Monday, May 27, 2013

Cold Ground* - Considerations for Geoexchange Projects in New Hampshire – Successful Projects and Cautionary Tales

This week we are following up on my last post on geothermal energy. In this article, I take a look at the successful implementation of a large geothermal project in New Hampshire. I also present a number of issues that impact the implementation of these projects here in New Hampshire that you should keep in mind when you get ready to harness the energy in the cold ground beneath our feet.  

In last week's post, I pointed out that what we call geothermal energy here in New Hampshire should more correctly be called geoexchange. We are not using the energy deep in the earth's crust to generate steam which can be used to generate electricity: instead, we are harnessing the moderate temperatures that lie six or more feet below the surface. Using ground-source heat-pump systems we can harvest this low temperature energy as a heat source to heat our homes in the winter and then, in the summer months, we use the earth as a heat sink by pumping the excess heat in our homes into the ground. It takes energy in the form of electricity to harvest this low grade energy, but with modern heat-pump devices we can draw more energy from the earth than we consume as electricity to run these devices. It is also necessary to remember that the actual source of this energy comes from solar radiation warming the earth's surface, so geoexchange is, in effect, an indirect form of solar energy.

Geoexchange systems are used in a variety of applications, from the heating and cooling of individual homes to large systems that are used to condition multi-building college and hospital campuses. It is a technology that is finally beginning to make headway even though it has been available since the 1940s. Twenty years ago the EPA noted that "Geothermal exchange systems are the most efficient, environmentally clean, and cost effective space conditioning system available." Millions of systems have been installed worldwide, and there are probably between 1000 and 2000 of these units installed in NH alone, most of them in private residences.

A great example of a large and successful geoexchange project is that installed near Boscawen, NH, at the Merrimack County Nursing Home. This is a long-term care facility that houses about 290 residents and it has a staff of 480. It is 235,000 square feet in size and it is a thoroughly modern, well-designed and sophisticated operation providing long term care in a positive caring environment. It is the largest facility of its type in New Hampshire. A picture of the facility is shown below.

The whole building is heated and cooled by a ground-source heat-pump operation. When the design of the facility was undertaken in 2005, there was an early commitment by the design team that the facility would incorporate a geoexchange system to heat and cool the facility. The result was a well-designed building that uses water drawn from 16 standing wells on the property to circulate through 326 individual heat pumps which draw the energy out of the 60oF well water in the winter. The well water, except for a small bleed stream, is returned to the wells at 55oF. This same system is used to provide air conditioning over the hot summer months. There is a heat pump in each of the residents’ rooms, and the residents are able to adjust the temperatures in their rooms to between 68o and 75oF.

During the commissioning stage, the geoexchange implementation team, as on any large-scale project, had to deal with a slew of start-up problems associated with the heat pumps, reliable circulating water pump performance and electrical wiring issues, but over time these were all solved. The system now runs smoothly and maintenance issues are few and far between. The EUI number for the present facility is about 60 kBTU/sq. ft. The US average for equivalent nursing home operations is, according to the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey, 124 kBTU/sq. ft. which means this nursing home has an energy foot print one-half that of its peers. Impressive performance indeed!

I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of their operations with the administrator of the nursing home, Lori Shibinette, and her facility staff. Lori is a recent graduate of Franklin Pierce University's MBA program and she is justifiably pleased at what her team has been able to accomplish with the geoexchange operation. They have no back-up fossil fuel heating system and they are solely dependent on the geoexchange system for heating and cooling and keeping 290 residents comfortable. To ensure reliable 24/7/365 operation, the system incorporates backup pumps and wells. In the case of an interruption of the electrical supply, they do have a diesel fired back-up generator on site to keep the lights on and the geothermal system running. At the start, the maintenance team was a little skeptical of the operation but they are now big fans of geoexchange system. In contrast to most boiler rooms I have been in, the main geothermal exchange control hub was a quiet clean operation with a number of pumps, a large piping manifold, and a computer-monitored control network. A picture of part of the piping manifold is shown below.

Costs for the geothermal operation were approximately 3% of the overall investment for the new building, which is right in line with similar systems, and the calculated payback ranges between 2 and 4.5 years, depending on what assumptions one uses. Regardless, five years after the installation, the extra costs have been recovered and the facility will now for a long, long time benefit from their low EUI and the attendant energy and costs savings. This is clearly a well-conceived and -implemented project that has delivered on its performance.

Let's turn now to a topic that has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks: the installation of a geoexchange system for a stand-alone residence. In this case, the incremental cost of a ground-source heat-pump system is a larger percentage of a new home construction project, making the investment a little more challenging to justify. As a result, homeowners need to put a lot of thought and analysis into their decision whether to install a ground-source heat-pump system or not. That is exactly what I have been doing by reading and chatting to folks about geothermal systems. As fascinated as I am by the technology, I have learned that there are a number of crucial considerations to take into account.

