Renewable Energy: Think About A Growing Part Of The Future

Guest Contributor Mike Arny
Guest Contributor Mike Arny

By Mike Arny, Contributing Editor
Published in the September 2011 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

With the uncertainty of prices for electricity and fossil fuels and their effect on the environment, plans for increasing renewable energy are being made from large-scale government to local businesses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently became the first major federal agency to purchase green power equal to 100% of its estimated annual electricity use nationwide. And many companies and organizations have made sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments, some of which are capturing U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED credits for use of renewable energy.

Now it is time for facility managers (fms) to consider making renewables a part of their energy planning. Why now? Manufacturers are working to increase efficiency of their renewable energy products and systems and reduce costs. Plus, in many areas of the country, incentives are available for installing renewable energy systems. The advent of grid connection and the increasing number of qualified installers has made systems simpler, more reliable, and easier to maintain.

Statistics show that renewable energy is becoming more and more practical. The cost of electricity generated by wind and solar photovoltaic systems (PVs) is declining. The cost of PVs and wind power is being reduced continually, and at the same time, their installed capacity is increasing. The decline in prices has historically stalled or reversed temporarily when conventional energy prices become volatile or global demand for renewable energy infrastructure spikes.

Finding applicable incentives can be instrumental in moving fms’ renewable energy plans forward. One such resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). As sustainability incentives become available throughout the U.S., DSIRE tracks them down and provides the public with this information at

Innovative financing, such as Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), is another option. A building owner leases space to a system developer and enters into a long-term agreement to buy electricity from the developer. This may not be practical in all states, because some would consider the developer a utility. Progressive state utility commissions should make an exception for solar developers and allow them to operate without being considered utilities.

The USGBC will allow LEED credit for the use of renewable energy. For example, LEED-NC rewards both renewable electricity (PVs and wind) and use of renewable thermal energy (solar hot water heating). The LEED-EB points are based on a fraction of total energy use, including both electricity and other fuels.

The global marketplace will reward efficiency in the future. The U.S. is being outpaced by many emerging economies in adopting renewable energy technologies. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, China accounts for nearly 80% of annual solar thermal installations worldwide, while the U.S. accounts for about .5%.

As mentioned, the EPA is the first major federal agency to purchase green power equal to 100% of its estimated annual electricity use nationwide. To qualify for a Green Power Partnership, potential partner groups must meet or exceed a minimum percentage of green power that corresponds to the organization’s purchased electricity use for a chosen purchase scope.

Green power purchases must also meet eligible resource, vintage, and “new” renewables requirements. Partners have six months from submitting a Partnership Agreement to make a purchase and meet the basic requirements.

Fms need to be diligent about energy efficiency improvements and evaluate the options of including some renewable energy in their organizations’ energy resource mix. If fms have climate emissions reduction commitments or goals, they need to start including the cost of offsets necessary to reach these goals in their evaluation of both energy efficiency and renewable energy choices. Proactive fms will not wait until global events make the transition to renewable energy an imperative.

Fms can get their facilities’ toes in the water by beginning to fulfill some of their energy needs with renewable energy. The EPA’s Green Power Partnership levels are great targets to consider.

Arny is a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin and a LEED Accredited Professional. He has worked on energy and environmental issues his entire career. Arny attended the first meeting that began the development of LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) in 2000 and chaired the LEED-EB Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council from 2001-2005. As chair of the LEED-EB Committee, Arny guided LEED-EB through the development, pilot testing, refinement, and balloting process.