New Year’s Resolution, Part II — Energy Advocacy For The Planet

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Pollution from fossil fuels is changing our climate — sea levels are rising, droughts are increasing, severe storms are becoming common, and air quality is creating health havoc for many people. Now more than ever, we need to lead our communities toward clean energy through grassroots efforts. Our eventual goals of acquiring 100% of our energy from clean sources is obtainable — if incremental and achieved in small successes. Renewable energy advocacy isn’t easy, and it requires passion, yes, but also planning, dedication, and discipline.

In the first part of this series, I looked around to my new seasonal condo complex and identified how advocating for eco-living could begin the pathway to community zero energy balance objectives. In this 2nd and final part to my New Year’s Resolutions, I’m switching to the bigger picture of renewable energy and the associated infrastructure improvements that a communal living space needs to adopt to reduce environmental degradation. I just hope my condo association is ready (gulp).

energy advocacy

Local climate action is good for 2 reasons: it lets a community make choices based on their own values and priorities, and it proves that climate change solutions work. As we consider the effect each of us has on the planet, we end up drawing behavioral conclusions that can shape economies, have ethical implications, and influence food, water, human health, and lifestyle choices. Some of these conclusions must revolve around the sources from which we draw our energy.

Fossil fuel costs accrue at every point of the fossil fuel supply chain. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that extraction processes can generate air and water pollution and harm local communities. Transporting fuels from the mine or well can cause air pollution and lead to serious accidents and spills. When the fuels are burned, they emit toxins and global warming emissions. Even the waste products from fossil fuels are hazardous to public health and the environment.

So, instead of these, sustainable living requires using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water, or geothermal energy. And we must learn to minimize the energy that we consume, too, whenever possible. Choosing renewable energy and energy efficiency are necessary ways to offset our carbon footprints, and I’m going to do my damnedest to help my seasonal condo association to step up to our responsibilities to the planet .

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Get Thee an Energy Audit

energy advocateNew Year’s Resolution: Share with other condo residents how easy and effective an energy audit is in determining a residence’s energy consumption and opportunities for consumption reduction.

Rationale: To improve the energy efficiency of a building, it is necessary to understand the factors that are affecting its energy use. The energy performance of residential buildings is significantly impacted by the exterior environment. Let’s take Florida as an example.

Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) provide a standardized evaluation of a home’s energy efficiency and expected energy costs. The single largest energy end-use in Florida homes is for cooling. In north Florida it comprises just over 20% of total energy use, and in south Florida it comprises over 40%, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center. Hot water energy use makes up the next largest segment of usage, ranging from just under 15% in south Florida to just over 18% in north Florida. This end-use can often be significantly reduced when switching to energy-efficient technologies like solar hot water systems and dedicated heat pumps, and it can be moderately reduced using heat recovery systems.

energy advocacyWindows are one of the focal points of a HERS energy audit. The thermal insulating property (U-value) of a window has virtually no impact on its ability to control cooling loads in buildings. On the other hand, the shading characteristics of the window have a major impact. An entirely new line of “solar control” windows is now on the market. These products work by allowing light to enter the window but at the same time keeping heat out. This is possible because over half of the energy content of sunlight is in wavelengths which are not visible to the human eye. Thus, solar control windows have been specifically designed to selectively admit only the visible portion of the sunlight that strikes the window with a spectrally selective glazing that admits only the beneficial part of the sunlight spectrum.

New smart-window technology that can tint glass, changing it from fully transparent to dark in less than 1 minute, could help cut the costs of heating and cooling buildings by up to 20%.

Lighting the Way Naturally

New Year’s Resolution: Model with my local community as series of ways that natural light can reduce energy costs and benefit the environment. Local businesses would certainly come onsite for a lighting/ shading demonstration. 

Rationale: Daylighting refers to the use of windows and skylights to bring sunlight into your home. Other ways to incorporate natural light are light shelves and lighter interior coloring to ensure maximum reflection value.

energy advocacyStrategic shading, such as window coverings, blinds, or shutters, minimizes unwanted sunlight. Draperies on timers allow you to program an automatic schedule for opening and closing the windows, and adding remotes or smart switches to the setup increases the options available to homeowners. With electric curtain tracks, users can control the system with a remote, a timer or a switch, or they can connect it to a smart-home system. Or you can add in a motorized rod to complement existing drapes via a remote. Some homeowners who want the option for voice-controlling the curtain rod can add a cable and a smart plug to make it compatible with Amazon Alexa.

Strategically placing plants, shrubbery, trees, exterior walls, fences, or a trellis helps modulate light, too, if a homeowner has the option. Many condo owners are working with legal reps to determine what rights they have to landscaping in this era of new environmental awareness.

energy advocacy

Energy Efficiency through Residential Lighting Choices

New Year’s Resolution: Point out how resident’s interior lights and HOA exterior lighting can become more energy efficient and provide greater comfort with LED bulbs.

Rationale: The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself. According to the US Department of Energy, rapid adoption of LED bulbs would collectively save $265 billion over the next 20 years. This switch would also help eliminate the need to build 40 new power plants and save hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

energy advocacyLEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are solid light bulbs that are extremely energy-efficient. LED bulbs last up to 10 times longer than compact fluorescents, and 40 times longer than typical incandescent bulbs. LEDs produce 3.4 btus/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs. Common incandescent bulbs get hot and contribute to heat build-up in a room. LEDs prevent this heat build-up, thereby helping to reduce air conditioning costs in the home. LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of Incandescent or CFL). LED bulbs used in fixtures inside the home save electricity, remain cool, and save money on replacement costs, since LED bulbs last so long.

