Posts

By Mary English

One of the things I love about my profession is the fact that I learn new things regularly. My most recent new learning was inspired by the expression “April through October Houses” during an informative and entertaining radio interview with the host of Cowtown Conversations, Joseph Jackson, on his KKFI 90.1 FM show. He spoke this phrase in reference to homes in Kansas City that may be rented to tenants in the spring, only to have the leases broken when autumn’s chill settles into the air and the homes become too cold to inhabit. 

The topic deserving of Joseph’s surprising reference was easy building performance and home weatherization tips that anyone can handle. In light of my own epiphany about a previously unconsidered perspective, I’d like to expand on a few statements from that interview that we didn’t have time to cover. I feel that knowing these things about the task of making a building more energy efficient would help even the most cash-crunched households achieve warmer homes and better health. 

1 “April through October” conjures thoughts of beautiful spring and fall colors—not to mention nicer weather—sandwiching the summer months of what can be oppressive heat in the Kansas City region. So when Joseph alerted me to an expression that is in among renter vernacular, all I could think was, “If these homes are so uncomfortable that the occupants have to live elsewhere in the winter, they also must be enduring some serious discomfort in June-August as well.” As I’ve been witness to many homes in need of repair and energy upgrades in a former life as a home energy auditor this is not a surprising revelation.

During the interview, we discussed home weatherization and tips for residents that have the money and authority to weatherize. But for renters, the weatherization task gets more difficult since renters don’t own their homes. The problem can be viewed as systemic—renters understand both the discomfort of an extreme indoor temperature and in most cases, the pain of a high utility bill that results when they try to return the home to livable temperatures. If the landlord is not empathetic or receptive to making energy upgrades for their renters? Voila: the April through October House has been enabled by an inequitable system of utilities being paid directly by tenants. 

Ethical and moral considerations aside, if only this class of landlord realized this key truth about building management, the April through October Home would likely evaporate: An efficient home leads to a better bottom line because it keeps renters who want to stay, instead of forcing them out due to unbearable discomfort. Energy efficiency upgrades don’t cost in the long run. They pay landlords back. The National Apartment Association estimates that high turnover can consume up to 9% of gross rental income for larger multi-family residences, so landlords would come out on top, if only their renters could continue living in the buildings.  

For those people reading who do own their homes—and pay their own utility bills—the return on investment for home energy efficiency upgrades is better than most financial products. Plus, we are not even addressing the healthcare costs endured due to medical problems caused by inefficient homes. 

Anyway, if I could wave a magic wand, I’d make all landlords cover the cost of utilities for tenants in their rent. This would incentivize the building owners to actually make improvements on their “April to October” buildings. Then they might want to actually make their properties as efficient as possible to save money, and realize lower turnover rates as well. Happy renters and wealthier properties owners: I’d call that a win-win. 

Mold growth on a windowsill.

Mold growth on a windowsill.

2 Speaking of weatherization, Joseph came prepared to talk about building improvements. In addition to his extensive experience doing his own energy retrofits, he had prepared a well-researched list to share with the program’s listeners. Things like caulking around windows, adding weather-stripping, and sealing the seams of exposed ductwork were all included and endorsed by yours truly. 

One more improvement on the laundry list, though, is adding window weatherization plastic to the interior window frame ahead of the heating season. In the interview, I did not get a chance to say, “If you add plastic to your windows, make sure you remove it in the spring.” This unvoiced sentence has been bothering me since the interview. 

Here is why: If you leave the plastic in place for the summer months, you may be inviting mold and eventually wood rot on any window trim or sill sealed in behind the plastic. (Perhaps you don’t open your windows ever and don’t think about it.)

Dewpoint temperatures

How does this mold and wood rot happen? Well, it has to do with extreme temperature change between the hot and humid summer air outside, and the cool, conditioned air in the house, on the interior side of the plastic. In Kansas City, we get very high humidity which creates a dew point as low as your thermostat setting for a typical central air-conditioned house. That air hits sealed cold plastic around your windows and boom: condensation. Next comes the spores and then the mold growth.

So, remove that window weatherization plastic in the spring for health and durability’s sake.