One of the considerations is that here in NH we have a somewhat unbalanced energy load when it comes to conditioning our homes. In my post, A Hundred and Ten in the Shade, I wrote about heating and cooling requirements in NH as indicated by heating degree days (HDDs) and cooling degree days (CDDs) and I noted that in NH we have a heating-dominated energy load as we need much more heating than cooling. In Florida, the situation is exactly opposite. This is shown by the figure below which provides the typical annual HDD and CCD day requirements for New Hampshire and Florida.

These unbalanced winter and summer energy loads can cause problems with geoexchange systems. In the winters here in NH, a geoexchange system is constantly drawing heat out of the ground to compensate for the 6000 HDDs. As a result, ground temperatures around the ground loops drop, and in poorly designed systems the heat pumps can actually draw so much heat from the surrounding ground that the ground below the surface can freeze. In winter, ground temperatures can drop to below 32oF in closed loop systems, which is why these systems usually use antifreeze as the circulating liquid and why they must be designed and sized to operate at very low ground temperatures.

In summer, the reverse happens and heat is drawn out of the building and pumped into the ground and, as a result, the earth around the heat-pump circulating system heats up and can run as high as 75oF for closed-loop systems. The concern with a heating-denominated load is that the heat drawn out of the surrounding area in the winter will not be compensated by solar radiation and the heat pumped into the area during the summer months during the cooling cycle:  one could ultimately get a long-term drift to lower ground temperatures which will compromise the operation of the heat pump. A well-designed ground-source heat-pump system takes these factors into account by considering the thermal conductivity of the ground and surrounding rock and ensuring that the ground loop system is provided with sufficient volume to avoid long-term temperature changes in the surrounding rock.
 In warmer areas, such as Florida, where there is a cooling-dominated load, the reverse can happen. So much heat can be drawn out of the building during the cooling season and pumped into the earth that the ground temperatures rise. On top of this you have surface ground warming from the warmer temperatures all year round and in these systems one can see a long-term drift upwards of the temperatures in the ground which compromises the performance of these ground-source heat-pump units. The figure below shows the temperature fluctuation of a closed loop system over a number of years at Stockton College in New Jersey. This was an early large-scale closed-loop system, installed in the 1990s, that had a cooling-dominated load. Over time, the ground temperatures drifted higher and eventually a cooling tower had to be installed in the geoexchange circuit to relieve some of the heat build-up in the ground.

These ground temperature drift problems tend to happen more with closed-loop systems. In standing well open-loop systems the temperature swings are more moderate, ranging from 45oF in the winter to 65oF in the summer. Open-loop systems rely more on the temperature moderating properties of the water table. Water conducts heat better than earth or granite and slow introduction of fresh water into an open-loop system by movement of the water table and the bleed stream helps to further moderate temperatures. However a good understanding of geologic characteristics and local underground water flow is required beforehand and for these systems a test well is often drilled.

Clearly, as you can see from the discussion above, there are many critical technical considerations involved in the installation of geothermal system. Installing a high performing and reliable system requires proper design and engineering, an experienced geothermal installer and a willingness to avoid "cost savings" shortcuts. Quite frankly, this is not something that you can just rely on your local HVAC contractor to install. Involve a geothermal expert in the design of your system to ensure the equipment you are installing is not undersized or oversized.

Design of a geoexchange system is a task that involves a compromise between the geological characteristics of the area, the heating and cooling loads, the specified equipment and a natural desire to keep installation costs down. Installation costs need to be managed and you need to be very involved but, before you even start, take a look at what you can do to reduce heat loss from your building. Money spent on better insulation and improving the building envelope will help reduce the size and cost of a geoexchange system. Installation costs can then be further reduced by taking advantage of the federal and state incentives. The Federal government provides a tax rebate of 30% for the cost of a geoexchange system and, if you are a customer, PSNH will contribute up to $4500 of the costs through their Energy Star program.

The installation of a ground-source heat-pump system is a complicated endeavor. Be willing to pay for expert advice and project management so that you will end up with a well-designed and -installed system that will, like the Merrimack County Nursing Home project, deliver on its design promises when drawing energy from the cold ground* beneath our feet.

Until next time, remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University

(*Cold Ground – This is a tune by a rather obscure group by the name of Rusty Truck which is fronted by Mark Seliger. Mark is better known for his famous photographs of celebrities and musicians including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Mark Cobain and others. His work has appeared on over 100 Rolling Stone covers. Even though he has been on the other side of the camera lens for most of his career, he clearly has made some friends in the process. On his first album, Broken Promises, he had Sheryl Crow, Jakob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Lenny Kravitz as guests, among others. Enjoy Cold Ground produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring Sheryl Crow on backup vocals.)

