Oct 11 5:30 pm
Sustainability for Plainfield Businesses

Sustainability for Plainfield Businesses

Thursday, Oct 11, 2018

Join us a look at ways that you can lower your operating costs and set your business up for a more sustainable future. We’ll be looking at ways to reduce energy use and discuss the rebates available through your utilities as well as other bench marking tools to get you set on a greener path. Learn tips and have an open discussion with other businesses in the community to discuss how they’ve made changes to reduce their energy use. Light appetizers and cocktails will be served.

Sustainability Best Practices in Chicagoland

Energy Efficiency Services and Sustainability

Chicago is a leader in many things, and sustainability is one of them.

This season in the Verde Podcast, we are going to look deeper at the energy efficiency and sustainability practices at our larger institutions in Chicagoland.

sustainability best practices podcastChicago is an amazing city with civic leadership unsurpassed in the United States.  In fact, or city began as a small village with great civic leadership that dredged the canals and made our city a major port in 1800s.  That infrastructure lead to our train infrastructure, and eventually, our major airport infrastructure – which led toward Chicago being one of the top 3 largest cities in the United States.  

At this time in the United States, we lack leadership in our commitment to environmental action.  However, our local community has a broad depth of leadership, from our Universities to large corporations.  

This podcast season we will interview these leaders and hear their thoughts on 

  • energy efficiency 
  • renewable energy
  • recycling (the third rail of Chicago politics)
  • composting
  • public transportation
  • new building construction

Episode 1

Introduction to the season, and a recap of our first season

Episode 2

City Colleges of Chicago, John Brophy John discussed how the City Colleges of Chicago operates, and their initiatives around sustainability.  His biggest win was a recent fight (and win) to get part time students access to the UPASS (university CTA Pass).  

Episode 3

Loyola University Center for Social Enterprise, Seth Green In this episode, we explore the role that sustainability plays in attracting employees for future companies in Chicagoland.  We also look at the complexity of how traditional companies operate with a profit drive, and how new companies will need to look deeper to compete in our modern economy.

Episode 4

Northwestern University, Kat Benitez Kat serves as the Sustainability Director for Northwestern University, and has taken some major initiatives with support from the president of the University.  They have just commissioned their 3rd solar array, and plan on expanding those even further throughout the University buildings. 

Smart Thermostats in 2018

Smart Thermostats are…well, Smart

Your complete guide to Smart Thermostats for both Commercial and Residential applications in 2018

There is no doubt that smart thermostats save energy, or this article would be about a cool tech gadget instead of an impactful product that sold over $1.36 billion dollars in smart thermostats in 2017.  Nest and Ecobee are the two big brand names in this space, although there are an increasing number of players in 2018. Google and Amazon are getting in the mix as well, integrating their cloud based voice functionality and platforms, with more integrations coming soon.  

Smart thermostats save energy by being a really sophisticated programmable thermostat, as well as by adding cool tech like motion sensors and smart phone integration.  There is enough research into these products, as of 2018, to show that they do show significant energy savings, both on the electric and gas side (as they control both AC and heating).  This savings is different depending on where you live in the United States, as Floridians would save more on the electric energy usage, while an Alaskan will see some killer savings on gas.  

HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) accounts for 37% of residential usage, and 44% of a commercial buildings energy usage is HVAC.  This means that in order to significantly reduce the energy usage in a building or home, the HVAC system cannot be ignored.

A smart thermostats is an affordable way to save energy in HVAC, since lowering or raising the temperature controls is its major function.  Upgrading your heating unit to a high efficiency furnace, or upgrading your AC unit to a higher efficiency unit is expensive. Replacing your smart thermostat is affordable, and can maximize the efficiency of your current units.  

Cost of a Smart Thermostat

Upgrading a thermostat to a smart thermostat is rather affordable, usually less than $500 if done with a professional.  Doing it yourself can bring that cost down, and if you are eligible for utility rebates, you can bring that cost down even further.  

Most units for residential cost between $150 and $300 in 2018.  Most commercial units cost slightly higher, but of course, the savings are higher on a commercial property due to heavier usage, so the higher cost is not as big of a deal.  More detailed pricing on individual units are available below.

smart thermostat installationLabor for installing a smart thermostat can run from $99 to $299, depending on how complicated your HVAC system is.  Our company, Verde Energy Efficiency Experts, offers residential Smart Thermostat installs for $99 each. We offer a complete package for commercial customers as well, which can run as little as $75 for both the labor and installation, if eligible for both the best gas and electric smart thermostat incentives (based on your size and usage).

