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What, Exactly, Is “Green” Energy?

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on May 21, 2018

New York City

Green Incentives
May 21, 2018

When discussing renewable energy in New York City co-ops and condos, it’s important to define your terms. 

“Be careful using the word ‘green,’” cautions Kelly Dougherty, director of energy management at FS Energy Services, a subsidiary of the nationwide property-management company FirstService Residential. The two most widely known methods of generating electricity onsite are solar and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. The latter generates electricity, then captures wasted heat to heat domestic hot water, resulting in major reductions of energy bills. But CHP, also known as cogen, uses fossil fuel. Therefore, Dougherty notes, the only truly “green,” or renewable, energy for multifamily buildings in the New York City area today is solar. (With a few exceptions, wind, geothermal, and wave energy have proven impractical.) 

After defining your terms, the second step is to look into free technical services available from government agencies. The New York City Retrofit Accelerator is a free city program offering personalized advice on energy-efficiency improvements. Others include the free Building Operator Training program of the City University of New York’s Building Performance Lab, which teaches preventive maintenance and energy efficiency to staffs of small to midsize residential buildings. The nonprofit Here Comes Solar offers free energy-efficiency assessments to small- and medium-size affordable housing, and at a nominal fee to market-rate co-ops and condos. 

“Before you engage with a vendor who is going to want to sell you a piece of equipment, do some research to make sure you know what you should be looking at when reviewing what projects you might want to take on,” says Dougherty. “Everything is going to sound great with a vendor. A little bit of research pays off.” 

Then, just as you’d engage an accountant to do your building’s taxes, you’ll want to engage an energy consultant or a Building Performance Institute-certified energy auditor who can assess opportunities to reduce consumption. Usually this means switching to LED lighting, adding insulation, sealing cracks that allow drafts, and upgrading your energy-control system, among other measures. 

Indeed, installing these relatively inexpensive efficiencies – often called low-hanging fruit – will help you make an informed decision about such bigger projects as solar or cogen. “If you’re considering putting in a cogen system conceivably costing a half-million dollars, and you do the energy-efficiency measures first,” says Arthur Pearson, president of the energy consultancy Barrett Green Management, “you might find you could put in a smaller system costing maybe $350,000.”

By picking the low-hanging fruit, your board can save a lot of green even before going "green."

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