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Burning Ground* - Geothermal Energy in New Hampshire

This week I am going to take a look at geothermal energy - the energy source that lies right beneath our feet. When we discuss geothermal energy we must be aware that there are essentially two forms of geothermal energy.

The first is the type that utilizes the high temperatures of underground rock formations in areas where there is a lot of geologic activity which is often indicated by the presence of hot springs and geysers. Places like Yellowstone immediately spring to mind. In this form of geothermal energy, water is pumped down deep wells, some as deep as 5 miles, to access rocks that have temperatures in excess of 212oF. The water is heated by the rocks and is drawn back to the surface to produce steam which can be used to drive turbines and generators to produce electricity. The source of energy in these sites comes from the earth's internal heat which is produced from the decay of radioactive elements in the rocks or the heat flow from the earth's mantle where the earth's crust is thinner.

There are a good number of locations where we can access this energy, and as the US geothermal heat flow map below shows, these red colored areas lie largely in the western portion of the US. To generate electricity from geothermal sources, one needs rock temperatures in excess of 212oF at reasonable depths. Interestingly, on close examination of the geothermal map below, one can see that there is a hotspot in NH located in the White Mountains area. At depths of 6.5 miles, rock temperatures in this area are in excess of 400oF due to the abnormally high natural radioactivity of the granite in this area. This is a source of energy we might have to tap one day.

The other type of geothermal energy we can access comes from the dirt beneath our feet. In many areas, the temperature of the ground, 4 or more feet below the surface, is a moderate 50 to 55oF. We can utilize this property of the earth and draw heat from the ground in the winter or use the cooler ground temperatures to dump heat into during the hot summer months. This utilization of the energy in the ground beneath our feet is more correctly termed "geoexchange". Some like to call these arrangements earth exchange or ground source heat pump systems. This form of earth-based energy is very different from the "hot rock" type of geothermal energy as the source of energy in these geoexchange systems actually comes from the sun's warming of the earth surface. So, in essence, these geoexchange systems are indirectly a form of solar energy.

Because the ground temperatures are so low compared to the traditional geothermal systems which utilize the temperatures of hot rocks deep below the earth's surface to produce electricity, these geoexchange units cannot produce electricity. Instead we use the earth as a heat sink – we dump excess heat energy into the earth during the hot summers and we draw heat energy from the ground in the cold winter months to preheat the circulating air or water in our homes. But, and this is important in the understanding of these systems, it takes energy, in the form of electricity, to make these low temperature systems work. The electricity is needed to drive a device called a heat pump.

Most of us are familiar with heat pumps but we don't recognize them as such. The refrigerator in your home is a heat pump. What the refrigeration system is doing is drawing the heat from inside your refrigerator and pumping it into your kitchen. It does this through the compression and expansion of a refrigerant gas which provides the medium whereby heat is drawn out of the refrigerator and pumped into the kitchen. Because this device requires electricity to run the compressor pump and the warm air of the kitchen to work, it is referred to as an air-source heat pump. This is the same principal an air conditioner works on, which is pumping heat from inside the home into the warm outside air. With the geoexchange units we don't pump the energy into the hot summer air outside the home; instead we pump the energy into the cooler ground below our feet, which is why these units are called ground-source heat pumps. The fact that the ground is cooler than air makes these ground source units more efficient than the air-source units in typical air conditioners.

These heat pumps can also work in reverse. They can draw the heat from the air outside the house, or the ground, and pump it inside to warm up your home. You might be thinking that sounds awfully complicated when you can simply heat up the inside of your home with an electrical heater or your natural gas or oil burner. However because you are drawing energy from the moderate temperatures in the earth, you do not need as much energy as you would from an electrical or fossil fuel heater. In fact because you are drawing on the indirect solar energy stored in the earth, these heat pumps require only 25% to 35% of the energy you need to heat your home compared to an electrical heater. The ratio of energy needed to heat a space with an electrical heater to the energy used by a heat pump is termed the Coefficient of Performance, or COP, and is the basis of comparison between different heat pumps. For example, the COP value for a heat pump that requires only 25% of the energy to heat your home compared to an electrical heater is 4, calculated as follows

Coefficient of Performance = Electrical Energy required to heat home
Electrical Energy consumed by heat pump
           = 100%
            = 4.

Ground-source heat pumps range in performance with COP values of 2.5 to 4, with typical values in the 3.3 to 3.8 range. It must be noted that these values are highly dependent on proper engineering, the quality and efficiency of the mechanical device as well as the temperatures in the ground.

