Like many Americans who don’t realize that every time you flip the switch on a television or light, it results in the burning of coal or natural gas at a power plant, Britney Spears does not prioritize the use of energy in her life.
Why? A) She is crazy, B) Like so many others she doesn’t recognize that she personally is responsible for the pollution that is generated through her energy use, or C) All of the above.
If you answered A or C, shame on you. Similar to you or myself, without recognizing that she has a problem, it wouldn’t occur to Britney to change her behavior.
Oops, she did it again, she left on a light…
However many people think differently about energy and the consequences of its use. Some 14,000 of them attended West Coast Green, described as “the premiere conference and expo on green innovation.”
Planners, presenters, exhibitors and attendees came together to exchange information and help perpetuate a growing awareness that there are big changes underway in local, state and federal government policies in terms of energy efficiency, clean technologies, building standards water use and social innovation and that those policies will shape the business landscape for the next several years.
She’s not that innocent. Are you?
The first day of the event was exceptional. “We are on a steep learning curve,” said Christi Graham, West Coast Green founder and CEO. “Each of us has more value and greatness than we realize. Our brilliance is best expressed collectively.”
Others, like keynote speaker Dan Kammen, explained the value of collective thought a little differently.
“This is the anti-Las Vegas; what happens here should not stay here,” said the renewable energy expert, explaining how California’s passing of bill AB32 in 2007 helped quadruple the growth of renewables from 2007 to 2008, illustrating that for business to thrive, it needs guidance and goals. (Does your state have an equivalent to AB32? Make it happen.)
Someday she will understand
What is going on in the world of green innovation? In a presentation about greening existing buildings, Panama Bartholomy of the California Energy Commission discussed why buildings represent such a great opportunity.
California gets the majority of its energy from natural gas, followed by large hydro, coal, nuclear and renewables, a relatively “clean” mix of sources compared with most other states.
In California, the “energy mix,” the amount and type of energy produced and delivered by utilities, is well-documented and explained. (If you don’t know how your energy is produced, ask your utility company. You may be surprised with what you find.)
Bartholomy explained that of the energy delivered by utilities, a great deal is used in buildings that aren’t operating efficiently. And if we could reduce the energy wasted through energy-efficiency measures, such as sealing the building “envelope” (the “skin” that covers the inside of a building), reducing leaks in duct work and improving the lighting and using energy star appliances, we could cut 25 percent of the demand for energy in buildings overnight.
Brian Gitt of BKi Consulting discussed how energy efficiency could happen at the residential level. Innovative financing programs throughout California and other parts of the country can make energy efficiency more affordable.
For example, the countrywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) initiative enables a homeowner to have energy efficiency measures performed. Rather than the homeowner paying for them out of pocket, the city or county pays and puts a tax lien against the property. The homeowner can repay the tax lien over 20 years at a fixed interest rate and payment, which will normally amount to less than the savings from the reduced energy bills.
When the home is sold, the lien stays with the property and the new owner receives the benefit of an energy-efficient home with the work already done. This program is active in some form in Los Angeles County (88 cities), Sonoma, Alameda and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Still not sorry…but she’s coming around
During a session about “Looking at the House as a System,” architect Peter Pfeiffer described himself as practicing green building principles or, as he called it, “common sense” for more than 30 years. He used his home as his guinea pig with a $26,000 investment in rooftop solar electric panels. Installing solar without understanding all the systems on a home is ridiculous, he said.
For instance, when Pfeiffer installed an efficient pool pump, he made changes to the system such as large diameter pool jets and pipes that curve at smaller intervals than 90 degrees so that flow isn’t restrained. His investment of a few thousand dollars reduced more energy than his $26,000 solar system produced.
The message: Look to conserve energy before taking the extremely costly step of producing energy. For example, white counter tops in kitchens can reflect light and reduce the need for electrical lighting, awnings over windows reduce heat yet allow in natural light, and planting trees can reduce sunlight or wind.
In a session about “passive” houses, Prudence Ferreira of Integral Impact Inc, Nabih Tahan of Bau Technologies and Graham Irwin of Essential Habitat discussed what is happening at Passivhaus in Europe. Passivhaus is a building standard that requires a home or building to meet a plethora of features far more stringent than the U.S. LEED standard.
A passive house works by sealing the building envelope so that no air leaks in or out. A heat recovery ventilation system runs, continuously drawing the air out of the house and replacing it with outside air. The only difference is that all air passes through the heat recovery ventilation system so that any heat coming out of house is captured and sent back into the house.
By sealing a home properly, the owner knows that all air comes through a filter. By reusing the heat (or summertime coolness) from the outgoing air, the system is much smaller than a normal house would use. A solar electric panel array can be slapped on top of the house to reach zero net energy, and a solar hot water heater is standard.
There are more than 20,000 Passivhaus homes throughout the world in warm, cold and temperate climates. They normally cost the same or up to 11 percent more than a standard house. The operating costs over the life of the home more than make up for any premium paid in the initial build.
Bad Girl. Are you a bad boy?
In a session about green remodeling standards was Tenaya Asan, Program Manager of Build it Green, a Bay Area nonprofit that educates and trains people on rating many areas of a home that can be designed intelligently to reduce energy & water use while improving the indoor air quality and health of the occupants.
Asan said home owners should be as concerned with the air leaking through their attic and walls as they are with remodeling their kitchen and bathrooms. She described how many people replace windows in their home because they want to reduce energy use, only to realize that windows are rarely the main culprit. Instead, it’s the things you don’t see, like insulation in the walls and attic, leaks in ducts and inefficient appliances that actually cause huge energy bills and waste.
Build it Green staff members are traveling to parts of California where this type of training is in demand. As more people learn about the importance of energy efficiency, Asan said she expects Build it Green to continue to expand in their education of professionals who support high building standards.
In addition to the speakers who are already finding their niche in the new economy, many companies who offer products and services are making the idea of sustainability and green synonymous with good business. These people have already taken the risk to start a business in a terrible economy and are finding that doing what they love without harming the environment is something others value and are willing to pay for in any economy.
If only Britney Spears could find the same passion for getting plugged in by unplugging. Given her past, she could probably make energy conservation sexy, scandalous and cool while influencing millions at the same time. That’s my kind of crazy.
[photo credit: Jared Friedman]