New & Notable

May 06, 2009
May/June 2009
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about New and Notable

ACI News

By all measures, ACI’s Northwest Conference 2009, held in Portland, Oregon on February 3–5, was a resounding success. Over 500 people, more than have attended any previous regional ACI conference, enjoyed a day of pre-conference workshops and two days of breakout sessions. Although attendees were primarily from the Pacific Northwest, there were people from all over the country.

The opening morning’s mistress of ceremonies, Idaho Power Energy Efficiency Program Leader Celeste Becia, said “ACI is where you can learn the basics of building science and energy efficiency.” The conference agenda certainly supported that statement. Sessions covered advanced building techniques, combustion safety, mechanical systems, duct and building leakage testing, indoor air quality, and affordable housing, to name only a few topics. There was something for every building scientist at the elementary and advanced levels.

Linda Wigington, ACI’s founder and Special Projects Director, delivered the opening-day keynote. She emphasized that all people, especially building scientists, have to start thinking about radical, transformative solutions to today’s energy problems. Business as usual is not enough anymore. Referring to greenhouse gases and global warming, she stated that the casual use of energy is an irreversible decision, one that has consequences for hundreds of years. We have to start thinking about deep reductions in energy use for existing buildings in order to get the world back on track.

Wigington used the keynote to announce the creation of the Thousand Home Challenge (THC). Sparked by a July 2007 ACI summit called Moving Existing Homes Towards Carbon Neutrality, the Challenge is a coalition of home performance contractors, legislators, utility representatives, energy efficiency experts, and other interested parties. Their long-term goal is to develop, test, and document a set of best practices for radically reducing energy use in existing homes.

In a related announcement, Matt Golden, president of Sustainable Spaces, a home performance contractor in the Bay Area, announced the formation of Efficiency First. Efficiency First is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to lobby in Washington on behalf of the home performance industry. Its platform includes the development of national standards, incentives, and financing options for retrofitting existing homes. Supporting members include ACI and the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

The closing keynote was delivered by John Tooley, senior building science consultant for Advanced Energy, a North Carolina-based consulting firm. Tooley likened our current national challenge to World War II, where in a matter of months we were able to train and deploy thousands of workers to support the war effort. He suggested that we need to mount a similar effort in the coming months and years to reduce our country’s carbon footprint and our dependence on foreign oil. Nothing less than a Herculean effort will do.

Overall, the conference was a good news, bad news event. The bad news is that we are facing troubled times financially and environmentally, partly because our buildings use far too much energy. The good news is that building science provides the tools that we need to reduce that energy use.

For more information:
About ACI and the Thousand Home Challenge, visit
About Advanced Energy, visit
About Efficiency First, visit

20% Wind Energy by 2030

In 2008, DOE published a report that examines the technical feasibility of using wind energy to generate 20% of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030. The report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply, includes contributions from DOE and its national laboratories, the wind industry, electric utilities, and other groups. The report examines the costs, major impacts, and challenges associated with producing 20% wind energy, or 300 gigawatts of wind-generating capacity, by 2030.

The report presented the following conclusions:
  1. Reaching 20% wind energy will require enhanced transmission infrastructure, streamlined siting and permitting regimes, improved reliability and operability of wind systems, and increased U.S. wind- manufacturing capacity.
  2. Achieving 20% wind energy will require an increase in turbine installations from about 2,000 per year in 2006 to almost 7,000 per year in 2017.
  3. Integrating 20% wind energy into the grid can be done reliably for less than 5¢/kWh.
  4. Achieving 20% wind energy is not limited by the availability of raw materials. That is, we can achieve 20% wind energy irrespective of the availability of raw materials.
  5. To achieve 20% wind energy, we will have to address challenges posed by transmission. These include the siting and cost allocation of new transmission lines to access the nation’s best wind resources.