In geoexchange systems there are two main components, the heat pump and the circulation system that is drawing the heat from the earth. The circulation systems come in several different configurations. The most common, and the one most often used for homes, is the horizontal configuration in which the piping, containing an inert fluid, is buried in a shallow trench 4 to 6 feet deep alongside a home. The piping is made of plastic and is laid at the bottom of a trench in a slinky arrangement as shown in the figure and photo below.

These are referred to as closed loop systems as the circulation fluid, similar to antifreeze, is never directly in contact with the ground. Instead it is circulated between the heat pump and the ground through the piping. The heat pump draws the energy out of fluid, cooling it in the process and pumps the heat energy into the house. The cooled fluid is then circulated through the piping buried in the ground where it is heated up again to the ground temperature before returning to the heat pump.
Another type of closed loop configuration is a vertical system where the piping is enclosed in wells which penetrate deep into the ground as shown in the figure below. The advantage with these vertical closed loop systems is that, in these deep wells, the piping can come in contact with the ground water and water is a highly efficient medium for transferring the heat from the ground to the circulating fluid. These vertical systems also require a smaller surface footprint than the horizontal equivalents which can be crucial when space is limited or the heating loads are large, such as one might find in a school or apartment building.

A different type of system is the open loop configuration where the circulating fluid is ground water that is drawn from a vertical well and injected back into the ground via another well as shown in the diagram below.

There are many variations on these types of open loop systems including a standing-well system where the water is drawn from the bottom of a deep vertical well and is then returned to the top of the same well. With these standing-well systems, there is often a small amount of the circulating water, typically 5 to 10% of the water flow, that is not returned to the well. This bleed stream depletes the water in the well and this encourages the flow of fresh ground water into the well which promotes the maintenance of constant temperatures in the well and circulating water.

Most geoexchange units are, energy plant wise, relatively small scale units and are designed for specifically for individual residences or facilities such as hospitals, office complexes or nursing homes. There are also fair number of vendors of these systems that have been operating for a number of years in NH. As a result, it is difficult to get good reliable data on the total installed base of geothermal energy units in New Hampshire and my best guess is that there are many thousands of these units installed in homes and buildings throughout NH. In fact, some developers are building whole housing complexes and communities that make extensive use of geothermal energy.

In my chats with geoexchange system installers and folks who have these units in their homes, I have learned the following:
  • These units are expensive to install and prices for a residential system, including the well, heat pump and circulating system, range from $20,000 to $35,000
  • Because the installed costs are so expensive, sometimes the units are under-designed to save on upfront equipment costs. As a result, the systems are undersized and do not work well, particularly when temperatures are colder (or hotter) than usual. In these undersized systems, there can be an enormous draw on electrical backup heating systems which then significantly diminishes the savings.
  • For the well-based systems, the choice between a closed loop and an open loop system is a difficult one and can be quite site specific. Each system has its own pros and cons and each has its advocates and detractors
  • After installation, the owners either love or hate them. I have heard stories where owners are disappointed that the promised savings did not materialize or where there have been issues associated with the circulating systems or heat pumps. And then there are the owners who are delighted with their units and pleased to share with me that they no longer have fossil fuel bills.
I was interested in determining the financial return for installing a typical geoexchange system into a home with a pre-existing forced air heating/and cooling system so I ran some calculations based on my residence which is a typical New England home. Here are my assumptions
  • Home Footprint: 2500 square feet
  • Electricity Use: 12,000 kWh/year @$0.13 per kWh
  • Oil Consumption for Heating: 800 gallons per year @ $3.75 per gallon.
  • COP for Geoexchange System: 3.5
  • Installed Cost: $25,000 with 30% federal tax rebate
With this data I determined that my annual savings would be $1800 per year which would yield a 9-year payback which is OK if I intend to stay in the house for more than nine years. However, I decided to do a more sophisticated calculation in which I assumed a 2% annual increase in the costs of electricity and a 4% increase in the cost of oil. On this basis, the payback period drops to 7.5 years and a single one-year long oil price spike would probably push that down to 5 years. Further calculations showed that the calculated rate of return for the project over 20 years is 14% which means I would be ahead of the game if I funded this project by borrowing for anything less than 14% which is pretty easy to do in these low interest days. Certainly food for thought and it looks like an option I might want to consider, however the best time to do so would be when I eventually have to replace my oil burner. In this situation I would be able to incorporate the costs of a new oil burner into the calculations and now the payback period drops to 4 or 5 years which makes a geoexchange system very attractive.
In NH we don't have the readily accessible hot rocks and burning ground* type of geothermal energy the folks out West do, but just 4 feet down we can access the solar energy stored in the cool earth. There are lots of opportunities for us to do so and I encourage you to consider a geoexchange unit when you build a new home or you have to replace the natural gas or oil burner in your home. Yes, it is a hefty investment but forward-looking, energy-conscious folks consider a 4 to 5 year payback to be a good return on an energy project.