Cost of Replacing Your HVAC Unit

The cost of replacing your commercial HVAC unit can range from $5,000 to $20,000 and up, depending on your size and style.  Rooftop RTUs are very common in commercial applications, and those are usually 5 ton to 20 ton in cooling capacity. Unfortunately, the heating efficiency is typically maxed out at 80% for a rooftop RTU, but the cooling capacity increases with each generation.  In fact, CEE Tier 2 efficiency RTUs are seeing some fantastic efficiency improvements.

If you are able to add an economizer to your rooftop HVAC unit, you can see further advancements in both AC and heating savings.  Restaurants especially can see high gains in efficiency on their AC, since their kitchens can often be 90 degrees on a autumn or spring day.  Opening up the economizer to bring in fresh air from outside can avoid trying to cool off that hot kitchen air.

However, economizers are also highly effective when there are a lot of people in a small space.  People’s bodies create a ton of heat, and when densely packed in a theater or other space, can require AC on even a 40 degree day.  Economizers will open up and bring in fresh air, saving a ton of energy be not running the compressor.

Advanced Air Balancing and Kitchen DCV Systems

In addition, kitchen equipment can create the need from exhaust fans above them to remove the smoke and CO2 generated.  This sucks (pun intended), as it pulls conditioned air out of the building, creating a negative pressure. This means that everytime a door opens, hot or cold air from the outside rushes in and needs to be recooled or reheated. A Kitchen demand control ventilation system will match the exhaust fan to the cooking equipment, significantly reducing the amount of air that is pulled out of the building.  

This type of sophisticated programming is currently not offered by smart thermostats, but instead through a separate system that will communicated with the smart thermostat.  We have seen great success on comfort for restaurants employees and customers with this set up, and it is a great match for a smart thermostat.

Repairing Your HVAC Unit

Often, and usually on the hottest or coldest day of the year, your furnace or AC unit will quit.  At this time, you can be forced to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get your existing unit up and running again.  It is often impossible to react quickly and get a new high efficiency unit in place, so this is often not the ideal time to upgrade your unit.  

HVAC technicians are often creatures of habits, and prefer to install a unit that is older and within their comfort zone, then recommend a newer unit that might be more complicated than they are comfortable performing maintenance.

Instead, it is better to perform “early replacement” of your HVAC units, spending money to upgrade to a higher efficiency unit before the moment of failure.  This is easier said than done, but ultimately leads to the lowest cost overall to the building when including equipment costs, maintenance, and energy usage. It also allows you to pick your best option for a new equipment and then find someone to install it, instead of installing the equipment that your technician is comfortable installing.  

Programmable Thermostats

Thermostats are basically a fancy on/off control for your HVAC unit.  Thermostats take the temperature in the space, and then tell the unit to heat or cool to get to the preset temperature.  The olden days of turning the heat down before going to bed were changed by the programmable thermostat, which is a unit that can be programmed to set based on the times of the day.

There is indisputable evidence that you can save energy by setting back your heat at night at home or for your business, and programmable thermostats help you accomplish this.

5-2 Programmable Thermostats

These thermostats can be programmed in two settings, a Monday through Friday for the work week, and a 2 day setting for the weekend. This unit is typically used in residential, or with a business that is only open Monday through Friday and the same hours each day when open.

One of the best parts of these thermostats is that they can be set to change the temperature before you actually need it. For example, if you have a standard thermostat in a retail store that opens at 9am, and get there a few minutes before opening, it can take an hour to get back to the desired temperature.  However, you can set the thermostat at night back even further and start the temperature change again an hour before opening. You would walk into a warm or properly cool business at opening time, and have comfortable customers to thank you.

7 Day Programmable Thermostats

These thermostats can be programmed for each day of the week, and are a much better option for businesses with varying hours or for religious facilities and community centers that have unusual horus.  

Churches especially struggle with this, as they typically use their space on Sundays and a few days a week at odd hours.  A seven day thermostat can let the church save energy on those days not in usage, and control when the space is warmed or cooled properly.