LED lights are famed for their efficiency and low heat signature, which has created a market for outdoor LED street light fixtures. As the cost of LED drivers has come down over the last 5 years, they offer very attractive paybacks, significant energy savings, and lower maintenance over the life of the fixture. LED lighting — and especially smart LED lighting — is the logical next step for many condo complexes. “It is intuitive, it is now cost effective more than it ever has been, and the cost savings are more demonstrated and proven than they’ve ever been,” says Current’s Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Stewart. Using longer lasting, energy efficient light sources also reduces the amount of waste going into landfills.

Choose Solar: Individual, Shared, or Community

energy advocacyNew Year’s Resolution: Map out a series of options where the condo complex could add solar to the electricity mix.

Rationale: Unlike with a single-family home, where the solar system is connected directly to one electric meter, adding solar to a multi-family building can be more complicated. This is due to the building having multiple electricity meters, shared roof space, and many decision-makers.

Solar systems can be sized to power a percentage of a building’s electricity use, offset usage in common spaces, or provide power for electric vehicle charging. The most cost-effective way to distribute the electricity is to send it to the common areas first. Any excess power can be divided equally among all apartments in the building. Savings from the shared electricity can be worked in to lower rates or reallocated to other areas in need of upkeep.

A single residential condo owner can start a single solar project, or he or she might join in with a neighbor. A proposal to the condo association might allow a portion of the roof to be designated for solar panels – sometimes acquiescing to a small fee for the space. A good incentive is to offer any excess electricity to the common areas of the building. These residential partners bear all costs for the installation and upkeep. But they also gain the rewards, sharing the electricity and knowing that fossil fuels aren’t producing their sum electrical usage.

energy advocacy
Graphic courtesy of US Dept. of Energy

A community solar project is a large solar array located on otherwise unusable land near the condo complex. The solar array is maintained and managed by a company, and the electricity produced is sold to the surrounding community. When you receive your electricity bill at the end of the month, you’ll see the electricity your community solar panels produced credited to your account. Community solar projects have been steadily increasing in popularity as the cost of solar power declines. This is an excellent way to opt-in to solar power without having to physically install solar panels on a roof. There are 2 types of projects.

  • A subscription service requires a monthly premium
  • With complete buy-in projects, individual solar panels in the array are owned outright.

To Drive Your EV, First You Must Access a Charger

New Year’s Resolution: Get at least one charging station in our condo complex this year through a series of emails, phone calls, meetings, and coordination with utility/ municipal/ charging groups. Offer workshops in using the charger to anyone interested so increase awareness and understanding of electric vehicles.

energy advocacyRationale: Trading a gas pump for a plug is a wonderful thing. It’s far more convenient, takes less time, and saves breathing toxic fumes. It also relinquishes the need to rely on fossil fuels for transportation energy. Plug-in electric vehicles are now viable for most lifestyles and budgets. With more than 3 dozen models now commercially available, over 1 million Americans have made the switch to driving electric. On average, fueling a car with electricity is roughly the same as $1/gallon of fueling with gasoline. EVs powered by the grid currently produce 54% less (lifetime) carbon pollution than gasoline cars, which could grow to 71% by 2050 as our power supply gets cleaner.

The consent decree settlements between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Volkswagen (VW) have made Florida eligible to receive over $166 million in funding through the Environment Mitigation Trust Agreement (EMT). The funds provided through the EMT allow the use of up to 15% of the funds for the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. But how can the many current and prospective EV drivers who live in condos and want to be able to get an EV and charge at home convince their condo associations to install EV chargers?

Chargepoint offers some good advice to condo owners who’d like to be able to charge in their designated parking areas. A committee to research and make a recommendation on how to implement EV charging is a good starting point. To install charging, they say, you’ll likely need to run wiring along common walls from a shared electrical panel. But, if you’re putting in a charging station in your assigned parking spot, Chargepoint says you should pay for the installation and electricity used, because you’re the one benefiting. Then, when EV charging catches on, one of three models for demand will be right for your condo association:

  • Power management: Let drivers tap into an existing panel by using power management to install more charging spots and dynamically manage charging so more cars can charge without exceeding existing electrical capacity. This plan lets you start charging sooner and delays the cost of upgrading until there are more EV drivers to share the costs.
  • Hub and spoke: The community pays for a separate “hub” EV panel in the electrical room or close to most parking spots. Each EV owner can pay to install a charging station “spoke” from that panel. Selling access to the panel covers the cost of installation over time. This may feel like taxing the community upfront for an amenity that not everyone uses, but the panel increases property value for everyone, and anyone can use it.
  • Charging fund: Coordinate a group of EV drivers (or prospective drivers) to chip in for a new electrical panel for charging and let everyone who participates claim a spot upfront. So if a new panel costs $10,000, 20 people can pitch in $500 each for the option to charge. The HOA will still authorize the work, but only a select group will pay for it.

Final Thoughts

As Bill McKibben emphasized in a 2017 Rolling Stone piece, “With global warming, the fundamental equation is precisely what’s shifting.” If we can persuade our local community complexes to undertake 1-2 concrete projects to promote energy efficiency and clean energy, maybe we can get that much closer to meeting the following Clean Energy Checklist.

That would be a fine goal for us all, regardless of living in a condo complex.

Energy efficiency
❏ Completed energy audits in buildings to identify energy-saving opportunities
❏ Implemented energy efficiency upgrades in buildings:
❏ Installing LED or high-efficiency fluorescent interior lights
❏ Installing occupancy sensors to automatically turn lights on and off as needed
❏ Installing new, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment
❏ Installing an energy management system
❏ Weatherizing the building (for example, by installing additional insulation or high-performance windows)
❏ Instituting a program to encourage building occupants to reduce energy use by modifying their behavior, such as turning off equipment when not in use
❏ Converted streetlights to LED fixtures
❏ Created a local outreach program to help connect residents and businesses with energy efficiency audits and upgrades

energy advocacy

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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