Monday, June 8, 2009

Energy Management is Tomorrow’s Green Apartment Amenity

First Published: May 20, 2009

By Diana Mosher

The green movement has many of us rethinking everything from the fibers in the clothes we wear to the way we transport our groceries back from the supermarket. Now President Barack Obama has called for a new national standard for fuel efficiency that’s as strict as the California program and will set limits on climate-altering gases from cars and trucks. The rules—which would create a car and light truck fleet that’s 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016—would go into effect in 2012. Click here for more details.

In the meantime, apartment companies continue looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints. Energy management, which also reduces operating costs, is a meaningful place to start. Energy management techniques come in all shapes and sizes, according to speakers at the National Apartment Association’s inaugural Green Conference in Phoenix.

Panelists noted that energy management can save a property a few hundred dollars a year. The need for baseline tracking of energy usage is not new. But properties in numerous states are challenged when it comes to getting real time usage information from the utilities. Water bills are generally the most difficult.

While there are sophisticated technologies available, energy management doesn’t have to be high tech to be effective. Charlotte Matthews, vice president of sustainability, Related Companies, suggests that smaller properties can use a spreadsheet to determine usage and calculate expenses. “You can start seeing trends as you measure and track the data,” she says.

Matthews also suggests installing a shadow meter to compare your usage with what the utilities report—as well as purchasing energy in blocks at more desirable rates. This strategy can be especially successful when mixed-use properties are part of the equation.

Panelists also noted that in order for multifamily companies to profit from green initiatives, consumers need to want them. Matthews adds, “As energy becomes more expensive in New York City, we will soon have to post our buildings’ energy usage. [These expenditures] will be more transparent.” Remote HVAC, temperature control and lighting will allow renters to control remotely. Related predicts this will become a popular green amenity.

“We can become the utility provider and offer residents lower cost energy than the local utilities,” said Matthews. The arrangement would also result in a new way to generate ancillary income.

Expect to hear more about smart grid technology. A smart grid pilot program in Massachusetts will include multifamily customers in urban and suburban settings. And see how Xcel Energy is helping Boulder, Colo. to become the world’s first smart grid city by the end of 2009. In Austin, Texas, a number of high-tech companies have signed on to the smart-grid initiative, called the Pecan Street Project.

Green apartment living will get more marketing and play. But will multifamily residents be willing to pay a premium? Matthews thinks so. “We’re working on making green easier. In luxury projects, sustainability services will make it easier to live green. For example, residents will be able to more easily recycle clothes and batteries,” she says. “We are vetting ‘green’ dry cleaners, asking them about the ingredients in their solvents, whether they recycle their hangers, and so forth.”