Smart Thermostat

A smart thermostat is a fancy programmable seven day thermostat, that goes a few steps further.  

  • It often includes occupancy sensors in the thermostat, communicating to the thermostat when you are home or away.
  • Even furthermore, it will link to your smart phone and wifi network to know when you are home or away.  When away, it will set back the temperature to save additional energy.
  • The smart thermostat can include “learning” software, which will try to learn your habits. If you always turn the thermostat down on Wednesday nights because you leave early for yoga, it will incorporate this pattern into your seven day schedule.  
  • The normal thermostat will shut off the heating or cooling when it gets to temperature, but there is often a ton of hot or cool air in the system that needs to be pushed around.  A smart thermostat will try to predict this pattern, and shut off before it gets to temp and avoid overheating or cooling.
  • A smart thermostat includes control from your mobile app or computer.  This can often be invaluable for those times you travel, or forget to turn your temperature back.  You can control the temperature from your phone and save money when not at home or work. Even further, it gives business owners a sense of control over your business when employees may not consider energy savings as important.  You can monitor and even control the temperature when you are not there.

Ecobee

The Ecobee has a lot of options on the market, including several commercial units.  It also can include Alexa integration, which is a huge value add in this day of audio intelligence.

Ecobee4(Residential)- This is typically a residential unit, although it can be used in some residential applications.  In Chicagoland, you can purchase this unit for $249, and are eligible for a $100 rebate from the Comed Energy Efficiency Program.  

ecobee4 smart thermostatEcobee EMS Si(Commercial)- This is a commercial unit, more able to control higher end commercial units that can control multi phase heating and cooling.  It can also include a power extender, which can solve the common issue of a lack of power availability to a smart thermostat. One big advantage of this unit is the availability of zigbee integration, which allows it to talk to your smart meter in Comed territory.  While much more expensive, this thermostat can include $300 of rebate for Small Businesses in Chicagoland, as well as an additional $100 from People’s Gas and Northshore Gas. We offer this thermostat installed to our commercial customers for $75, when eligible for both of these rebates.  

ecobee ems siEcobee Smart Si(Residential) – This is a residential version of the EMS Si, much less expensive but with less functionality than the EMS Si.  It does have the same look and feel of the EMS Si, but lacks some of the functions required for commercial applications and does not work well when multiple thermostats are in the same space.  

Ecobee Smart Occupancy Sensor – This smart occupancy light switch is amazing, as it also communicates another data point of temperature away from the thermostat.  You might have a cold kitchen, and this occupancy sensor can communicate that cold spot back to your thermostat. It also sheds some insight into the future capacity of our smart home, even more integrated than we can imagine today.  I am always thinking of creative ways to heat and cool homes with technology, and I did not see the occupancy sensor in the light switch coming. Very ingenious.

Nest

Nest 3rd Generation smart thermostatNest was the original smart thermostat, easy to use and intuitive in design.  Simply turning this unit up and down by turning the dial would drive the learning thermostat.  It also includes additional functionality, like settings that are sensitive to direct daylight on the thermostat, alerts and reporting for usage, among other innovations.  It is also incredibly easy to use, and includes an awesome screwdriver in the install kit. No seriously, the screwdriver is awesome. Nest was bought by Google a few years back, and has some serious data and research and development chops backing them.

Nest 3rd Generation Thermostat (Residential or Commercial)- this is the basic unit available to customers.  It has learning functionality, farsight (the ability to detect when you walk by), compatibility with 95% of the furnaces and AC units on the market, among a super easy install and operation.  The 3rd Generation Nest is $249, and eligible for a $100 incentive for residential and a $100 incentive for businesses through People’s Gas and North Shore Gas.

Nest E (Residential)- This newer unit is lower in price point, available as low as $69 after a $100 rebate in Comed territory.  This unit has much of the same functionality, although it seems like there is a lower level of compatibility with existing HVAC units and it lacks the farsight ability.  If you are price sensitive but want to get a smart thermostat, then this is the unit for you. I personally have the Nest 3rd Generation in my home and office and love the farsight functionality, and think it is worth the extra money. The Nest E is $169, and eligible for a $100 incentive for residential or a $100 incentive for businesses through People’s Gas and North Shore Gas (not both).

