By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

Peco Energy Co. yesterday offered its vision of the electrical grid of the future:

In a few years, “smart” electric meters will be able to do much more than measure the power consumed in customers’ homes. They will tell customers how much money they are spending on electricity in real time, and offer options for cutting costs.

“Your air conditioner will be able to talk to your dishwasher and sequence their usage to save money,” Glenn Pritchard, a Peco engineer, said as he surveyed a table of meters and thermostats at the utility’s Center City headquarters.

At his Souderton home, Pritchard is testing a wireless model that supplies a weather report on its digital readout. His children’s favorite is a 9-inch-high, Web-enabled plastic rabbit that can be programmed to flash red and wiggle its ears when the price of power is getting dear.

If all goes as planned, Peco will connect 600,000 customers to smart meters in three years.

The utility announced plans to spend $650 million in the next 10 years to upgrade its transmission and distribution system to incorporate “smart-grid” technology. The improvements include fiber-optic and wireless-communications systems to enable the smart meters.

To accelerate the rollout, the company applied for $200 million in federal stimulus money from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is administering the $3.3 billion Smart Grid Investment Grant Program.

“This isn’t your father’s old utility anymore, and I can say that as my father worked here for 35 years before me,” said Peco president Denis O’Brien.

The investment will generate customer savings of $500 million over 10 years and $1.5 billion over the expected 25-year life of the equipment, O’Brien said, as well as create employment equal to 4,300 “job-years.”

Peco will have competition for the stimulus money, though. Yesterday was the deadline for smart-grid applications, and other utilities also announced proposals.

Public Service Electric & Gas Co. in New Jersey applied for a $76 million grant to fund half of a $152 million project to improve the grid’s reliability and protect it against cyberattacks.

PSE&G’s plans also include communications technology that would allow for the eventual integration of plug-in electric vehicles, small-scale wind and solar generation, and smart meters.

PPL Electric Utilities Corp., of Allentown, has proposed a $38 million pilot project – half of it funded by stimulus money – that would introduce 60,000 Harrisburg customers to smart technology.

Most of the smart-grid improvements would be invisible to customers, incorporating advanced switches and digital equipment that would increase the system’s reliability, efficiency, and security from attack.

The power companies are responding to increasing pressure to meet emerging emission-reduction goals. A new Pennsylvania law requires utilities to reduce electrical-output production 3 percent by 2013 and cut peak-demand load 4.5 percent. It also provides for utilities to recoup their expenses through higher rates.

Next week, Pennsylvania’s utilities must disclose their smart-meter deployment plans, which will set the stage for discounting power during off-peak hours to encourage customers to shift consumption away from times when the electrical system’s generation and distribution systems are stressed.

Peco is still examining equipment options and pricing plans. Customers will be able to opt to keep the current flat-rate pricing scheme.

Part of Peco’s grant proposal is to incorporate a pilot project for clients of the Philadelphia Housing Authority that would become a model for low-income customers. Liberty Property Trusts and Drexel University have also signed on to integrate properties into the Peco network more efficiently.

Residential customers may have an array of smart-meter options. They might range from simple devices that provide a color-coded light signal to curtail power during peak hours to sophisticated ones that tie in major appliances so that customers could volunteer to allow Peco to remotely manage their use during peak hours.

Or customers might be able to manage their home thermostats through the Internet, or even a wireless handheld device such as a BlackBerry.

“When we all see the meter running . . . we will all be able to manage our energy much more effectively and efficiently,” O’Brien said.

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Obama’s new Green Team

December 12, 2008

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; Page A09

 

The Obama administration has ambitions for a radical change in U.S. environmental policy. But President-elect  Barack Obama did not pick radicals to lead it.

This Story

Instead, the three officials tapped for leadership posts on the environment are not activists but regulators who have spent years in the weeds of such issues as mercury emissions, brownfields and black-bear hunts.

They will inherit the usual issues — dirty air, dirty water, brownfields and red tides — plus an unprecedented one. Obama has promised to cut back U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases — a proposal that could set off an enormous political fight.

A review of their records and past statements reveals little about the exact policies they would pursue under Obama. It shows they have won over some environmental activists with an open attitude and disappointed others who felt they were not pushing hard enough.

Their expected efforts to limit greenhouse gases would be more ambitious than changes they have sought in previous positions.

“It’s going to be an enormous challenge,” said Felicia Marcus, the western director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “To call it ‘herding cats’ would be to oversimplify it. It’s like herding dogs, cats, wolves and sheep.”

Democratic sources say Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a new position overseeing energy, environment and climate change policy from the White House. He will choose Lisa P. Jackson, who headed the New Jersey environment agency, as head of the EPA.

And, sources said, he will name Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor in Los Angeles, to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The president-elect is expected to announce the appointments next week.

Along with Steven Chu — a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who sources say will be named secretary of energy — the three will form the core of Obama’s environmental team.

Word of their appointment was greeted enthusiastically yesterday by some environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters called the group a “green dream team.”

