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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Top Ten News Stories of the Decade

I’ve selected the most important energy-efficiency news story for each of the last ten years

For those interested in energy efficiency and residential construction, what were the top ten news stories of the decade? I propose the following list — a list inevitably influenced by the years I spent as editor of Energy Design Update.

2000 — Vermont creates the nation’s first “energy-efficiency utility”

A March 1, 2000 decision by the Vermont Public Service Board transferred responsibility for the delivery of state-mandated energy-efficiency programs to Efficiency Vermont, a new “energy-efficiency utility.” The new utility is funded through a monthly charge on customers’ electricity bills.

Scudder Parker, who was at that time the director of the Energy Efficiency Division of the Vermont Department of Public Service, explained, “We believe this is the best way to remove the inherent conflict that utilities have between selling electricity and conserving electricity.”

2001 — Home Performance With Energy Star program launched

A new program to encourage energy-efficiency improvements in existing homes, Home Performance With Energy Star, was launched in New York in 2001. For years, dozens of utilities have offered subsidized energy audits for existing homes. But Home Performance With Energy Star was one of the first programs to offer subsidized energy audits by home performance contractors who were also qualified to perform energy retrofit work.

Studies have shown that homeowners are much more likely to undertake energy improvements if they are offered a “one-stop-shopping” option rather than a multi-step process involving an auditor and several different contractors (for example, an HVAC contractor and an insulation contractor). A joint program of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Home Performance With Energy Star is now active in 27 states.

2002 — Energy Star Homes programs established in all 50 states

Although the Energy Star Homes program was launched in 1995, it took until August 2002 for all 50 states to have an Energy Star Homes program. The dubious distinction of being the last state in the country to launch an Energy Star Homes program belongs to Maine.

Commenting on Maine’s lagging status in 2001, Wes Riley, Maine’s first HERS rater, noted, “Maine utilities are not even pretending that they have an interest in conservation. There is actually an excess of generation capacity in Maine, so the utilities want to sell every kilowatt they can.” Other lagging states in 2001 were Alabama, Montana, South Carolina, and South Dakota, each of which had fewer than 9 Energy Star homes at that time.

2003 — LEED for Homes committee issues draft standard

In 2003, a committee convened by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBS) issued a draft standard for a new certification program for green homes. One of the contentious issues during the development of the LEED for Homes program was whether to include size-sensitivity provisions — either credits for small homes or penalties for large homes. “There is a strong consensus that size matters,” said committee chairperson Ann Edminster, now a GBA advisor, in 2003.

Another member of the committee, Peter Yost — now a GBA team member and BuildingGreen’s Director of Residential Services — commented, “It’s not that USGBC is necessarily the best organization to undertake the development of residential green building standards. But there is no one else that has done it.”

2004 — The Passivhaus standard draws increasing U.S. attention

Although a few U.S. publications reported on Passivhaus buildings before 2004 — notably Energy Design Update, which profiled Hans Eek’s multifamily Passivhaus project in LindÃ¥s, Sweden, in its February 2002 issue — discussion of Passivhaus issues increased sharply in the U.S. after a four-page story on the Passivhaus movement in EDU’s February 2004 issue.

According to the story, “Over the past decade, more than 3,000 superinsulated housing units have been built in Europe as part of a program to build houses without conventional heating systems. The buildings follow construction standards developed at the Passivhaus Intitut, a private research and consulting center in Darmstadt, Germany.” Three months later, EDU wrote a detailed report on Katrin Klingenberg’s new Passivhaus home in Urbana, Illinois.

2005 — Reports of rot caused by vapor diffusion through Icynene

In 2005, two stories in Energy Design Update“Vapor Retarders and Icynene” and “Every Failure Holds a Lesson” — shone a spotlight on moisture problems in walls and roofs insulated with Icynene. While rare, the cases were noteworthy. The problems occurred in cold-climate houses in which the Icynene had been installed without an interior vapor retarder; in all cases, high interior moisture levels were a contributing factor.

As a result of these stories, manufacturers of open-cell spray foam paid more attention to providing accurate technical recommendations and marketing materials specifying the need for interior vapor barriers (for example, vapor-retarder paint) when open-cell foam is installed in a cold climate.

2006 — HERS Index launched

In early 2006, the Residential Energy Services Network — a national association of home energy raters, also known as RESNET — announced a major revision to the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS. Under the old scoring system, the higher the HERS score, the more energy efficient the house. Abandoning the “HERS score” system, RESNET launched the “HERS Index” — an upside-down scale with a code-minimum house set at 100, and a net-zero-energy house set at 0. Under the new HERS Index, low scores are better than high scores.

2007 — Wheat Ridge house crowned as first net-zero-energy house in the U.S.

