December 20, 2013
by Pierre Bull
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A precious commodity this time of year, daylighting is nature’s gift to all

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

As the solstice approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about daylight. (And really, when it’s dark before I even leave the office, how can you not think about daylight?)

Because everything that’s old is new again, the coming solstice has led me to think not only about daylight but also about daylighting: that millennia-old method of lighting buildings using natural light. It turns out, in this day and age, daylighting buildings—especially buildings that are mostly occupied during normal business hours, such as schools, offices and factories—can save anywhere between 20 and 90 percent on their lighting energy compared with conventionally lit buildings.

Given that lighting accounts for 14 percent of U.S. electricity use, daylighting can effect a powerful savings, both in money and in the carbon emissions that come from power plants. Those aren’t the only benefits, though: studies document daylighting-enabled improvements in areas as diverse as the well-being of building occupants, in improved worker and student productivity, in increased retail sales, in faster healing among patients in daylit hospitals. In short, daylighting not only meets the human need for connection to the natural rhythms of the day, and for connection with the outdoors, but pays for itself many times over. In this age of climate change, daylighting also makes buildings and their residents more resilient, by providing light even when electric power isn’t available.

Time-tested resourcefulness

Today’s green builders aren’t the first people to utilize daylighting, of course. Examples date back thousands of years to groups that include the Anasazi Native Americans, who oriented their dwellings around patterns of the sun. That process increased interior lighting, blocked heat gain in summer and promoted it in winter, when it was needed most. In pre-World War II American architecture, daylighting examples abound. Manhattan’s now-tony Soho district serves as a case in point. The original cast iron factory buildings there, built in the mid-1800s, were constructed to allow maximum daylighting, with small floorplates and tall windows.

Mesa Verde National Park: Spruce Tree House (Source: NPS)

The Dark Ages

In the post-World War II period, and especially during the 1960s and ‘70s, cheap electricity (aided in large measure by policies incentivizing “energy supply gains sans environmental and social costs” for the electric utility and extractive fossil energy businesses) along with improvements in electric lighting technology led architects and builders away from the sun and all its attendant benefits, unfortunately. We can instantly recognize the worst of such buildings, which exist in nearly every American city and college campus with the characteristic smooth concrete slab nearly windowless “punch card” exterior.

Daylighting Renaissance

But now, daylighting is undergoing a renaissance in the U.S. “The architectural community has rediscovered how daylight makes spaces sparkle,” explains Vivian Loftness, a professor of architecture at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and one of the nation’s leading experts on the impacts of daylighting in the built environment.

Daylighting, Loftness says, can be broken down into two practices: There’s daylight harvesting, in which one uses controls to “dim the lights relative to the amount of daylight in a space,” she explains. And then there’s daylight autonomy, in which a “building is designed around daylight. These buildings are sometimes completely lit by daylight in the daytime.” Daylight harvesting can save 30-50 percent on lighting energy; daylight autonomy can save as much as 70 percent, sometimes even more.

High performance buildings harvest daylight 

The Research Support Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, outside Denver, is one such building designed to take full advantage of the sun. The net-zero office building was designed along an east-west axis, to maximize the southern and northern exposures that allow in the most utilizable sunlight. “Daylighting is about how you orient and site a new building,” explains Rob Guglielmetti, an NREL daylighting engineer who, while he worked in private industry, helped create the daylighting plan for the RSF. By and large, the 1300 NREL employees who work in the RSF love the access they have to daylight. “The comments have been overwhelmingly positive,” Guglielmetti says. “People here talk a lot about the light quality in the building: about how it feels open, how they like being able to see outside, being able to know what the weather is.” In the RSF, depending on the weather and the time of year, as much as 90 percent of the lighting is provided by daylight alone.

NREL Research Support Facility, Golden, CO (credit: NREL)

Daylighting yields big benefits for people and creates energy savings

New buildings aren’t the only ones that can install daylighting, by the way. Retrofits are becoming increasingly common, as building owners begin to understand daylighting’s many advantages.

Among them:

  • Daylighting can lead to decreases in employee absenteeism of as much as 15 percent, studies have found.
  • Students with access to lots of natural light and views of the outside world score as much as 26 percent higher on tests, compared to students in windowless classrooms.
  • Hospital patients in brightly daylit rooms required less medication than to patients in dim rooms, and have shorter lengths of stay.
  • Walmart famously conducted a study, still unpublished, in which it daylit half of one of its stores. Sales of products from the daylit half jumped by 13 percent.

“When you talk to customers about daylight stores, they don’t necessarily notice that they’re daylit,” notes Loftness. “But they’ll say things like, ‘It’s much cleaner than the other stores I go to.’ Or, ‘I found what I wanted right away.’ Or, ‘the merchandise looks so much fresher.’”