3

This gets me to our conversation regarding professional energy auditors. The happy news is that there are low-cost audits to be had. In the interview, Joseph mentioned that he had received an energy audit for $35.00 by using Groupon. So I “Googled it” and there are indeed deals for Kansas City residents to get energy audits for that low of a price (or even lower) currently using online coupon services like Groupon.

These deals are advertising use of thermal imaging from one vendor, and another advertises “air leakage” testing. However, it is unclear to me if these deals reflect a product that is a full-scale comprehensive energy audit that includes a blower door test with a detailed infrared scan and carbon monoxide safety testing which is how I define “home energy audit.” To review or explain further, a full-scale home energy audit should take roughly two hours minimum – longer for larger houses – and include:

  • An infiltration test of the whole house using a Blower Door.
  • Thermal imaging once the testing is done with the Blower Door still operating to create a situation where a thermal camera can visually detect air leaks.
  • A natural gas line test; and carbon monoxide testing of all gas-burning appliances.
  • A report that shows images and gives an executive summary of recommendations with an estimated payback should these recommendations be executed by a contractor or homeowner.

Doing a bit more research regarding the market surrounding home energy audits led to me to realize that the industry looks a little differently than when I was regularly conducting energy audits for homeowners and contractors. Gone are the days where a consultant could offer the audit as a stand-alone product as the industry has adjusted to a loss of subsidized incentives. There are companies that do stand-alone auditing still, but most now are offering low or no-cost energy audits as what is called a “loss leader” product. In other words, the company offers audits as a lead into their other services of insulating your attic and walls, for example.

These professionals may be doing a thorough job of auditing your home, but if the end goal is to get you to buy their other products, what do you think their audit reports are going to be concentrating on for their list of to-dos? I am a big proponent of adding insulation, but the safety and blower door testing are important to make sure these upgrades are being done safely and correctly.

To reiterate, the change reflects the loss of subsidies from regional utility programs as well as robust tax breaks on the federal level to help homeowners pay for these services. Hopefully, that will be rectified by the current administration’s proposed Build Back Better program which is currently making its way through Congress and has $500 million set aside for home energy upgrades and contractor training. Homeowners, contractors, and the energy professional industry would be helped immensely by more subsidies, since it’s clear that most folks aren’t interested in paying $300+ out of pocket for a professional consultant to conduct a full-scale home energy audit.

And as I’ve stated multiple times including a previous blog on this website, this is not just about efficiency—this is also related to the health of building occupants. Building efficiency is related to human health. Period. And since America loves to brag about the American Dream of a “home sweet home,” it’s important that our homes are truly shelters from the elements, and safe from indoor pathogens as well.

Though sparse, there are some resources currently. These are:

  • A federal tax credit of up to $500 for energy auditing and to subsidize added insulation, efficient windows, doors and skylights. (Receipts must be shown and it covers a small percentage of the cost incurred.)
  • Community Action Agency that offers weatherization services free of charge for low-income homeowners and renters. They have an application process that requires income and utility bill information. Please follow the link to their website for more information.
  • And for alternative energy generation* a federal tax credit for installing “solar electric property, solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, fuel cell property, and, starting December 31, 2020, qualified biomass fuel property expenditures paid or incurred in taxable years beginning after that date. The applicable percentages are:
    • In the case of property placed in service after December 31, 2019, and before January 1, 2023, 26%.
    • In the case of property placed in service after December 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2024, 22%.”
*Note: I will always argue that building owners must address energy-saving measures first prior to installing alternative energy generation. Otherwise, you’re just subsidizing waste; not to mention generation does not address inefficient attributes impacting your health and comfort.

MEC will be updating this on our website too as Build Back Better and utility companies ramp up more programs to help homeowners pay for upgrades. We are also here for you, renters and tenants, if you need us to answer any questions you may have concerning the efficiency of a building where you live. Please reach out – we’re just a phone call or email away.

 

Batteries are ancient, by today’s tech standards.  Benjamin Franklin is the first person we know of to use the term, and the first published science on the topic dates to 1791.  The days of metal disks stacked in brine are long gone (except in middle school science class).  Lead-acid batteries in cars and golf carts are still common and will be for years, given their low cost.  But the focus here is on the next generation of large-scale systems.  And the question is how these batteries – bigger and more powerful than anything we’ve known  can redefine and remake the world’s electrical grid. 