Industry groups were more cautious. At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vice President William Kovacs said the group worried that the new officials would use their power to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and impose painful new costs on energy use.

“I think that they could be aggressive, and we’re hoping that they’re really going to look at the circumstances” of the economic downturn, Kovacs said. “That is our biggest single concern, because literally all three of them have a regulatory bent.”

Victor Flatt, a law professor at the University of Houston who has studied environmental legislation, said he saw a strategy behind the picks. In a legislative fight about the right way to cut emissions, he said, it would be valuable to have officials who’ve been in similar state-level battles.

“This shows a really good understanding of the negotiations that are going to go on,” Flatt said. He said that Sutley and Chu, who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, could bring valuable experience from that state. “California’s just ahead of everybody else” on climate issues, he said.

Yesterday,  Rep. Henry A. Waxman, who will be the new chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, called Obama’s picks “outstanding people.”

“It’s going to be a dramatic change from what we’ve seen in the last eight years from the Bush administration, where even some of the agencies that were supposed to be working to protect the environment were doing all they could to undermine it,” Waxman said in an interview.

Among the three tapped to be environmental officials, Browner is the best-known. During her eight years at EPA under President Bill Clinton, she led the fight for tougher air pollution standards, which the agency eventually won after a legal fight that led to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two years ago, Browner was part of a group of former EPA leaders that called on the Bush administration to impose caps on greenhouse gases. Now, she will probably be called on to help Obama do that. The president-elect says he wants to reduce emissions to 1990 levels over 12 years.

Ed Krenik, who worked as the EPA’s liaison to Congress for two years under Bush, said he worried that Browner’s new role could upset government scientists if it is seen as a deadening layer of bureaucracy.

“If there’s a concern out there, it’s probably concern amongst EPA staff” that their director would have a less direct line to Obama, Krenik said. Browner declined a request to comment.

Jackson, who led the New Jersey environmental agency from 2006 to 2008, has impressed both activists and business groups with her open leadership style. An official at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce recalled that Browner agreed to give businesses in Paterson, N.J., a brush-up on environmental laws before sending officials in on an enforcement sweep. The leader of Environment New Jersey remembered calling Jackson on her cellphone to warn that legislation was being introduced to try to weaken environmental laws.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said employees of the agency complained that Jackson was not tough enough in pushing for cleanups of polluted “brownfields,” or requiring polluters to limit greenhouse gases.

“We called her a pliant technocrat, who sort of time after time did the wrong thing, but did it charmingly,” he said.

But environmentalists credit her with stopping New Jersey’s controversial bear hunt and urging Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to adopt an aggressive goal on climate change. The state committed to reducing emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

“I think she pushed [Corzine] as far as she could,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. Still, New Jersey has found it difficult to say how it will reach those goals. A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said a climate action plan is overdue but expected next week.

Jackson declined to comment yesterday.

Sutley, tapped to lead the council on environmental quality, had worked for California Gov. Gray Davis (D). Marcus, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, supervised Sutley in the 1990s when she was a senior policy advisor at the EPA. Marcus described her as a quick study, easily able to master the technical details of any controversy.

“She’s one of those people [to whom] you give the toughest issues,” Marcus said. The Obama transition team did not respond to a request to interview Sutley.

Staff writer Philip Rucker and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

 

 

December 5, 2008 As reported in CoStar Advisor
Written by Andrew C. Burr

New Numbers Revealed on Worker Productivity, Cost Premiums, Energy Efficiency

It is difficult to imagine economic turmoil as a good thing for any business sector, but as markets have steadily worsened this year, the outlook for the green building industry appears to be trending the opposite direction.

November was an exceptionally robust month for the publication of green building data, with more than 10 surveys and reports exploring an array of topics such as worker productivity in LEED buildings, the impact of construction declines, cost premiums and payback periods, and perceptions of the business case for green.

Though polling and research has increased in the past few years, new data has been even more in-demand lately as property stakeholders attempt to gauge how the credit crisis and a full year of recession have affected green building.

Almost universally, the data points to another good year in 2009.

One of the more insightful reports is the “Green Building Impact Report 2008” from Greener World Media, which quantifies the overall effects of LEED on industry and the environment.

In its boldest conclusion, the report said that companies in LEED building have realized annual employee productivity gains exceeding $170 million as a result of improved indoor environmental quality — a cause and effect that has been difficult to quantify. That figure is predicted to jump well into the billions by 2015 as the number of employees in LEED buildings grows more than 10-fold, the report said.

On the industry side, LEED-certified projects have specified more than $10 billion of green materials to date, which has been a boon for the manufacturing sector, according to the study. Environmentally, LEED buildings have cumulatively saved 400 million vehicle miles traveled, 9.5 billion gallons of water and 0.03 quadrillion quads of energy.

The report predicts an overall “flattening” of the rate of LEED growth as it begins to saturate markets, but continued growth in the amount of floor area that is certified. “The current economic situation coupled with increased stringency in the LEED requirements will contribute to an expected slowdown” in LEED growth, the report said.