In 2004, Energy Design Update challenged builders and researchers to produce 12 consecutive months of utility bills and energy production data to claim the title of the First Net-Zero Energy House in the U.S. In February 2007, EDU awarded the laurel to a Habitat for Humanity house in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, after Paul Norton, a senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, came forward with the required 12 months of data. During those months, the home’s PV system produced a surplus of 2,347 kWh, more than offsetting the 49 therms of natural gas — equivalent to 1,436 kWh — that the home’s residents consumed.

2008 — Thirty Percent Solution defeated in Minneapolis

At the Final Action Hearings of the International Code Council in Minneapolis, a broadly supported proposal to raise the stringency of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) was defeated on September 22 after strenuous lobbying by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The defeated package of proposals, aimed at reducing the energy consumption of new homes by 30%, was put forward by a coalition of supporters that included Architecture 2030, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the U.S. Department of Energy. One witness to the vote, energy consultant Chris Mathis, reported, “It happened early in the morning in a near-empty conference room in Minneapolis, without fanfare, by a group of 143 building officials working on our model energy code. While I am sure that most of our nation’s building officials are fully supportive of improved building energy efficiency, most of them were not in the room when the vote took place.”

The fight to defeat the Thirty Percent Solution was spearheaded by NAHB, with added support from Icynene Incorporated and Pilkington Glass. NAHB’s decision to oppose energy-code improvements in Minneapolis was consistent with decades of lobbying efforts by NAHB opposing any energy-efficiency improvements in the building code.

2009 — President Obama greatly increases weatherization funding

On February 17, Obama signed a stimulus bill that included $5 billion of federal funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program — a huge increase in funding compared to the previous year’s allocation of only $227.4 million. Since 1976, the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program has provided energy retrofit work for the homes of low-income families at no charge. Such work typically includes air-tightening measures, insulation upgrades, and HVAC system improvements. Predictably, the roll-out of Obama’s weatherization-on-steroids program has been slower and bumpier than its proponents would have hoped; nevertheless, weatherization advocates look forward to smoother implementation of the program in 2010.

In November, President Obama proposed a much broader program, called “Cash for Caulkers” or “Home Star,” that would offer financial incentives to homeowners in every income group for air sealing and insulation improvements to existing homes. The proposed $23 billion federal program would also offer rebates for the purchase of new energy-efficient appliances. Obama’s weatherization programs offer the country multiple benefits: economic stimulus, green jobs for unemployed construction workers, energy savings, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week’s blog: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

5 Comments

  1. Dave Brach | | #1

    wheat ridge house
    Martin,
    Do you know if energy performance data for the wheat ridge house has been published?

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Yes, Dave, it has
    Dave,
    To read the NREL report including the Wheat Ridge data, just click on the link (the words "came forward") in the paragraph about the house.

  3. Amy Ring | | #3

    2009
    Hi Martin,

    I wanted to send you an email directly, but am not able to find an email for you on this site.

    I'm part of a green-tech startup called EnergySavvy.com and we're building a comprehensive directory of energy rebates that's easy for consumers. Anyone in the country can go to one place (www.energysavvy.com/rebates/), enter their zip code and see all the relevant incentives, rebates and loan programs to upgrade their home's efficiency. Even though there’s a lot of money out there for homeowners, people aren’t taking advantage of it because there are so many different rebate programs at the federal, state, local levels, from utilities and from other sources.

    EnergySavvy helps educate homeowners about energy efficiency measures and then identifies utility conservation programs and government incentives to help pay for the work. We then connect homeowners wanting to make their houses more efficient to pre-screened contractors.

    It's great that President Obama increased funding for the weatherization program and that so many other initiatives are available at local levels already.

    I love your blog - especially the title!

    From a fellow nerd, I hope you'll check out our site, http://www.EnergySavvy.com and send me any feedback you might have!

    Best Regards,
    Amy Ring
    [email protected]

    Thanks and Happy New Year!

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Not familiar with EnergySavvy
    I'm not familiar with EnergySavvy. For many years, the best Web site for those interested in learning what rebates and incentives are available for weatherization or renewable energy has been the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, also known as DSIRE.

  5. George Cahill | | #5

    I have to add one from
    the issue of energy is of relevance: resources, translated in the population issues worldwide (migrations, overall growth).

    changing our ways structurally by taking food, water and energy out of corporatism and financial equations might reverse quality of life issues for the better and even mere survival might be at stake. can do (the pointed at green initiatives) might be not good enough if they are realized along the lines of profit.

    Here is another article with some more top renewable energy news stories: (A little more up to date)

    http://www.energyboom.com/policy/ten-essential-renewable-energy-news-stories-week-40

    George

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