You’ve likely heard the expression “lightning in a bottle”.  Storing electricity at industrial scale is very much like that.  Electricity moves fast.  In copper wire or other conductors, it’s traveling at somewhere between 50% and 99% of the speed of light.  And in grid operations, it has to be sold – that is, used – as soon as it’s produced.  If it isn’t, grid and utility engineers run the risk of power plants disconnecting, since they’re only designed to run in a very narrow range of conditions.  What this next generation of battery tech provides is a way to store that electricity and in doing so provide a whole basket of benefits – financial, technical and environmental.   

Arguably the biggest single benefit battery storage provides is the ability to capture electricity from renewable sources.  Obviously, the wind doesn’t always blow.  And even when it does, that’s an issue in itself.  In February 2017, the Danes powered their entire country for 24 hours on windpower.  But if a wind farm produces more power than needed, the system operator must start shutting down turbines or face overloading the grid.  And while the sun defines “predictable”, solar plants only provide power for so many hours per day.  Large-scale storage means that intermittent, low-cost, and environmentally-friendly electricity can be stored now and used later.    

Having large amounts of electricity in storage and ready to go at a moment’s notice is a financial boost for power companies.  It means that utilities can sell back low-cost power from renewables to meet peak demand; when power sells for far more than it cost to generate.  It also means that utilities can meet their own demand spikes without having to pay the often-bruising high prices electricity markets produce at peak demand. 

There’s more.  Energy storage can improve the system’s operating reserve.  Like energy, the grid is always moving – more demand here, less demand there, big storms and equipment failures now and again.  It’s a dance that never stops.  Engineers and analysts meet these constant changes with machines and data to keep the system balanced.  But they are never 100% correct in predicting what will happen on any given day.  Having stored reserve power that can be deployed in seconds boosts the operating reserve, and in doing so, boosts grid stability.  Improving stability can mean lower infrastructure investment costs.  It can also cut the costs of “black starts” when generators go down.  Typically, they have to be restarted with diesel generators, but battery systems for just this purpose have already been successfully tested. 

So, what do utility-scale batteries look like?  Imagine shipping containers lined up in an electrical substation, or row after row of gigantic desktop computer towers.  The Hornsdale Power Reserve, in South Australia, was designed and built by Tesla.  It uses lithium-ion batteries (like in your computer) and provides 129 MWh of power – enough to supply all the electricity for about 3,500 homes for an hour.  These projects sound large, though total deployments to date are tiny – globally about 6 GWh through 2018.  But there’s one simple fact that you need to remember.  In 2010, commercial battery packs cost about $1,100 per kilowatt-hour.  By December 2019, that price had fallen to $156 per kilowatt-hour, a drop of 87% – and nearly 50% of that total decline came in the preceding three years.  With costs set to break the $100 mark by as early as 2024, batteries are increasingly likely to be included in energy infrastructure and development for years to come. 

So where, as COVID redefines economies and politics, is the renewable energy sector?  What happens over the next few years – to technologies, investments, deployments and incentives – will determine multiple trajectories.  These include the jobs of millions of people, how quickly carbon accumulates in the atmosphere and oceans, and the possibility of stranded assets hampering any rapid, substantive switch from old to new.

If you’re thinking purely in terms of dollars and cents, the latest issue of Forbes has a fascinating article.  A joint study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Imperial College London reviewed returns on energy investments starting in 2009.  Combining German and French stock market data, the past five years showed returns of 178% for renewables and -20.7% for fossil energy.  UK renewable stocks returned over 75%, legacy energy 8.8%.  Here at home, where utility-scale renewable buildouts began later than in Europe, renewable returns were north of 200%, while oil, gas and coal stocks didn’t quite double.  Renewable investments proved more stable over the same periods measured.  But the same article notes that the biggest fossil energy shareholders – pension funds – are reluctant to disinvest from dividend-rich stocks.