Honeywell

Honeywell has been a trusted name in thermostats for years, and really knows how to control HVAC units.  However, they have been a bit late to the smart thermostat game and are not as strong in making tech partnerships, like Nest and Ecobee.  

Lyric(Residential)- The Lyric seems to be a competitor to Nest E and Ecobee4, very sleek and minimalistic in design.  The price point is around $149, has a lot of the similar offerings as Nest and Ecobee, as well as one call Geo-fencing.  This follows your activity and when you start heading home, it will get the temperature of your home up to your setting.

WiFi Smart Thermostat(Commercial or Residential)- This product is a bit more traditional, with a touch screen and larger interface.  It has an app and platform, like the Ecobee and Nest, and has a great compatibility with existing HVAC units due to their experience in the thermostat industry for years.  Price point is $179 to $199 and available for a $100 incentive in Chicagoland for both residential and commercial properties.

Lux

The Lux/Geo Wifi thermostat  lacks the color display of a Nest or Ecobee, but it has one strong advantage.  The Geo has the capacity to run the thermostat on 2 AA batteries. Both Nest and Ecobee have internal batteries, which makes it a dream to not have to replace batteries both environmentally, headaches, and cost.  However, these batteries are recharged through something called a c-wire, and sometimes this creates issues for these new smart thermostats.

Since older thermostats did not require electricity, this C Wire is often lacking and can create issues during install.  The Lux/Geo would be a great option when this problem exists, although replacing the batteries would be a pain. We would recommend trying the Ecobee Smart Si with the power extender instead, if you have the unit professionally installed.  The price point of this product is great at $149, although it only qualifies for the $100 commercial incentive for People’s Gas and North Shore gas at this time.

Learning Functions

Learning functions of smart thermostats are one of the coolest features – they learn your patterns, and also try to inject some intelligence into your behavior to save both energy and effort.  The more that we can take away human behavior that causes mistakes, the more savings we will see. A great example is turning the heat up to 80 when you want it to be 72 because it is taking too long to warm up (spoiler alert – it won’t heat faster).

Control for Business

One of the best features of a smart thermostat is the control that it gives the business owner.  Employees or customers can often change your thermostat, based on how they are feeling in the moment, and those decisions are not about saving energy or even what is best for everyone in the environment.  However, a smart thermostat gives the business owner a chance to not only monitor, but also override changes in temperature request.

In fact, passcodes are available to stop individuals from changing the temperature, giving ultimately control to the business owner.  I will always remember seeing strongly worded notes about the temperature setbacks required from one of our franchise owners at a popular restaurant, posted near his thermostats.  When he recently converted his stores to Ecobee EMS SI system, with support form the Comed Energy Efficiency Program, he was able to set the program and lock it. If there were issues on temperature in the store, he could make the changes if it was appropriate, but not waste energy based on daily fluctuations of the store manager or customer opinions.  

smart thermostat control

Rebates to offset the cost

Many states have energy efficiency portfolios or laws that are designed to spend money to reduce energy.  Illinois, our local state, has one of the most aggressive energy efficiency programs in the United States, and our legislature doubled down on our collective efforts in 2018 and will spend more than $400 million this year on energy efficiency.

This money has to be spent to subsidize the cost of energy savings equipment, and smart thermostats are at the top of the list of opportunities to save gas and electric. For that reason, you may be eligible to purchase a smart thermostat at a discounted price.  If you are outside of our state, check with your local utility to see if they have any opportunities for rebates for smart thermostats.  The product information and recommendations that you read won’t change state by state, but the incentives will.

If you are a residential homeowner reading this in Illinois, check out the marketplace that Comed has provided that will give you instant discounts on your purchases. If you need help on the install, give us a call (but don’t be afraid to try yourself, as it is fairly easy to install a smart thermostat).

If you are a commercial customer in Illinois, you will receive a higher incentive by working with a registered trade ally that has the ICC Certification for Energy Efficiency Installer.  Good news – Verde Energy Efficiency Experts is both of those and can help you get the best product at the best price. Give us a jingle before you purchase your commercial smart thermostat at (773) 413-9587 or click the link below.

Why Are My Energy Bills So High?

There are hundreds of reasons that your electric bill could be high.  Here are the top 7 that we see in the commercial marketplace.  You can often solve these issues fairly quickly and with little expense.