Next week I will be discussing a large and impressive geoexchange project in NH I have recently visited plus I will share with you some geoexchange cautionary tales. I would be interested in your experiences with geoexchange systems so be sure to share them with us in the comment box below.

Until next week, remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.
Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University

(*Burning Ground – A fabulous tune by Van Morrison from his 1997 Album "The Healing Game". One of those driving songs that makes you want to roll down the window, crank up the volume and sing along.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is the Happy House* - Ways to Measure Building Energy Efficiency

(I am travelling in South Africa this week and I have been meeting with some of the large mining companies down here to discuss their sustainability and energy programs. I have learned that our energy challenges in New Hampshire pale in comparison to the issues here on the southern tip of Africa. My time has been tight and so I have invited Laura Richardson, the Director of Operations at The Jordan Institute, to contribute a guest blog this week. - Mike Mooiman)

When you wander the parking lot at the car dealership, dreaming about your next ride, each new car has a Monroney sticker on it explaining the features and details of the vehicle. It's a standardized sticker and it allows you to understand those features at a glance. The largest font is reserved for gas mileage – city and highway, and, interestingly, one of the smallest fonts is the price of the vehicle.

Here's an image of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt's Monroney Sticker.

The sticker was developed by Almer Stillwell "Mike" Monroney, a senator from Oklahoma who sponsored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958. In the 1970s, the EPA added fuel economy standards to the sticker, and starting this year information about the energy electric vehicles use – kWh, emissions, and other environmental aspects will be added.
Regardless of your requirements of a car, we all have a basic understanding of the value of good gas mileage versus bad gas mileage, and the Monroney stickers provides useful information so we can balance those needs pretty quickly. Based on the number of really big SUVs and much more efficient smaller cars I see on Route 93, I think that disclosure tool works well. The gas guzzlers are usually the ones zipping past me, all urgency and comfort, using even more fuel. And so it goes, but at least they knew what they were buying.
When we consider buying a building – new or used, residential or commercial – we are usually first interested in the cost, the location, the size and features as well as the appearance. Operational costs sometimes come up in the conversation, but the other factors often outweigh them in immediacy. And rarely do we really know what we bought until those first utility bills arrive. Considering that in New Hampshire 59% of our energy is used in and for buildings, it is a serious shortcoming that we do not give more thought to the annual energy consumption in buildings.

Currently, there is no Monroney-energy sticker for buildings, although there are some very smart people working to develop one. The Multiple Listings Service sheet available through real estate professionals offers many of the details of buildings, and recently the Northern New England Real Estate Network added a box on their MLS sheet for "building certifications." This box often remains blank because most buildings cannot claim certifications. The empty box provides a placeholder to acknowledge above-code certifications such as EnergyStar, HERS, LEED, Green Globes, Passive House, Net Zero, or some other accomplishment. The box's emptiness signifies that the building isn't as optimal as it could be. This placeholder provides a very important first step, and until all buildings have a metric that we can understand at a glance, many building owners are going to be continually surprised at their operational costs. 
From a sales perspective this makes perfect sense because most of the building stock leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to energy efficiency. No salesperson seeks to highlight the inadequacies of their product. It takes a much more creative sales approach to acknowledge long-term costs and the burdens they may bring a building owner. The language of real-estate sales can be a bit of a parallel universe, with code words like "great location," "charming," "cozy," and "a handy man's dream" euphemistically telling the real story. 
Many commercial buildings are owned by one entity and leased by another in a triple-net lease arrangement, whereby the tenant pays not just rent but also all of the costs of running the building, including the taxes, insurance, maintenance, and utilities. This scenario provides little motivation for the building owner to make energy-related upgrades, because he/she doesn't pay those costs or recoup the savings. The tenant isn't motivated to make improvements either because he/she doesn't own the asset. This "split incentive" also effects residential rental units and leads to the gradual decline of the buildings.
Some banks now require HERS Ratings (Home Energy Rating System) before lending on residential Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs) or "green mortgages." All ENERGY STAR certified homes must earn a HERS Rating of approximately 85 or lower, depending on a variety of factors such as square footage. Banks that participate in EEM programs may lend at more attractive rates and value certain upgrades that are not included or valued in standard mortgages. These measures can include aggressive airsealing and insulation, more efficient heating or cooling systems, ventilation systems, ENERGY STAR certified appliances, renewable energy systems, and high-performance windows and doors.