Beyond that, an ostensible renewable energy transition is up against multiple countervailing factors – for starters $900 billion or more in potential “stranded assets” of global fossil energy companies.  The oil majors have talked a good game for years now, but the numbers don’t bear out their proclaimed commitments to renewables.  Exxon is now in court for, among other things, bragging on its green energy tech while spending less than ½ of 1% of revenues on renewable energy.  In 2019, BP projected spending between 3% and 8% (at best) of capex on renewables, and in February the company dumped an advertising campaign highlighting renewables.  And so on.

American utilities face the same kinds of stranded asset risks, though only 18% of utility employees view sunk costs in infrastructure as a top worry.  But power plants can be ferociously expensive to build.  Evergy’s Iatan 2 project, which went online nearly 10 years ago, came in at nearly $2 billion, with state-of-the-art environmental retrofits of the Iatan 1 plant adding to costs.  It can take large projects like this decades to pay for themselves; securitizing early retirement of fossil fuel plants can blunt risks to utilities, but so far has only been tried in three states.

Even bigger picture – there’s a substantial inertia built into an energy economy created more than 100 years ago – a vast, complex system that works remarkably well to meet the needs of its customers.  To date, renewables are still a small slice of total US electricity output.  In 2018, natural gas generated about 35% of our electricity, coal about 27%, nuclear a bit over 19% and all renewables, including hydroelectric, not quite 17%, with niche sources making up the rest.

To be clear, renewable energy’s recent eclipse of coal in the US has been remarkable.  In fact, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced the very day this was written that in 2019 consumption of energy produced from renewables passed that produced by coal, the first time per EIA that this has happened since before 1885.  But a decarbonized energy economy is still decades away.  The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that to even approach climate goals, renewables must increase to around 65% of global Total Primary Energy Supply by 2050 – and we’re nowhere close to that yet.  More on all of the above, COVID impacts and the state of play in our next renewable installment.

Join us at the last of our four events in Kansas on October 3rd to learn about the Volkswagen Settlement and what it means to fleets in the state of Kansas. At each event, we’ll provide the latest information, a forum for discussion, and give you tools to participate in decision-making for the state’s plan for its $15 million share of the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust.

MEC and Kansas City Clean Cities encourage all stakeholders in Kansas to let their views be known on this important settlement.  This includes private-sector fleet operators, school district transportation directors, public works and public transportation professionals, along with transportation contractors, alternative energy providers and elected officials.  We’re hosting this event to let you know about what’s at stake – and we need you to let the agencies in charge of the settlement what direction you think the state should take.

Join us at Wichita State University Old Town, 238 North Mead in Wichita Kansas, 672025

Click here for parking information.  To register for this event, just click here to sign up through EventBrite.

 

 

As part of a Department of Energy award for Mid-America Collaborative for Alternative Fuels Implementation, Metropolitan Energy Center requests proposals from qualified consulting companies or agencies to create a program designed to provide technical assistance to fleet operators and their host businesses regarding incorporating alternative fuel vehicles. Interested?  Read more

Events

January 12 @ 9:15 am 1:30 pm

SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Topeka Southwest

2745 SW Fairlawn Rd.
Topeka, KS 66614 United States
+ Google Map
(785) 596-9650
View Venue Website

This event has passed, but you can view the presentation slides at the links below.

Join the Kansas Biodiesel Consortium (KSBC) for our annual biodiesel workshop on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Presenters will cover how to use biodiesel in your operations. From biodiesel fueling to vehicles to funding opportunities, you’ll learn what you need to know to get started with biodiesel. Each session will have time for an open Q&A with attendees. The final session is a roundtable to get your questions about biodiesel answered, followed by lunch. The workshop is free, but registration is requested. 

Masks are recommended for all attendees. A link for an online option will be emailed to all registrants prior to the workshop for those who prefer to attend virtually.

Agenda

8:30 – 9:15 am Registration with coffee & donuts

9:15 am Welcome—Edwin Brokesh (KSRE) – KSBC President

9:20 am Biodiesel Funding Opportunities—David Albrecht, Sr. Program Coordinator for the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition, and Tami Alexander, Sr. Program Coordinator for the Central Kansas Clean Cities Coalition, will share information on funding opportunities for biodiesel projects including fueling equipment and vehicles. Click here to see the presentation slides.