High Energy Rates

Some states just have higher energy rates than others.  We are fortunate in Illinois to have relatively low energy rates, so if you are reading this from Illinois, you are lucky.  If you are out of state, move here – we love new neighbors.

There are two basic parts of your electric bill, as far as what you are paying for; supply (electrons) and delivery (poles and wires).  

All of us pay our delivery charge to the utility monopoly – that is just the best way to date of paying to maintain the safety and consistent supply of energy.  This is usually about half of your overall costs, and is billed in a complicated formula that we estimate around $.06 per kWh for commercial.

We are also a deregulated state, meaning that you have the option to purchase the supply from someone other than the utility monopoly.  There are a ton of electricity providers in the state, and there are brokers that sell and provide this.  This cost is usually about $.06 as well for commercial, and rarely do alternative providers provide a much better deal (other than airline miles if you switch).

Solution – Lower Your Energy Rates 

More often than not, we find that our clients are hurt from purchasing their electricity from someone other than Comed or Ameren.  

If you currently purchase from a third party provide, check to make sure your rate is competitive.  Often, these companies will offer a competitive rate locked in for a certain time period, and then raise the rates when you are out of the introductory period.  Check with your local utility to see if their rate is lower, and if it is, consider switching back.

If you would like to shop around, we recommend checking out Choose Energy or another online comparison tool.  You can see the prices that multiple companies offer at once.  Try to lock in for a long time period, as the shorter periods of time have better rates and then go up significantly.  

We rarely advise for someone to switch energy providers, as we believe the emphasis should be on lower your usage, and not driving the cost down in what you pay per kWh.  The only customers we have seen that win at that game are huge companies that use a ton of energy – smaller companies are more likely to get taken advantage of and you have better things to do than watch your energy rate monthly.  

Wrong Smart Meter

This is rare, but it is a real thing.  When our utility went through a major modernization, they have installed smart meters throughout the area.  Someone has to enter this information of a meter into a computer database, and occasionally, they make a mistake.

This actually happened at my sisters house in Indiana.  Her bills were incredibly high in the winter around the holidays, and her neighbors were huge holiday light fans.  It took a lot of detective work, but we found eventually that she had been billed for her neighbors usage instead.  Someone accidentally swapped their meter numbers when entering them into the master database years ago, and she received a significant credit.

I also had this happen in my first apartment.  I had barely any usage in my place, was single, and worked as a firefighter and was gone for long time periods.  My bills were close to $300 per month, and I repeatedly called the utility to as for their help.

Finally, I turned all the breakers off in my apartment, and the meter was still spinning.  I noticed that the meter next to me was stopped, and at that point figured out that the neighbors across the hall (with the crazy amount of neon lights on all the time) were paying a tiny bill, while mine was astronomical.  I always wondered if they got a huge bill after that was resolved, since I got a credit.

Solution – Checking Your Meter

Energy Usage DailyYour meter usage can often be checked with an online tool that is available from your utility.  You can login to your account and dig through data, which might help you notice if you are not being charged the correct bill.  This is my actual home report from two days ago.  You can look at the usage and see if the pattern matches your business hours.  

You can also look at your meter number on your bill, to make sure it matches your physical meter numbers.

It may not be practical, but another trick is to turn your breakers all completely off.  If your meter is still spinning, there is something wrong.  Then it is time to call the utility and ask them to come out, although they will always drag their feet and are trained to tell you that you are incorrect.  

 

Exterior Lights on During the Day

This is so common – it is hard not to notice how prevalent this is when you are in the energy efficiency industry.  I notice this almost every day in the city, some business with exterior lights on all day long, or with a timer clock that is off from a time change and the outdoor lighting start or end at the incorrect time. 

Unless you are at Wrigley Field on a nationally televised day game and in charge of the television crew, there is literally no value to lights on during the day.  And, in case the Rickets are reading this – LEDs would be a smart move for the best team in baseball.  

Solution – Photocell

This is an easy solution with a $10 photocell.  A photocell is a sensor that wires into your exterior light and stops the light from turning on during the day when there is enough ambient light.  You can even creatively wire one photocell to many exterior lights, saving on the cost of the equipment needed, although this does increase the labor costs.  I have seen parking lots for large strips malls that could literally save thousands of dollars each year with a simple $10 photocell.

Most fixtures have a knockout in the side that allow for an easy installation and it only takes a few minutes.  

