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Electricity use in New England typically reaches its peak in the summer months just ahead, which makes this a good time to examine municipal energy use and look for savings opportunities.
Lighting accounts for about 21 percent of the energy used in a building. During bright summer days, it’s worthwhile to consider your options before flipping on the switch.
Cities and towns that aren’t already using compact fluorescent light bulbs should consider making the switch. Compact fluorescents use 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. According to the Energy Star calculator, replacing just 10 standard 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with 15-watt compact fluorescents can save more than $100 per year in energy costs. This is just a fraction of the savings cities and towns could realize by making the switch on a wider scale.
Municipalities can also save money by looking for times when lighting can be reduced. Overnight security lighting might be able to use just one out of every 10 light fixtures, rather than all or half. Occupancy sensors, which turn off lights when there is no motion in buildings or rooms, are affordable and offer potential savings of 10 percent on lighting.
Lighting often generates heat, which makes the air conditioning system work even harder when all the lights are on during hot summer days. Turning off unnecessary lights will save electricity and reduce the workload of the air conditioning system.
Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems account for 40 to 60 percent of the energy used in U.S. commercial and residential buildings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, making HVAC a good target for energy savings.
While heating plays a role in energy costs, New England is a “summer peaking” region because of the strain air conditioning puts on the electric grid.
Efficient air conditioning will make an impact on municipal electricity costs. The most common causes of degraded air conditioning performance are dirty filters and fans, improper belt alignment and adjustment, air leaks in equipment cabinets and ducts, improper air damper operation, dirty condensers and evaporator coils, and improper refrigerant charge, according to a report prepared for the Department of Energy.
Some other common-sense savings measures include using window blinds, keeping doors and windows closed when the air conditioning is on, and adjusting the thermostat after hours.
Upgrading thermostats to programmable models is a smart investment for the summer months. A programmable thermostat may cost $50 to $200 initially, but the investment will typically pay for itself within the first year by decreasing energy bills. The pre-setting capability ensures control over building temperature and improved comfort for workers.
When purchasing office equipment, cities and towns should look for energy-efficient options from Energy Star, which may offer tax breaks as well as electricity savings. Energy Star copiers, for example, can use 40 percent less electricity than standard models. For fax machines, look for models with the lowest available power level in “sleep” mode, because most fax machines are in standby mode most of the time.
Municipalities can also realize savings by using their current equipment wisely. All office equipment should be shut off at night and on weekends, when not in use. Even for PCs with a low-power sleep mode, shutting them down at night will save energy and possibly extend the life of the computer.
Computer monitors typically consume about two-thirds of the total energy used by a computer, so shutting off the monitor is a good idea when leaving a computer, even for a short time. Screensavers should be avoided, as they require a lot more electricity. (Modern displays have largely eliminated the burn-in problem that screensavers were designed to resolve.)
The outer envelope of a building is a critical factor in maintaining energy-efficiency measures, because of the role it plays in regulating the indoor environment. While a newly constructed building is most efficient, there are ways to maintain the integrity of the building envelope in older buildings as well. Focusing on doors and windows is a good first step. Make sure that they close tightly and check for any leaks.
Additional insulation is beneficial in both summer and winter. The cost of extra insulation in new construction is relatively low. With retrofits, focus on roofs and attics because of the lower cost for adding insulation there.
Finally, landscaping can both beautify a property and reduce energy costs. Deciduous trees are a good idea on the south and west sides of a building, where the sun’s rays are most direct and intense. These plants will shade a building in the summer months while allowing the sun’s rays to filter through and warm the building after their leaves drop off in the fall.
Curtailing use on hot days
Every year, electricity users are “tagged” by their usage when the entire power grid is at its summer peak. For all customers, electricity usage during this hour is factored into an “installed capacity” or “ICAP” tag. The ICAP tags in turn are used to assess future capacity charges for each electricity account.
Many cities and towns can make a significant dent in their energy costs by reducing electricity use during the hour when the ICAP tag is determined. (MunEnergy customers that have chosen an all-in price would not be affected.)
Municipalities that can reduce energy use and would like more immediate benefits for scaling back should consider enrolling in a load-response program. Constellation NewEnergy, the MMA-endorsed supplier for the MunEnergy program, offers load-response programs for cities and towns.
Municipalities can benefit from designing new buildings or renovating buildings with an eye toward reducing ongoing costs for energy, water, and maintenance. This starts with a clear understanding of energy-efficiency opportunities and the incentives and rebates offered by utilities, manufacturers, and the state to offset incremental costs. It is also necessary to understand the savings that can be expected, as well as potential financing mechanisms.
While the best return on investment can be found in new construction, municipalities can also realize savings of 20 percent to 30 percent from modernizing existing buildings.
Constellation NewEnergy is the endorsed supplier to the MMA’s MunEnergy program. For more information, contact MunEnergy Program Manager Emily Neill at (617) 772-7513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.