For more information:
To read the executive summary of this report, go to

The Home Energy Stimulus
Highlights from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed by President Obama on Tuesday, February 17:

The economic stimulus act provides $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program; increases the eligible income level for the program from 150% of poverty level (determined by criteria established by the Office of Management and Budget) to 200% of poverty level; increases the amount of money that can be spent per home from $2,500 to $6,500; and allows weatherization assistance for homes that were weatherized before 1994 (previously, homes weatherized after 1979 could not be “re-weatherized”).

$4 billion was allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to retrofit public housing, and $510 million to retrofit the homes of Native Americans.

The stimulus bill gives $500 million to the Department of Labor to train workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides increased tax credits for homeowners for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installations; the act increases the tax credit for energy efficiency improvements from 10% to 30%, and gives a 30% tax credit for the cost of qualified solar energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, and fuel cell systems.

The tax credit for homeowners who install a natural gas refueling system for a natural gas car, a charging system for a plug-in electric or hybrid vehicle, a hydrogen refueling station for a fuel cell car, or another refueling system in their homes is doubled from $1,000 to $2,000. The credit is good through 2010 for most refueling systems and through 2014 for hydrogen refueling systems.

There are many more provisions in the bill that support building energy efficiency, automotive energy efficiency, the manufacture and use of renewable energy systems, and research into, among other things, high performance batteries. We recently covered in Home Energy a story from Italy about the Leaf Community. It is a live work community outside of Rome where they create all the energy they need by taking it from the sun, the wind, and the ground (using geothermal heat pumps). They are doing a lot of research into storing energy, and that is clearly becoming a top priority among scientists. Energy produced from the sun and wind, for example, is intermittent, and sun and wind resources are often far from populations that need clean energy, requiring expensive transmission systems (more overhead wires). At Leaf House, they produce hydrogen using the electricity produced by PV panels, and store the hydrogen in a “chemical battery.” The hydrogen can later be reclaimed and used in a fuel cell to create electricity.

Retrofitting homes to be more efficient, healthy, and sustainable is a “three for,” as President Obama called it in a recent television interview; it saves energy, makes homes more affordable, and creates jobs. And research such as that taking place at Leaf House opens the door to unimagined, elegant solutions to our energy challenges. One thing that the economic stimulus package has already delivered—something that has long been lacking in the energy efficiency and renewable energy community—is hope.

Recent Report Forecasts Green Jobs for Millions

The ASES Green Collar Jobs Report, recently published by the American Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services, Incorporated, (an economic research firm based in Washington, D.C.), provides inspiring statistics on where the jobs and the money are going to be in the next 20 years. According to this report, which contains a detailed analysis of the green economy, the renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE&EE) industries represented more than 9 million jobs and $1,045 billion in U.S. revenue in 2007. The renewable energy industry grew 3 times as fast as the U.S. economy, with the solar-thermal, PV, biodiesel, and ethanol sectors leading the way, each with 25%+ annual revenue growth.

The report offers three scenarios for the year 2030. Each scenario illustrates the potential result of one of three different levels of policy change—from the Moderate Scenario, which represents moderate change, to the Advanced Scenario, which represents the upper limit of what is technologically and economically feasible. In the Advanced Scenario, RE&EE would generate about 37 million jobs and $4,294 billion in annual revenue by 2030.

Here are the key conclusions of the report: As many as 37 million jobs can be generated by the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries in the United States by 2030. This figure represents more than 17% of all anticipated U.S. employment.
  • Hottest sectors include solar thermal, solar PV, biofuels, and fuel cells (in terms of revenue growth).
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency can create millions of well-paying jobs, many of which are not subject to outsourcing. These jobs are in two categories that every state is eager to attract—college-educated professional workers (many with advanced degrees), and highly skilled technical workers.
The report also gives policymakers a cautionary incentive to act. The United States risks losing millions of green jobs to other nations—nations that have a more serious and sustained commitment that are more seriously committed to growing their green economies. For the United States to be competitive in a carbon-constrained world, the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries must get crackin’ and pronto.