Three studies report on how the downturn in construction will affect green building development — which is not very much, they conclude.

McGraw Hill’s “2009 Green Outlook” study said green building seems to be insulated from the recession and is growing “in spite of the market downturn.” The value of green construction increased five-fold from $10 billion in 2005 to as much as $49 billion this year, and could triple by 2013 to nearly $150 billion, the study reported.

In Turner Construction Co.’s “2008 Green Building Market Barometer”, more than 80 percent of real estate executives said they would be “extremely” or “very likely” to seek LEED certification for new projects in the next three years. And at an Ernst & Young roundtable of construction company financial executives, 99 percent of survey respondents said interest in green development would increase next year, or at least remain the same as it is this year.

All of that is good news for architects, who were polled in the recent “2008 Autodesk/AIA Green Index” survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) trade group and architecture software firm Autodesk.

For the second year in a row, architects said that sustainable design is being driven by client demand, which is in turn being driven primarily by perceived energy savings and marketing benefits. More than 20 percent of architects also said that “market demand” was motivating clients to build green. Only 10 percent said that was a factor last year.

Nearly three-fourths of architects polled were concerned that clients are still not willing to pay cost premiums for green design, although according to a new global study written by sustainability expert Greg Kats, premiums for new buildings average just 2 percent.

Called “Greening Buildings and Communities: Costs and Benefits”, the report found that most green buildings cost less than 4 percent more than conventional buildings, with the greatest concentration of premiums in the 0 percent to 1 percent range.

As a CoStar study revealed earlier in the year, key indicators of building value such as occupancy, sale prices and lease rates tend to be higher in green buildings than in conventional buildings, the Kats study reported.

It also said that green buildings reduce energy use by an average of 33 percent, and that cost savings from energy efficiency would more than offset the green development premium, often in five years or less.

Kats said those factors have made green buildings remarkably resilient to the economy. “The deep downturn in real estate has not reduced the rapid growth in demand for and construction of green buildings. This suggests a flight to quality as buyers express a market preference for buildings that are more energy efficient, more comfortable and healthier,” he said.

That notion is not lacking for supporters.

Eighty percent of respondents in a survey by the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) International, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the publication Real Estate Forum said that energy efficiency measures have defrayed costs, and 65 percent said their green investments have generated a positive ROI, which is up about five percent from last year.

Nearly 70 percent of corporate real estate executives responded that sustainability is a “critical business issue” in a survey by Jones Lang LaSalle and corporate real estate trade group CoreNet Global in a recent survey, which is up almost 20 points from last year.

And a majority of North American corporate sustainability executives believe capital remains available for sustainability projects, respondents told Panel Intelligence, a research company, in a survey last month.

Apparently however, green building data could afford to spend a little more time away from the office. Autodesk and research firm Harris Interactive recently asked 2,600 U.S. adults if they knew that buildings are the nation’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. About 4 percent said they did.

Our Perspective

The movement to Go Green is coming to the forefront. With the growing demand for energy and the lack of facilities to support this growing demand, steps are finally being taken to address this issue. The alternative energy market is poised to explode and this will also lead to more energy efficient buildings being built or retrofitted.

This issue should not be taken lightly, America faces a grave challenge in the near future. We must all work together to spread the awareness and present viable solutions.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) announced at a press conference in Burlington last month that it has teamed with BP Solar and Home Depot to offer solar systems at 65 Home Depot retail stores throughout New Jersey.

The coalition came together as a result of BPU’s Clean Energy Program, which provides rebates to consumers worth 60%–70% of the cost of a solar electric (PV) system. BP Solar participates because it wants access to the New Jersey market, and Home Depot wants a supplier of solar power equipment for homeowner customers. Mary Shields, regional president of BP Solar of North America in Frederick, Maryland, described New Jersey’s solar policy as one of the best in the world.

Home Depot conducts a free evaluation, installs the PV systems, and manages the paperwork for collecting the rebate from BPU. The retailer usually offers to finance the system for the homeowner. Rob Titone of Burlington said at the press conference that Home Depot calculated a simple payback of 8.5 years for his investment of $25,000 in a PV system on his home.

BPU President Jeanne M. Fox said, “Coupled with our incentive program, the launch by BP Solar and Home Depot moves New Jersey to the forefront of the solar energy industry.” Since New Jersey established the solar rebate program in 2001, more than 600 households, businesses, churches, and farms have purchased solar systems. And Fox notes that 475 applications are pending.

See more New Jersey project descriptions published in Conservation Update.

Read recent New Jersey news stories about state involvement in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects published on the EERE Web site.

Project description of a state energy office project dealing with energy efficiency and renewable energy that the State Energy Program (SEP) published in its bimonthly newsletter Conservation Update.

 

Shuld you want to know more about solar opportunities for your business or home contact george@hbsadvantage.com