The HERS Rating process confirms that energy-efficiency upgrades have been modeled and installed as designed and that energy use will be lower than its baseline comparison; the bank and the owner are confident that the monthly utility bills will be less than a code-built house, thus reducing the risk of default because of operational costs. Therefore the bank can lend a little more money on the building and/or at a better rate, and that additional amount to the mortgage covers the costs of the upgrades.

A HERS Rating of 100 represents the baseline energy code for a new home and 0 denotes net zero energy use. There are a lot of factors and analyses that need to be considered to arrive at a HERS Rating, and for the most part this metric is used for residential construction. The US Department of Energy has determined that a typical resale home scores 130 on the HERS Index. An average 1900s farmhouse would probably get a HERS Rating of 150 to 200, but why would they want to advertise that? A normal 1970s house would probably get about 120. A house built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code should get a HERS Rating of 100. This is the building energy code standard we use in New Hampshire. However, energy-code compliance rates in New Hampshire average about 50%, meaning that new construction does not always meet the expected standards.

Most ENERGY STAR homes, which also require the HERS Ratings, in New Hampshire, are in the 60-70 range without renewable energy systems. There are a handful of very high-performing homes in the mid-20s. The figure below provides the HERS scale along with some typical values.
England has developed a two-certificate system, one that denotes the modeled expectations of the building and the other that discloses how efficiently the building is being used. This is a really interesting approach. Much like a speed-demon driving a very efficient vehicle, buildings that are operated differently than the energy models anticipate and will thus have different outcomes. As the advertisements remind us, "your results may vary". 
But what about existing buildings? What about larger commercial buildings, the real energy hogs out there? For these structures, building science professionals use energy intensity metrics – Energy Use Intensity and Cost Use Intensity, although they are not as visible (yet) as those Monroney stickers.
Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is an easy metric to understand: Thousands of BTUs per Square Foot per Year. By collecting energy bills for the entire building – electricity, space heating, hot water heating, process heating, and, if incurred, the costs to dispose of waste heat – for one year and converting all of the energy units into one unit of measure, thousands of British Thermal Units (kBTUs), we can compare electricity and heating loads as well as year-to-year usage. Some buildings use a mix of fuel sources for heat and they have different units of measure – for example, electric (kilowatt hours) for space heating, propane (gallons) for domestic hot water, #2 or #6 fuel oil (gallons) or natural gas (therms) or wood pellets (tons) for heating. By converting all the fuels to one common unit, it is much easier to analyze. In our analysis, we prefer looking at three years of data to get a full grasp of energy use in the building. It is important to also realize that different types of buildings – hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, retail stores and warehouses all have different energy profiles and should therefore not be compared to buildings in general but rather to buildings of similar type.

To better explain this we will use, as an example, a mixed-use retail and apartment building, 32,635 square feet in size, heated with oil. The following chart is an analysis completed prior to making energy-efficiency upgrades. While a lot of us focus on our electricity rates, in fact in New Hampshire we rarely use electricity for heat, but rather use a tremendous amount of fossil fuels, as shown in the consumption chart below. 

Let's be honest, though, only a few of us really care about energy waste because it is waste, most of us care about the associated costs, and this is where it gets very interesting. Cost Use Intensity (CUI) uses the same utility bills, but instead of energy metrics, we analyze the dollars spent on energy. The metric here is Dollars per Square Foot per Year. The chart below shows this data broken out monthly, to better understand how the seasonal changes effect energy consumption.

This is when the dynamics of fuel costs enter the conversation. These days, a building heated with oil costs ~4 times more per BTU than one heated with natural gas or about double the cost of wood pellets. These factors lead to important fuel switching decisions. For example, the long-range forecasts on wood pellets – not to mention the other positive attributes of local and renewable fuels compared to fossil fuels – are relatively stable and supply is available. Switching to wood pellets will therefore dramatically reduce the costs for heating.
EUI and CUI information can be compared to data on similar building types. It is important to understand, however, that this baseline comparison work is relative to existing buildings. Did I mention yet that our existing building stock is very inefficient? Ergo, a decent result through a benchmarking exercise might be a winner in a slow race of poorly performing buildings.
Such benchmarking can be quite motivational for building owners who are considering Deep Energy Retrofits (DERs), comprehensive projects that will significantly drop the energy use in the building, improving costs, comfort, and occupancy. Often times, when building owners realize how much worse their buildings perform compared to otherwise similar buildings, a competitive side of them surfaces and they want to undertake a DER project.
A DER project typically seeks to reduce energy use by 50%, and it can happen in phases over a number of years. This is most easily achieved in the poorest performing buildings because as buildings improve, the cost to make such percentage reductions gets harder, a la diminishing returns. Typically, a DER will include a package of comprehensive measures such as airsealing and insulation, HVAC and distribution system upgrades, controls, lighting, perhaps windows or door, and renewable energy systems, such as solar hot water and/or wood pellet heating. This example building underwent all of these upgrades. Operator training to run the new and more sophisticated systems is key to success. Moreover, it is critical to monitor and verify that the systems perform as designed and installed – and working together! – and that on-going commissioning ensures that the systems continue to operate smoothly.

