Saturday, February 13, 2010

Power to the People

I spent this afternoon volunteering at Solar1's PowerUp New York event at GreenSpaces. To get in the building I had to brave a very polite mob of Kieth Urban fans waiting for a private acoustic concert in the same building, which we could hear through the ceiling. The venue is particularly interesting.  It's a workspace for green entrepreneurs of many bents who rent space by desk. I imagine the benefits of collaboration from being with a diverse group focused on different things must be exciting. The floor-through loft is decorated with a classy mix of salvaged furniture and decorated with sculptures made alternately from blue jeans and coat hangers.

Working the sign-in station meant that I got a nice chance to talk with people coming in. There seemed to be a mix of entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, green marketing people, and concerned citizens. Unfortunately it meant I missed most of the first presentation by Robert Peras of NYC's Department of Citywide Administration Services. I joined the crowd for the second presentation by Diane Pangestu who is the NYSERDA liason at Solar1. At this point a lot of her information was old hat to me, as NYSERDA representatives are quite popular at events dealing with energy efficiency in New York, which are some of my favorite topics. It's a bummer that the state has lately significantly reduced the incentive program for solar installation, but NYSERDA is still fighting the good fight in helping people with efficiency solutions.

More interesting was the final speaker, Chris Benedict, who practices architecture with an engineering eye and is devoted to erasing energy loads through building sealing and efficient heat systems. The quantified differences are astonishing. Apparently New York City spends an average of 24 btus per square foot per heating degree day. One of her buildings got this down to 3.8! At one point she spoke of a ventilation system she developed to integrate with her sealing philosophy. It's exciting to hear architects working at that level. Chris also teaches architecture at Pratt and said her students have very mixed interest in the mechanical side. Personally I think her perspective is critical to design in a cultural moment of climate change.

Overall it was great to see a packed room of diverse people who care about these issues. The next event will be in May (when I'll be swamped with the end of my semester) and will be talking about smart grids.


  1. A friend of mine who was doing NYSERDA audits a couple years ago said the system didn't have enough accountability built in: that is, were the embarked-upon improvements (a lot of insulation and infiltration plugging) working? Monitoring in privately-owned buildings is a whole 'nother payout for someone (NYSERDA) and it seemed that the on-the-floor hunch was that, if it was done, no one would feel as good about the money they were spending. That program's phasing (or phased) out. Under the presumption, though, that truly saving energy is a budget gain, real data has real value here, which makes me wonder if subsequent programs like this have that in mind. Someone knows the answer to this. Right? That being said, that NYSERDA program was ambitious; who knows if even the current federal subsidies are that forthright with funding.
    Uh, synopsis: NYSERDA existing building energy efficiency subsidies didn't work great. Need monitoring incentives. Is the program getting fixed?

  2. That's a good point and I really don't know the answer. Accountability is critical, especially when dealing with hard questions and good intentions. I will try to find out.

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