Back to employment: A 2004 study of a Sacramento utility call center found 6-12 percent faster call-handling time for employees who had views of green space from their workstations. “That’s a huge productivity leap,” Loftness says. If daylighting a new building costs more—and there’s no reason it has to. In fact, NREL’s daylit, net-zero RSF cost less per square foot to build than the average Denver-area office building—daylighting can pay for itself quickly, in increased productivity gains and decreased absenteeism. “Your workforce is the biggest expense that any corporation has,” Guglielmetti explains. “If you design a building that makes its workers happy, it saves a lot of money.”

These days, though the old standards of small floorplates and lots of south- or north-facing windows still hold, there are new technologies that can make daylighting even easier and more cost-effective in new and retrofitted buildings alike:

And new computer modeling software platforms, like NREL’s Open Studio program, allow designers and architects to model daylighting in buildings in locations around the world.

Daylighting also allows us to build and rebuild with climate resilience in mind. Says Loftness, “Any building that’s not designed around daylight has to be abandoned during a blackout,” like the blackouts that accompanied Hurricane Sandy. By contrast, daylit buildings can shelter occupants effectively during daylight hours and cut down on the need for emergency power.

At this solstice, and any time of year, daylighting has reemerged as a powerful trend in American architecture. Thank goodness. In these dark times, Loftness notes, “daylighting is nature’s gift to us all.”

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May 20, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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Not just blowing in the wind: Compressing air for renewable energy storage

A comprehensive study into the potential for compressed air energy storage in the Pacific Northwest has identified two locations in Washington state that could store enough Northwest wind energy combined to power about 85,000 homes each month. Continue reading

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April 23, 2013
by Pierre Bull
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NY State Senate Passes Major Solar Energy Bill Extending Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

The New York State Senate today passed legislation to extend Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative through 2023 and solidify the state’s long-term commitment to solar energy. Today’s bipartisan vote for the New York Solar Bill (S.2522) indicates growing support among lawmakers for delivering comprehensive solar policy to Governor Cuomo’s desk this legislative session.

Here’s what Governor Cuomo had to say about extending the NY-Sun Initiative back in his January 2013 State of the State Address:

The long-term commitment to solar energy represented by NY-Sun will make New York State a leader nationally in solar development.

Hear hear!

About the New York Solar Bill (NY-Sun Act)

The New York Solar Bill (NY-Sun Act) would build on the success of the NY-Sun Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to drive growth in the state’s solar industry and lower solar costs for homes, businesses, schools and other energy users. As a press release from Cuomo’s office puts it:

Program certainty is critical to developers in attracting significant private sector investment in solar photovoltaic systems. Therefore, expanding the NY-Sun program will support the growth of the solar industry across the state by providing stable and dependable funding of $150 million per year for the next ten years. By funding NY-Sun for the next decade, the state is enabling the sustainable development of a robust solar power industry in New York, creating well-paying skilled jobs, improving the reliability of the electric grid and reducing air pollution.

Sponsored by Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D- Setauket), the bill is expected to deliver the following benefits:

  • Build at least 2,200 megawatts (MW) of solar, according to our own estimates; that is enough clean, reliable electricity to power 400,000 New York homes. (New York currently ranks 12th in the country for total installed solar capacity.) 
  • Create thousands of new local jobs in New York. (3,300 New Yorkers are employed in the state’s growing solar industry.)
  • Save New Yorkers billions by reducing the need to fire up our (and out-of-state imports) of the dirtiest and most expensive fossil power plants.
  • Spur millions of dollars of investment in the state’s growing clean energy economy. 

The NY-Sun Initiative Performance To-Date

Since the NY-Sun Program’s successful launch over a year ago, which this new bill will build upon, the amount of solar in New York has tripled, surpassing the interim goal of the program (which was to double solar in New York from 2011 to 2012). A total of 190 MW of customer-sited solar capacity—enough to power over 34,000 homes—has either been installed or was under development at the end of last year thanks to this program.

The chart below from NYSERDA’s annual performance review of the New York Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) shows more detail on just how much solar is coming online.

NY-Sun Program performance chart

Table 8. New York State Customer-Sited PV Capacity Additions in 2012 [MW]

And now fast forward just a mere 120 days, and the state is on track to meeting Governor Cuomo’s latest solar goal, this time to “quadruple the 2011 [megawatt-based amount of] installations in 2013.” In just the first four months of the year, at least an additional 50 megawatts are now contracted to be built in New York State.

Given the promise for the solar industry in the state—along with the economic and climate change-combating benefits that come with it—it’s no surprise that the NY-Sun Act has support from a coalition of businesses, trade associations and environmental groups.

Sunny days are indeed ahead for New York with the NY-Sun Act. Onto the Assembly!

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March 18, 2013
by Pierre Bull
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ALEC Arrives in Columbus to Challenge Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

I couldn’t be more proud of my boyhood state, Kansas, where three weeks ago, State senators voted to defend the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), sending a clear message to opponents of clean energy that the clean economy is real and is driving locally homegrown economic growth and jobs.

