ConstructionPro Week, Volume: 1 - Issue: 8 - 06/29/2012

Energy-Saving Performance Contracts Reportedly Gaining ‘Renewed Interest’

By Steve Rizer


Washington, D.C. -- Energy-saving performance contracts (ESPCs) “are getting a lot of renewed interest right now” for helping the federal government achieve its energy-efficiency goals, Federal Performance Contracting Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Schafer told attendees of the 15th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Expo + Forum here last week. In addition to a resurgence in ESPC popularity, other news coming out of the conference involves the progress of two federal facilities that are expected to serve as models for green design and operation, a prediction concerning Building Performance Institute Inc.’s (BPI) certification program for home performance, and the market outlook for energy-efficient light-emitting-diode (LED) technology. Here is a summary of each development:


Support for ESPCs is growing “in part because there’s just not a lot of money right now in [the federal government], but there is a lot of recognition that agencies can do more that’s mission-related if they don’t waste money on energy,” Schafer said. “Another attraction is that they are guaranteed, so you know you’re not going to end up paying some ridiculous amount that you had no idea when you got started in this project.”


Under the ESPC program, new energy-efficient equipment is installed at federal facilities at no up-front cost to the government. The cost of the improvements is paid for over time with energy costs saved on utility bills, and private-sector contractors guarantee the energy savings.


Another contributor to the renewed interest in ESPCs comes from an announcement that President Obama (D) made last December regarding the Better Buildings Initiative, according to Schafer. He announced nearly $4 billion in combined federal- and private-sector energy upgrades to buildings over the ensuing two years. These investments are expected to save billions in energy costs, promote energy independence, and create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. The $4-billion investment includes a $2-billion commitment, made through the issuance of a presidential memorandum, to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long-term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers. The memo calls for fully implementing existing federal authority to use ESPCs to promote energy efficiency and create new jobs.


“So, agencies have now put in their proposals and plans on how much they’re each going to be doing, and there’s been a lot of support from Congress for this announcement,” Schafer said. “We have letters from House and Senate leaders commending the president and basically saying, ‘Let’s work together and make sure this is implemented.’”



Updates Provided for Two Model Energy-Efficient Structures


In the conference exhibit hall, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) spokesperson David Warner provided ConstructionPro Week (CPW) an update on two of the lab’s most prominent showcase facilities for green design and operation.


Warner reported that the lab’s Research Support Facility (RSF), which was certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum for New Construction last year, has been performing “as expected.”


The energy goal for the 360,000-square-foot building is 35,000 British thermal units per square foot per year. Energy performance for the $91.4-million structure exceeds American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers Standard 90.1 by an estimated 50 percent.


Among the features that RSF incorporates are the following: 

  • Building orientation and geometry provide daylighting while minimizing unwanted heat losses and gains.
  • A labyrinth thermal storage concrete structure in the crawl space provides passive heating and cooling.
  • Transpired solar collectors passively preheat outside air on the building’s south face before delivery to the labyrinth and occupied space.
  • The building is hydronically heated and cooled using thermal slabs in the ceiling instead of forced air. Approximately 70 miles of radiant piping runs through all floors.
  • A data center uses a combination of evaporative cooling, outside air ventilation, waste heat capture, and more efficient servers to reduce the data center’s energy use by 50 percent over traditional approaches.
  • RSF on-site solar energy (2.5 megawatts) is installed on the rooftop, visitor parking lot, and staff parking garage.

Warner also reported that NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), a megawatt-scale systems integration research and development structure, will be completed this fall. ESIF is designed in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards and is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification or higher.


“[ESIF] is a unique new national asset for energy systems integration research, development, testing, and analysis,” according to NREL. “Uniquely equipped with megawatt-scale test capabilities; integrated electrical, thermal, and fuel infrastructures; advanced data analysis and visualization capabilities; hardware-in-the-loop simulation; and a high-performance computing data center, the ESIF stands in a class of its own.”


The 182,500-square-foot facility contains approximately 200 office and collaboration spaces, 15 “state-of-the-art” laboratories, and several outdoor test areas.



BPI Certification, Accreditation Program Growing


Participation in BPI’s program for building performance credentialing continues to rise, organization spokesperson Leslie McDowell told CPW. She reported that in 2005, BPI issued 350 certifications. That figure rose to more than 14,000 last year, she said. “And I am sure that number will continue to grow.”


BPI bills itself as the nation’s premier building-performance-credentialing, quality-assurance, and standards-setting organization, focusing on the residential sector. Among the professionals targeted are remodelers; heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning contractors; and insulation contractors.


“We bring together building-plans experts from across North America to develop standards using a consensus-based methodology,” McDowell said. “From our standards, we develop certifications for individuals and accreditation for contracting companies. These are the elite companies, the accredited contracting companies in our industry who commit to our third-party quality-assurance program, which involves random inspection of their work to make sure that their work is conforming to our standards. In short, we provide risk management to energy-efficiency programs. These are the federal, state, and utility programs around the country that provide incentives to homeowners to get this work done.”


BPI standards and credentials are specified in more than 120 federal, state, and utility programs across the United States. BPI-certified professionals are represented in all 50 states, Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; the Virgin Islands; Guam; American Samoa; Australia; South Korea; and three Canadian provinces.


“In residential energy efficiency, it comes down to having a properly credentialed work force that can assess, install, and maintain the necessary improvements over the long haul,” McDowell said. “A challenge we find in a lot of areas is the obsession with energy auditors to perform the diagnostics of the work with no associated training for the supervisors, the QC [quality-control] inspectors, the installers who are actually doing the work, so that’s why we’re working with DOE [the U.S. Department of Energy] and NREL on a pilot program to develop four new advanced certifications for experienced professionals only. It’s called Home Energy Professional Certifications. These are not entry-level credentials. They are tailored to the most common jobs in our industry.”


Offered by BPI and funded by DOE and NREL, the certifications are called “Energy Auditor,” “Retrofit Installer,” “Crew Leader,” and “Quality-Control” inspector. The new credentials are expected to meet the international benchmark for personnel certifications across all industries, the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO 17024) standard. Under 17024, each new certification is developed and administered using international best practices, such as cross-disciplinary peer review and industry validation of technical materials. BPI expects to roll the exams out nationally in the fall.



Prices for Energy-Efficient LED Lights Drop


On another front, improved market penetration for energy-efficient LED technology could take place in the not-too-distant future.


“[LED] technology has been improving over the last several years,” Bruce Salkin, owner of Enervation Inc., told conference attendees. “Many applications for LED are market-ready now. The pricing is still high, but the pricing over the last 18 months has started to drop, and ROIs [returns on investment] generally are running from two years to less than one year, depending on certain variables.”


According to one market estimate, the compound annual growth rate for all LED lighting products is expected to total 20 percent through 2016.


Salkin asserted that “LED is the most efficient light source that we can use today. Is LED a solution for every single environment where light is used or required? No, of course not, [but] LED now can be found to replace fluorescent lights, spot lights, street lights, [and other lights]. Pretty much across the board, LEDs replacing fluorescents will save at least 45 percent on usage. If you replace metal-halide lights with LED lights, you can save as much as 90 percent on your usage and expense, and that starts to add up pretty rapidly.”




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