's Ricky Pierce, a Seattle Supersonic and two-time NBA sixth man, or -- to get more current -- Dion Waiters from Syracuse or Michael Dixon of Missouri.

But the kind of benchmarking I'm describing has none of the former's run-and-gun offense. In fact, it's downright dull. No points are scored here. A smothering defense keeps the excitement quite low.

Managing energy use

However, the practice of recording energy data, tracking changes and producing reports reflecting those alterations has become extremely popular in the past several years.

"We've had exponential growth," says one official on a recent webinar explaining the latest in data benchmarking.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started its Portfolio Manager program in 1999, signing just a few buildings that first year. Since then, it's grown to about 300,000 buildings, and the rate of expansion is expected to continue.


What's cool really isn't the data entry part. That is mind-numbing. No bones about it. The interesting aspect comes after the data, or energy-qualifying benchmarks, have been established. It's at that point the building owner knows just how much he/she/it pays every month and can view the seasonal fluctuations.

Retrofits make the difference

The sexy part is adding new stuff, when the building owner adds energy efficient lighting, installs extra insulation, replaces windows, adds a heat-reflecting cool roof, swaps out an old rickety AC unit for a super-efficient SEER 15 or installs occupancy sensors.

For larger buildings, savings also can come from installing a sophisticated building information management system that monitors temperature, water consumption, occupancy, air flow and electricity use room by room. Metering also works in industrial applications, and companies have reported full retrofit paybacks in less than a year and utility savings of 20 percent or more on their bills.

And tracking those savings on Portfolio Manager is when the proverbial light bulb in the head goes off. Of course, it's an LED bulb in this case.

Tracking changes

I track such changes from PG&E, which has attached a smart meter to my house. I've done a number of things to my 52-year-old home to make it better than average. I still have a way to go, but the personal payback is when I read a letter from the utility stating, "You have saved 13 percent this quarter over the year before."

Portfolio Manager operates essentially the same way.

Its features allow the user to group buildings, view average ratings across a group, control access to building data and generate reports to brag to shareholders or partners and business associates just how much money has been saved. The great thing about an energy efficiency retrofit is that once it earns its money back, the future savings are nothing but gravy.

Energy Star

EPA enables top-performing buildings to earn the Energy Star rating, with organizations and building portfolios that show a 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent and more level of savings able to qualify for Energy Star Leader recognition.

That's good for a company interested in winning points with customers or a city wanting to save money in this budget-busting economy.

We're no stranger to the benchmarking concept at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. However, this is my first foray into actually using the site. I'm thinking in between populating the various data fields like building age, square footage, how many PCs, how many workers, hours of use and percentage of building air conditioned, a good distraction would be a nearby basketball hoop.

Best laid plans

However, today's temp of 109 or 110 makes that sound a little daunting. Still, I'd prefer it as a momentary distraction to four hours straight of keyboarding energy data. I would say I have a co-worker who loves benchmarking more than anything, but I'd be lying.

Regardless, this is good stuff.

And while it does take money to make money, there are a number of programs building owners can access. Utilities may provide on-bill financing programs to reduce kilowatt hour energy use.

Milton Bevington, a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts and member of the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee, says in a piece that municipalities have other methods of raising money.

"Virtually any essential-use energy efficiency project can be financed using a municipal lease, usually at a cost comparable to bonding," he says, adding that premiums are offset by lower transaction costs and payment terms.

Mandating monitoring

The practice convinced leaders of Philadelphia to mandate energy benchmarking for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, and Katherine Tweed of greentechmedia.com reports the city is one of a growing list. And she says there's help. Companies are lining up to do the work.

So benchmark. You're in good company. Although my mind drifts back to Dennis Johnson when he was drafted in the second round by the Supersonics and tore up the back court with Gus Williams and Downtown Freddie Brown before winning it all with Larry Bird in Boston.

Now that's off the bench. RIP DJ.

Testimonial: Energy efficiency can be tough (sometimes)

For the past two years, I've been helping cities and counties prepare to install energy efficiency retrofits.

It hasn't been simple. We're working with federal grants with very particular requirements. But the challenge caters to my make-the-world-a-better-place sensibilities.

And we've got a lot of company. Energy efficiency has caught fire in the past couple years. In the corporate world, companies are installing lighting and other electrical retrofits and establishing sustainability policies that revamp manufacturing and distribution practices. Their directive is to cut waste and promote savings of not only but energy but water and other materials.

Building information modeling, which enables designers to drop energy use like a rock, is sweeping the urban construction industry and is threatening to encompass more. Managers have learned to shave significant energy costs by monitoring and adjusting power consumption before construction and during occupancy. New products are coming on light rapidly that allow greater central control and monitoring.

And utilities are reworking their distribution networks by incorporating smart grid technology that offers game-changing savings through broad energy management protocols.

Into the light

Lighting retrofits are possibly the most cost-effective of these measures. And they're much of what I'm in charge of at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. We've also got air conditioning, pumps and other retrofits.

Yet getting our projects installed has not been simple. From my Formica-covered table top in Fresno, I have been working to funnel federal stimulus money into the Valley economy via Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. It's been a long road. We're finally getting the projects bid, materials purchased and at least some problems resolved.

Some issues still pose difficulties. Because of the relatively low rate of reimbursement offered by the California Energy Commission for the energy efficiency retrofit measures, some of my cities and counties have struggled to find contractors. The small size of some projects haven't helped.

Get 'er done

The state has been working frantically to get jurisdictions finish their projects by the March 14, 2012 deadline. But California Energy Commission project officers can only offer advice and direction -- no extra funds.

I heard one county was able to figure out how to pay for the replacement of air conditioning units on the maximum reimbursement of $1,000 per ton. That's a pretty big deal, by the way. So I gave the woman in charge of the program a call.

She said her county had no magic bullet, just an employee who had spent years in the HVAC trade. The county purchased units from a manufacturer that certified its products as Buy American-ready and installed them itself rather than going to an outside contractor.

Energy savings American style

The SJVCEO wants to maximize the value of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants my team is administering. When complete, the retrofits would save 5.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity. We want to save all that energy.

However, about four months remain before our deadline to complete the work, and a number of our jurisdictions still need contractors. Many of our cities don't have the staff to do their own retrofits. All have had to make drastic budget cuts because of the economic slide of the past few years.

We discovered almost immediately that because of the reimbursement rates our jurisdictions were having trouble attracting interest even in this down economy. Requests for proposal issued by several cities turned up no interested bidders, while others came in with bids that far exceeded reimbursement costs.

Finding solutions

My boss charged my co-worker Sandy Nax and I to come up with a solution. We followed the formula of using a sole proprietor who has no employees and does all the work himself, thus avoiding Davis Bacon wage rates. But this work is difficult for one person.

Sandy tracked down names using an online contractor search engine and California's Contractors State License Board listings, and I started cold calling.

I eventually called 83 contractors all over the San Joaquin Valley. Three contractors expressed interest in air conditioning retrofits.

I'm hopeful we'll find lighting contractors interested as well. I'm not so sure about pump retrofits, but we all have our fingers crossed.

Nothing's simple with grants

I've been on the phone a lot explaining how the process works. Reimbursement is likely going to be slow, making it tough for contractors already strapped by an unforgiving economy.

I did reach a friendly contractor in Kingsburg who said, "I'm not interested in anything to do with the government." I get that. Seriously, I do. Working within the strict confines of federal grant requirements is enough to make anybody relate to rocker George Thorogood's request for "one bourbon, one scotch and one beer."

Maybe when the job's done. We're determined to make this work.

Photo: Corcoran pump 9A where we have retrofits planned.