10:15 – 10:30 Break

10:30 – 11:45 am Real-World Biodiesel Use Case Studies

· James Jackson, Director of Public Works for the City of Topeka – The Road to Biodiesel:  Effective Service Delivery with Environmental Consciousness. Click here to see the speaker slides.

· Rich Iverson, Fleet Support Manager for the City of Ames, IA will share their experiences with the Optimus Technologies Vector System using 100% biodiesel. Click here to see the slides for this presentation.

· Eric Lawson with MEG Corp will talk about biodiesel blending and fuel usage in vehicles.

11:45 – 12:30 Roundtable discussion on biodiesel in Kansas—Open discussion with speakers to answer your questions about biodiesel.

12:30 – 1:30 Lunch provided at the hotel


October 25, 2021 @ 1:00 pm 5:00 pm CDT

Thompson Barn

11184 Lackman Road
Lenexa, Kansas 66219 United States
+ Google Map
$25 Individual Ticket, No Charge for Elected Officials

The Our Energy Horizon Forum will include a robust dialogue about our rapidly changing energy economy from clean energy experts, policymakers, and industry leaders. How will Kansas navigate the implementation of renewable technology, specifically around utility-scale solar, battery storage, electric vehicles, and transmission? What are the economic benefits of these technologies for the region? What’s happening to enable greater adoption of electric vehicles across the state? All of this and more in a dynamic conversation that looks at what’s happening and how Kansas can capture the benefits of these opportunities and embrace a changing energy future.

Agenda

Discussion 1: Solar Technology & Battery Storage

  • Frank Jakob, Black & Veatch
  • Robert Wright, Burns & McDonnell

Discussion 2: Economic Benefits of Solar & Storage

  • Moderated by Jessica Lucas, Clean Energy Business Council
  • Mike Busch, Wichita State University (Property Value Impacts
  • Michelle Milburn, Stanion (Local Supply Chain Opportunities)

Discussion 3: Solar & Storage Implementation Considerations

  • Moderated by Josh Svaty, Kansas Power Alliance
  • Kim Austin, NextEra Energy Resources (Land Use, Environmental Impacts, Decommissioning)
  • Kansas Supply Chain opportunities (Speaker TBA)

Discussion 4: Transportation Electrification & Transmission

Driving Electric: Black & Veatch EV Drivers Tell All

Have questions about making the switch to an electric vehicle? Not only does Black & Veatch accelerate EV adoption by deploying the infrastructure and clean energy needed to power the vehicles, but also many BV professionals are EV drivers and advocates. Join this discussion on LinkedIn Live as several share their experiences of buying, driving, and charging their personal EVs and answer your questions live.

Get practical advice on the steps you need to take in order to successfully add EVs to your fleet

Join our webinar featuring Mark Poll from Ford presenting on the release of the highly anticipated Ford F-150 Lightning and the Westport, CT Police Department sharing their experiences integrating 6 plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles into their fleet, including a Tesla Model 3 patrol car. Scott Barrios of Entergy and Ann Vail of Louisiana Clean Fuels round out the panel to share expert advice on the steps that need to be taken in order to successfully add an EV to your fleet.

October is annually designated as National Energy Awareness Month. The U.S. Department of Energy (US DOE) participates annually with the intent to draw attention to our nation’s electrical grid system and “to highlight the importance of energy to our national prosperity and security.” As the US DOE states, “Energy, our most critical infrastructure, is all but invisible to most, but our focus on continued innovation protects American lives today and ensures better lives tomorrow.”

This year, Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC) will use this truth to draw attention to energy efficiency and how it relates to our infrastructure, including our transportation systems and the built environment. There is indeed innovation happening on a national scale, and it’s occurring quickly. MEC is either hosting, co-hosting, or cross-promoting a number of in-person and virtual events this October to highlight all the ways our nation can modernize the way it uses energy to create a prosperous future for our youth and future generations. Click the links below to learn more about each event and how to participate (more links to come as the suite of events is finalized).

Whether an industry professional or policy maker or technician or a member of the general public, we have at least one event for you. Join us and our members, volunteers and friends during Energy Awareness Month. We’ll celebrate recent achievements and foster accelerated adoptions of energy conservation, renewables and cleaner fuels.

