When the 112th Congress convened a year ago, hopes were high that 2011 would see passage of comprehensive energy legislation. However, as the year drew to a close, those same hopes dimmed. Interest in tax credit extensions waned and threats to repeal lighting efficiency standards spoiled the appetite for passage of other efficiency measures, including Senate bill S.398, the Implementation of National Consensus Appliance Agreements Act (INCAAA). Central to INCAAA is a revised set of equipment standards negotiated by industry and advocates and the establishment of regional heating and cooling provisions. Even with bipartisan support, passage of the Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings and Competitiveness Act of 2011, S.1000, also remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, the HVACR industry continues to introduce new technologies — and build upon existing technologies — that provide opportunities to improve energy efficiency. Some examples include variable-speed compressors, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and thermostatic radiator valves.

While new federal legislation hasn’t helped spur deployment of such technologies, state and local initiatives are moving ahead. For instance:

• In New York City, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan — part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative — is identifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in all buildings, especially residential ones. Of the 49.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide measured in 2009, 35 percent are produced by residential buildings alone. To demonstrate this energy-saving opportunity, a recent project led to the installation of 300 thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) in two multifamily residential apartment buildings. The project concluded that installing TRVs in all New York City apartment complexes would save the city $100 million annually in energy costs.

• In Chicago, the city has set an ambitious goal of retrofitting 40 percent of its commercial buildings for high energy efficiency by 2020. By doing so, Chicago will re-create a city that will attract the people, talent, and investment with which to build an economy rooted in technology and services. Trying to transform a city of more than 2.6 million people without tearing it down led to the discovery of a “sweet spot” — retrofitting older buildings in desirable neighborhoods. This retrofit revolution is moving forward under Chicago’s new mayor, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

• The Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (GPIC) for Energy Efficient Buildings, a consortium of efficiency-minded institutions led by Pennsylvania State University, has set several ambitious goals: transform the building retrofit environment to a more integrated systems approach, provide methods that can be implemented over the next 10 years to improve energy efficiency by 50 percent, and stimulate investment and quality job creation in the Greater Philadelphia region. The GPIC has already assembled a team of technical and business experts in energy-efficient building. Moreover, one of the consortium partners, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, is developing a publicly searchable database of contractors and consultants with energy-efficiency backgrounds.

New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia aren’t alone. Atlanta, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and other forward-thinking cities are also taking leadership roles on the energy-efficiency front.

Utilities Find Creative Ways for Energy Efficiency

Utilities play a major role in driving energy efficiency. They should be incentivized to encourage energy efficiency — and not just push the sale of more power. This is important for both residential and commercial consumers nationwide.

For example, Southern California Edison (SCE) has long supported the formation of a smart grid — a digitally enabled electrical grid that would gather, distribute, and act on information to improve the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of electricity services. SCE has established a new vision of the clean energy future — one including renewable and clean generation and a smart grid with SCE’s Smart Connect technology. This Home Area Network (HAN) technology would enable two-way communications with customers and devices, and create a program that would include features for consumers to encourage implementation.

In Texas, Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program provides customers with a fixed renewable energy charge instead of a traditional fuel charge. Program subscribers buy energy produced from 100 percent renewable sources like wind power and methane gas from landfills. Meanwhile, the Austin Energy Green Building program encourages central Texans to design and construct more sustainable homes and buildings. In 2009, the program prevented 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere while saving 30.7 million kWh of electricity.

Legislative Crystal Ball a Bit Cloudy

As 2012 unfolds, it’s unlikely that Congress and the White House will enact a new national energy policy in this, an election year. Still, some progress is being made. In addition to INCAAA and Shaheen-Portman, two new bills are emerging in the House. One would provide incentives for whole-home energy retrofits, while the other would increase energy efficiency in government buildings and promote expansion of certain technologies, such as combined heat and power plants. Both bills are expected to have bipartisan cosponsors.

In the meantime, the HVACR industry should continue to work with state and local agencies to encourage programs that deploy the technologies that can upgrade and retrofit existing buildings to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Energy retrofits have a trickle-down effect: creating jobs for contractors, wholesalers, and manufacturers. And that’s good news for our industry, the economy, and national security.

Publication date: 3/5/2012