For more information:
To read the ASES Green Collar Jobs Report, go to

The Leica Disto A6 Laser Distance Meter

By Steve Mann

Whether you’re an energy auditor, home performance contractor, builder, flooring contractor, or just plain curious about the things around you, a laser distance meter can be a wonderful thing. It’s perfect for taking measurements quickly and accurately, both inside and out. You can use it to calculate the square footage or volume of a room, lay out a foundation, or calculate the height of a tall object, for instance.

Recently I had the opportunity to try out one of the more advanced laser distance meters, the Leica Disto A6 (see photo). I was interested in this model because of its advanced features, particularly its ability to transmit measurements via Bluetooth to software applications running on a Pocket PC or Windows-based computer. Unfortunately, the A6 Bluetooth features don’t work with Macintosh computers running Windows, or Palm PDAs, so I was not able to test this feature. However, I did get to use the device as a laser distance meter.

The Disto A6 can measure distances up to 650 feet (200 meters) by bouncing a laser light off a target and measuring the phase of the beam when it arrives back at the device. For distances over about one-half the maximum range, you need to use a target plate, an A4-size plate with reflectivity optimized for the laser. The A6 is accurate up to .06 inches (1.5 millimeters). It works great outdoors as long as the ambient light shining on the object to be measured is not too strong.
Like most laser distance meters, the A6 shines a red dot on your target object. It’s very tough to see that dot beyond about 20-30 feet in the daytime. To overcome that problem, the A6 has a very small viewfinder that magnifies the target 200% and displays crosshairs highlighting where the laser beam is hitting the target. The viewfinder is located on the right-hand side of the unit making it a bit awkward to use. It’s most useful and accurate when steadying the A6 on a tripod.

You can use the Disto A6 in a variety of ways. First, you can measure from the front or the back of the instrument with or without a constant offset. It also has a snap-out hook you can use to measure from the edge of an outside corner. The built-in software can add or subtract a series of numbers, calculate the area or volume of a room, and store up to 20 separate measurements. It can also calculate distances indirectly using the Pythagorean theorem. All the software functions are briefly explained in the terse, 12-page user’s manual. The 1.57 square inch (40 square millimeter) screen displays graphics to guide you through whatever type of measuring or calculating you are doing.

The A6 is splash and dust proof. It uses two AA alkaline batteries and is rated for approximately 10,000 measurements per battery pair. With a $600 retail price, the Leica Disto A6 is not inexpensive, but it’s a high-quality professional instrument with many features. If you do a lot of measuring and would like to quickly and easily get those measurements into PC-based software, the A6 is an excellent choice.

For more information:
For more information about the Leica Disto A6, visit

Minnesota’s Affordable Renewables

The Minnesota Office of Energy Security’s Renewable Energy Equipment program enables low-income clients to heat their homes partly with renewable energy equipment. The program provides grants to eligible participants for purchasing and installing renewable energy systems, including solar air panels and EPA-approved wood-fired and pellet stoves. The grant application process goes like this:

  1. The grants are for rental properties only. The local weatherization agency identifies the home, or the owner may contact the weatherization agency to request a grant. It is the renter, not the owner, who must be eligible to receive the grant, it is the renter who receives the benefit. The owner must comply with certain conditions, such as agreeing not to raise the rent because the home was upgraded.
  2. The weatherization contractor does an analysis of the home to help design a proposal and to determine whether the proposed project is feasible.
  3. The local weatherization agency files a request for a grant with the Office of Energy Security.
  4. The Office of Energy Security reviews the proposal and allocates funds through a grant. Correctly completed requests for a grants are usually approved in one or two days.
  5. The contractor schedules the project and completes it.
  6. The Office of Energy Security monitors a certain percentage of the work done on each project and the program manager visually monitors some of these projects. At present there is no formal program for collecting data on energy use in these projects, but The Office of Energy Security may consider collecting these data in the future.

The maximum project cost per home is $4,700. The contractor must show a payback time of no longer than 15 years.

For more information:
To learn more about The Minnesota Office of Energy Security’s Renewable Energy Equipment program, go to

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