Energy Awareness 2021 Event List:

Native Plant Sale & Drive Electric Week Event at Project Living Proof with Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City Sept. 25
National Drive Electric Week: South Park in Lawrence Sept 25
Lion Electric School Bus Ride and Drive: Lee’s Summit Schools Sept 28
National Drive Electric Week: Driving Electric: Black & Veatch EV Drivers Tell All (Virtual) Sept 29
National Drive Electric Week: Prairie Village Presbyterian Church Sept 29
National Drive Electric Week: Independence Chamber of Commerce    CANCELED Oct. 2
National Drive Electric Week: ICT (Wichita Towne East Square) Oct. 2
National Energy Efficiency Day (Ask Emily for a model Proclamation for your city, business or organization) Oct. 6
Marquee Event: Our Best Buildings Yet: A Forum on Energy Efficiency in the Kansas City Region and Beyond Oct. 7
Virtual Workshop on Diesel Emissions Reduction Funding Opportunities: Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative Oct. 12-14
Webinar: EV Fleet Trends: Advice from the Experts (hosted by Louisiana Clean Fuels Coalition) Oct. 13
Marquee Event Day of EVs (In-Person): Exploring EVs in Municipal Fleets with City of Olathe, Indian Creek Library in Olathe, KS Oct. 19
Marquee Event Day of EVs (Virtual): Electrifying Terminal Trucks: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from Deployments in the Kansas City Region and Beyond Oct. 19
Our Energy Horizon: A Solar, Storage, Electric Vehicle & Transmission Event, Thompson Barn in Lenexa, KS (hosted by Clean Energy Business Council) Oct. 25
Weatherization Day 2021 Oct. 30

Join Lion Electric for a Ride & Drive in the Greater Kansas City Area on September 28, 9:30 am at Lee’s Summit Schools, 500 SE Transport Drive, Lee’s Summit, MO  64081.

Learn more about the benefits of the Lion C all-electric, zero-emission school bus and the unique features of the Lion Electric products.  Then get behind the wheel, take it for a ride, and have your questions regarding VW grants answered.

Please RSVP to Michael.Gaborcik@thelionelectric.com or 614-563-9896.

*Proper local COVID-19 requirements will be met.

For more information on Lion Electric visit thelionelectric.com

Come see a variety of electric vehicles, and talk to owners who have been driving electric since 2006.  Get behind the wheel or in the back seat, and check out the great tech.

All attendees and volunteers are required to wear face masks whenever they are within six feet of another person at all National Drive Electric Week 2021 events. Please see this information about how to improve how your mask protects you. For more information, see our in-person event safety requirements.

Unfortunately, this event has been canceled. Please see our events page to find other Drive Electric events in the area or visit the national page to find other events near you.

Enjoy the day by coming out to Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center to learn about electric vehicles. Take this opportunity to talk with owners about their real-life experiences and ask any questions you have about EVs. After, head next door to Project Living Proof for a Plant Sale & Garden Tour. 

All attendees and volunteers are required to wear face masks whenever they are within six feet of another person at all National Drive Electric Week 2021 events. Please see this information about how to improve how your mask protects you. For more information, see our in-person event safety requirements.

National Drive Electric Week ICT is in person this year! Join us at Towne East Square on Saturday, October 2nd from 1:00 – 4:00 pm. Come and see us on Rock Road just north of Kellogg/US 54.

Bring your EV and meet other owners. Share your experience. Talk to owners to see why they love their vehicles.  Ask them questions about performance or comfort or anything you’d like to know.

Wichita Transit Director Michael Tann has confirmed his attendance and he will bring one of the city’s Electric Buses! Pedego Wichita is bringing e-bikes to test! Other e-bike owners will also attend!! Ride over on yours to show it off! We are also expecting a 2021 First Edition Mustang Mach-E to come!

We are sure you already know but there are no 2022 EVs in Wichita due to that ongoing chip shortage but we will have plenty of current EVs and their owners you can meet and talk with and see what their cars look like inside plus ask them questions!

Before sitting in anyone’s car, we require all those who get inside to wear a mask. If you don’t feel you can do that, please do not sit inside any vehicles.

Thank you to Sara Schmidtke of Simon Properties for allowing us to use their space!

Hosted by Society of Alternative Resources