In the example shown below, the building started out with an EUI of 89.18 and after the DER it dropped to 30.2. The CUI value dropped from $2.64 to $1.40/square foot.

An interesting metric being used by building scientists to compare the energy performance of buildings across regions incorporates Heating Degree Days into this calculation. This normalizes the energy numbers in a way so we can compare the heating use in a New Hampshire building with one in a very different climate location. This step is helpful in comparing buildings across regions and climate zones., (Electricity and Cooling Degree Days are often similarly considered in warmer climates.)

The metric is : BTU / Square Foot / Heating Degree Day. 
Using the example above, this metric would create a single number – yippee! – that could be used on buildings across the country to demonstrate their energy performance and it could in time become as effective as a Monroney sticker on a car. This particular building started out at a value of 13.5 and and after a deep energy retrofit now celebrates a value of 6.0. This is very exciting and demonstrates what can be accomplished in reducing the energy efficiency of our building stock.
These building energy efficiency measures are growing in popularity as they allow us to determine operating costs for buildings, benchmark existing and new buildings as well as measure the outcomes of energy savings projects. Energy is all about the numbers and these are good metrics that allow us to measure our progress and perhaps one day they will be as prevalent as the Monroney stickers on new cars. 

Laura Richardson
Laura Richardson is Director of Operations at The Jordan Institute in Concord, NH. The Jordan Institute, an energy think tank, mission-driven to find solutions to climate change, helps commercial building owners significantly reduce the energy used in their buildings. She managed nine energy programs funded by the stimulus for the NH Office of Energy and Planning, coordinated the StayWarmNH initiative, and co-founded the NH Sustainable Energy Association in 2003. She and her husband have lived off the grid since 2001 in a PV-powered, passive-solar and cordwood/TARM heated home. The home earned a 54 HERS Rating. Her Toyota Prius has 288,000 miles on it and still gets between 45-50mpg.
(*One of her all-time favorite bands is Siouxsie and the Banshees. *"Happy House" is a great tune, full of irony and cynicism about how wonderful we pretend things are when really they are a mess. Sort of like our building stock. Enjoy Happy House!)

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Hundred and Ten in the Shade* – Long-Term Heating and Cooling Season Trends in New Hampshire

I am in the Southern Hemisphere this week, and as I headed from a cool New England spring to a warm South African autumn, my thoughts turned to long-term temperature trends in New Hampshire and their energy implications.

In January this year, I read an interesting press release from University of New Hampshire in which Mary Stampone, the NH state climatologist, pointed out that 2012 was the hottest year on record in NH and much of New England. The chart below was included in the press release, and the data showed the variation above and below the long-term average calculated from the 1895 to 2012 data. The largest positive variation was for 2012 in which the average annual temperature was ~10% (4oF) above the average of 43.4oF. The data also shows that we are getting more and more of these large positive variations over the past 20 years.

Having spent a considerable amount of time shoveling my driveway this past winter and seeing my air conditioning bills increase the summer before, I was interested in trying to understand if these higher annual temperatures meant hotter summers, warmer winters or both. The tack I took was to look at cumulative temperature values, known as heating and cooling degree days, that are of great use to designers of heating and cooling systems for buildings. However, instead of looking at a single value for the year, I split the year into two periods – a winter or heating period from October to March which is normally when our home heating systems kick in and a cooling or summer period from April to September which is normally when we turn on our air conditioners.
But, before I present that data, allow me to explain the concept of heating degree days. To calculate the heating degree value, we take a reference temperature - normally 65oF (when we don't really need heating or cooling) - and then we subtract the average daily temperature from the reference temperature. For example, if the average daily temperature is 30oF then the heating degree value for that day is 65 - 30 = 35. There is a direct correlation between heating degree value and the energy we use to warm our homes. The lower the outside temperature, the greater the heating degree value and therefore the more energy we need to bring our home up to that reference temperature of 65oF.
Typically building engineers that size heating systems use cumulative heating degree days, amongst other factors, to size a heating system. To get a sense of the accumulated heating degree day numbers, consider the following example. If you have a month of 30oF days in the winter, then the total heating degree day (HDD) value for that month is 30 x (65 – 30) = 1050. If similar temperatures are experienced over a six-month period then the total number of HDDs is 6 x 1050 = 6300. This is a rather rough calculation for the six-month heating season as some days are a lot colder than the 30oF temperature I used, but, of course, some are warmer. Nevertheless, the HDD value of 6300 gives us an order of magnitude understanding of data in the figure below. This chart show the six-month total of HDDs for the October to March period for each year since 1895. The six-month HDD totals are plotted in blue. Even though there is considerable variation year to year, the long-term HDD average is 6240 which is close the approximate value we just determined. To give you a sense of how this numbers varies across the country, the equivalent number for Florida is 650 because the winter months down there are so much warmer. Clearly those folks down south are not spending a lot of time worrying about home heating, and they could probably get away with a nice thick sweater and a few extra blankets in winter.