My colleague Kimi Narita summed up the outcome in Kansas:

The RPS signals to the wind industry that Kansas is open for business.  And the wind industry has responded enthusiastically.  The number of wind farms that came online from 2011 to 2012, after the passage of the RPS, nearly doubled Kansas’s installed wind capacity. The 19 wind farms operating in the state have created more than 12,300 jobs for Kansas citizens, $13.7 million in payments to landowners annually, and $10.4 million in contributions to communities each year.  The RPS is good for jobs, good for the economy, and good for Kansans.  It’s all just common sense.   

Kansas wind potential with existing and new wind projects

Screenshot of NRDC’s Renewables for America map showing Kansas’ wind potential with existing and planned wind projects

But the battle defending state RPS’s is far from over (even in Kansas, where the House is taking up the RPS right now). The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a coalition of conservative state legislators and corporations that has teamed up with a number of deeply pocketed fossil fuel-funded groups including the Heartland Institute, the American Tradition Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform are on the attack to repeal or significantly weaken state RPS policies. In addition to Kansas, they have prioritized Ohio, Missouri, Michigan and North Carolina to roll back state RPS’s.

The ALEC coalition hopes to of put the future of Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) in doubt. This Tuesday, March 19th, the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee will hold its second hearing on the status of the Ohio AEPS.  ALEC-member groups, Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have been invited to testify alongside two renewable energy groups the Solar Electric Industry Association and the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition.

The Ohio AEPS in a Nutshell

Ohio enacted its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) in May 2008. The law requires one-quarter (25%) of all electricity sales by Ohio utilities to come from “alternative energy” sources by the year 2025, with 12.5 percent required to come from sources identified as “renewable” and an additional 0.5 percent from solar. A nice visual summary of the law can be viewed here. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has registered over 5,300 facilities that are earning credits under the AEPS.

False and Inaccurate Claims

The ALEC-funded Beacon Hill & Heartland Institute’s (“Heartland/BHI”) report on the impacts of the Ohio AEPS is severely flawed and leads to inaccurate results. Their report concludes, “Ohio’s AEPS would lead to electricity prices increasing by 9.3 percent and the loss of more than 9,000 jobs.”

NRDC has done a legal and economic impact analysis of the AEPS law and the claims made by Heartland/BHI. To set the record straight, NRDC has found that the Heartland/BHI inputs, analysis and findings:

1. Over-inflate the input costs of renewable energy and under-inflate the input costs from competing fossil fuels. Specifically, 

  • Beacon Hill & Heartland assume that the cost of wind and solar energy will increase over time despite widespread analysis conclusively showing that the cost of wind and solar energy will continue to decrease by respected institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the National Renewable Energy LaboratoryBloomberg, and Black & Veatch. The bottom line is that the U.S. has seen a 40 percent reduction in the cost of wind energy in the last four years and an 80 percent drop in the price of solar modules in the last decade – with more significant price declines predicted in the coming decade.
  • Overstate the costs of projected increase in land costs and decrease in availability of wind resources
  • Under-inflate industry-standard capacity factors
  • Exaggerate costs of addressing renewable energy’s variability
  • Overstates costs of potential new transmission for wind power
  • Ignore historic, current, and projected volatility in fossil fuel prices and potential impacts from policy. 

2. Disregard all cost-containment mechanisms that help control energy costs for customers.

  • Beacon Hill & Heartland ignore the cap to keep electric rates from rising no more than 3 percent–The report declares without support that the cost cap is “ineffective and meaningless,” so it was simply left out of the analysis. But this cost cap is a critical piece of the legislation, making an increase of 9.3 percent infeasible and the rest of Beacon Hill’s analysis grossly exaggerated.

3. Disregard net economic benefits from renewable energy and energy efficiency to further ensure negative impacts.

  • The report does not include economic benefits of renewable energy such as new manufacturing or construction jobs, new tax base, or new lease payments to landowners. In 2011 (before the Blue Creek Wind Farm came online), the wind industry alone is estimated to have supported more than 5,000 jobs, $2.5 million in property tax payments, and more than $300,000 in land lease payments.
  • NRDC has also shown that energy efficiency will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in energy bill savings to all Ohio consumers and businesses in the coming decade.

Ohio’s Legacy of Innovation

Literally and figuratively, Ohio has been at the nucleus of progressive industrial growth and development in America for its 200+ year history of statehood. Whether you point to the rise of automobile manufacturing, aviation, or companies developing among the most efficient consumer products supply chains in the world, Ohio is an innovative American industrial powerhouse.