I have also placed two trend lines over the data to draw out the long-term story. The first trend line, shown in red, is the simple linear average and it clearly demonstrates how the HDD value for the heating months has declined from 6500 to 6000. I have also overlaid a 20-year moving average which snakes above and below the linear trend line, but it too demonstrates the long-term decrease in HDD values. This long-term decrease indicates that our winters are getting warmer and that, as a result, we should be using less energy to heat our homes.
Having looked at our warming winters, my immediate next thought was; what about the summers? For the summer analysis, we use the concept of cooling degree days (CDDs). To determine the cooling degree days, we calculate the difference between the average daily temperature and the reference temperature, 65oF. So if the average daily temperature is 70oF then the cooling degrees for that day are 70 – 65 = 5. A month of similar days would give 30 x 5 = 150 CDDs for the month, and six months of similar days would lead to 6 x 150 = 900 cumulative CDDs. These numbers are a lot lower than the heating degree totals because they are mean daily temperatures and thus averages of cooler nights and warmer days. The actual numbers for NH are very much lower and the long-term average (1895 to 2012) for the six-month April to September period is 306 CDDs. For comparison purposes I determined that the equivalent number for Florida is 2500 CDDs. So, compared to the Florida folks, we need a lot less air conditioning but that appears to be changing as I will show. In the chart below I have plotted the long-term data for the six month accumulation of CDDs in blue as well as some trend lines. As you can see from the red linear trend line, the CDD average has increased over the 117 years of this data set. As with the with HDD chart, I have also included, in black, the 20-year moving average and again the upward trend is apparent. We have moved from a 20-year CDD average of 300 to a recent value of 350. Compared to Florida, this is no big deal, but for us that 17% rise represents a big fat increase in our air conditioning energy usage.
So if we put this data together it is clear we are, on a long-term trend basis, looking at warmer winters and hotter summers. This presents some challenges and perhaps opportunities if you are in the air conditioning business. A particular challenge for NH is that warmer winters mean less snow, a shorter skiing season and tough times for the ski industry. Some of this has been overcome with mechanical snowmaking, which is good for vendors of snowmaking equipment, but it does increase the industry's costs as snowmaking is a highly energy and water intensive process. Warmer winters do result in lower heating bills in the winter and reduced oil consumption which many home and business owners find helpful. This warming trend has likely contributed to the observed reduction of energy consumption in NH homes and business that I referred to in my Where have all the BTU's gone? post.
Reduced oil consumption is always welcome, but it has been replaced, in part, with increased air conditioning usage. One benefit of less heating and more cooling is that we are substituting oil for heating with electricity for cooling. Even though electricity is largely driven by natural gas and coal combustion, an increase in electricity demand does, in the long term, provide more opportunities for nuclear and renewable electricity production. I admit I am stretching here trying to find the tiny bit of silver lining on the big black cloud of global warming. The real concern is that as our winters warm and our summers heat up, we will have to deal with all the other consequences of climate change, including rising sea levels, more severe weather excursions, the spread of diseases and many others.
What can you and I do in the meantime? Well, the simplest and least expensive thing we can do right away is to better insulate our buildings as this will immediately reduce energy consumption in our homes and businesses. This would reduce energy consumption in both the heating and cooling seasons. If we all did this, it might help to slow down the long-term trend of warmer winters and hotter summers and in the process it might help to avoid some of those hot, humid days when it could get to be a hundred and ten in the shade.*
Until next time, remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.
Mike Mooiman
Franklin Pierce University

(*A Hundred and Ten in the  Shade is a tune by John Fogerty from his Blue Moon Swamp album which received a well deserved Grammy for Best Rock and Roll Album in 1997. It is a slow tune that perfectly catches the listlessness and despair of hot, humid days when you have to go out and work in the fields. Just listening to it makes me break into a sweat)