Ohio's sustainable bioenergy potential with existing and planned renewable facilities

Screenshot of NRDC’s Renewables for America map showing Ohio’s bioenergy potential with existing and planned renewable energy projects

Thanks to Ohio’s AEPS, the state is home to a leading U.S. component supplier for wind turbine equipment manufacturers and a top producer of solar materials across the supply chain, and more than 160 companies are providing jobs in the solar industry. Fifty-five of these companies have manufacturing facilities in the state, making Ohio one of the top producers of solar materials globally. Environmental Entrepreneurs showed that in 2012 as many as 1,900 clean jobs were being created from eleven clean energy generation and manufacturing projects underway in Ohio. With continued growth in this sector, Ohio could see almost 23,000 additional clean jobs and $3.6 billion dollars of new in-state economic growth. 

We cannot let greed and dirty energy reverse the growth of Ohio’s clean economy  – threatening the prosperity of tens of thousands of Ohioans and their families who are employed in the state’s clean energy industries. For additional information, including how you can help us defend Ohio’s AEPS, check out NRDC’s new webpage  that includes state-by-state fact sheets that show the benefits of state RPS’s.

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January 9, 2013
by Pierre Bull
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Governor Cuomo: Let’s enable a robust and sustainable solar industry to develop in New York State

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
Governor Andrew Cuomo today called for a major expansion of his NY-Sun Initiative in his 2013 State of the State address. First announced in his State of the State last Janua… Continue reading

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December 18, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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Legalize Solar

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
Several news headlines came out last week showing continued growth of solar energy in the U.S.:

“Residential solar systems reach an all-time high in Q3 2012″
“Solar Cit… Continue reading

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December 1, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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How Solar Saved Thanksgiving

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
- Rahm Emanuel, former Obama Administr… Continue reading

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September 21, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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Do a home energy check-up this fall

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
As the seasons transition from summer to fall, you’ve likely put together a running home checklist with to-do’s like: (1) check the batteries and test the smoke alarms, (2) rake t… Continue reading

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June 18, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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New York Solar Reaches a Critical Juncture

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
The time is now to put New York on the path to a cleaner energy future.  A clear ‘supermajority’ – 8 out of 10 New Yorkers – strongly support the grow… Continue reading

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May 10, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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Join us for New York Solar Jobs Days

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
Summer is nearly here, and we’re urging Albany to put more of that New York sunshine to work already! It’s time to show lawmakers that solar power is a priority for Ne… Continue reading

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April 10, 2012
by Pierre Bull
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New York State and Tri-State Region is positioned to become solar energy leader according to top regional planning experts

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
According to a new report released today by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), solar energy development has seen robust and rapid growth in the three states … Continue reading

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November 29, 2011
by Pierre Bull
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Labor Groups Join the Call for More Solar in New York

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City
The New York Solar Jobs Act continues to gain momentum before Albany lawmakers reconvene in just a few short weeks.  Today our coalition officially welcomed the sup… Continue reading

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November 21, 2011
by Brandi Colander
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2011 Renewable Energy Markets Conference

Brandi Colander, Attorney, Air & Energy – New York City
The 2011 Renewable Energy Markets (“REM”) conference in San Francisco, hosted by the Center for Resource Solutions (“CRS”), highlighted some of the most cut… Continue reading

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October 14, 2011
by Brandi Colander
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Plugging in the Power of Social Networking

Brandi Colander, Attorney, Air & Energy – New York City
Today, NRDC joined forces with Facebook and Opower to launch a landmark initiative designed to kick energy efficiency up a notch. Seizing upon the potential for social networking t… Continue reading

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October 5, 2011
by Christina Angelides
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Amidst House Vote, New Research Shows What Cement Companies Are Saying, or Not Saying, When It Comes to Our Health and Environment

Christina Angelides, Federal Policy Advocate, Air & Energy Program, New York
It’s hard to imagine that any company would oppose efforts to save American lives, not to mention avoid a significant number of asthma attacks, heart att… Continue reading

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June 20, 2011
by Pierre Bull
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Designing Policy to Sustain and Scale Distributed Clean Energy in the U.S.

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City Non-hydroelectric renewable energy today accounts for over 4% of the U.S. energy mix.  We have made modest progress on renewables in the U.S. with a quadrupaling of new renewable energy… Continue reading

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June 16, 2011
by Pierre Bull
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Solar Could Power Two-Thirds of NYC; The NY State Solar Jobs Bill Can Get Us There

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City New York has the potential to become a solar powerhouse.  A new mapping tool released released today by the Sustainable CUNY (City University of New York) program shows that nearly two-… Continue reading

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April 29, 2011
by Dale Bryk
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Better Life: Kansas data center demonstrates efficiencies possible in our computer grid

Dale Bryk, Director, Air & Energy Program, New York Anyone who knows me knows I’m tethered to my Blackberry.
That means that I’m also tethered, willingly or not, to a network of energy-hogging data centers. They’re the backbone of our… Continue reading

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