Interior Lights Left On When Not Needed

This is a common issue, and is not always very easy to address.  There are times that you have a very clear need for light in your occupied business, and the lights need to be on so guests can see you are open and then can enjoy what your business offers.

However, a ton of businesses are warehouses, manufacturing, or office space – and those do not need lights on for the full operational time.  In fact, many warehouses have rows that rarely get occupied, and yet they leave the lights on all of the time from habit or inability to turn some lights off and leave others on.  

To take this a step further, it is rare that a business (even those with retail space that need to look inviting) are 100% set up to make sure lights are turned off when not necessary.  Even bathrooms can use sensors, and they not only save energy but improve your customer and employee experience.

Solution – LED Lighting and Sensors

Ten years ago, this problem was not easy or inexpensive to solve.  Today, there is almost no reason that someone cannot use sensors in their business.

The big game changer – LED lighting.  Actually, its not the LED lights but the drivers that make occupancy sensors so powerful.  These drivers and LED combinations can turn on and off instantly, unlike older fluorescent or HID lighting that takes time to start up.

In addition, they can dim and put different levels of light output, often controlled by a smart phone or app.  For this, we recommend Philips lighting and controls, as we have found they have the best drivers and easiest to use “commissioning” or scheduling of the controls.  

Finally, best practice is to group fixtures together, so you don’t have the experience of walking into a storage room and getting the disco ball affect of lighting coming on one at a time.  Sensors and lighting controls can be grouped together to respond together, creating a more smooth experience that saves energy and still makes safety and employee experience a priority. 

For those of you in Illinois (and those outside again are welcome to come join us), you benefit from one of the greatest energy efficiency programs in the country for businesses.  You can get incentives as high as $75 for a wall mounted occupancy sensor in a wall plate, or $50 per fixtures in an office or exterior lighting sensor.  Those are incentives that you pay into, and can decrease the cost significantly in solving this common challenge.  In addition to saving energy, sensors can prolong the life of equipment, decreasing your future replacement costs. 

High Heating and Cooling Costs

You cannot talk about high energy costs and not talk about heating and cooling. As you can see from the graphic below, heating, cooling and ventillation costs take up 44% of the overall energy usage of commercial space.  You cannot take a dent out of your overall energy usage without considering your HVAC systems.

commercial high electric usage

Solution – System Upgrades and Smart Thermostats

The easiest way to approach saving energy is to replace your existing thermostat with a smart thermostat.  We recommend the Ecobee EMS-Si for commercial customers, as they seem to have the most robust thermostat for multistage heating and cooling often found in commercial spaces.  They also have a solution for the common c-wire issue, along with a fairly straight forward platform that can track multiple smart thermostat locations at once.

ecobee ems si smart thermostatSmart thermostats are simple – they are a fancy programmable thermostat that can be controlled from your smartphone and can use technology to push your energy savings by setting back temperatures when your space is unoccupied.  Closed for Labor Day – your smart thermostat will notice your smart phone is not in the building and also that motion sensors in the unit are not being triggered, and will save you additional money by not cooling that space.

If you have already installed a smart thermostat, it is time to think about replacing your commercial heating and cooling unit.  We recommend cooling unit replacements to a CEE Tier 2 energy efficient unit, as the theoretical savings on cooling are much higher than heat savings (at least on rooftop units or RTU).  It is really difficult (but not impossible) to get above 80% efficient rooftop RTUs, at least at the current technologies.  Fortunately, gas prices are relatively inexpensive in Illinois.   

In addition to saving energy, they also are a huge source of potential future maintenance costs.  Units today only typically get 10 years out of them, so anything longer than that is a matter of time before it needs serious maintenance or replacement.  Taking a proactive approach and replacing the unit before it crashes is called an early rooftop unit replacement strategy, and can lead to incredible Return on Investments when you consider the alternative reactive strategy.  When you react to a unit that goes down, you will never have the lead time to get an efficient model, and rarely does this happen in the time of year that you can be without heating or cooling. 

Finally, newer units often come equipped with economizers, which are designed to bring in fresh air when it is cooler or hotter outside.  Restaurants are especially a good target for this type of equipment, although all businesses can benefit from it (since humans are little heat engines and kick off a lot of CO2).  I can’t tell you the number of times I have been on a restaurant rooftop in November when the AC compressor is running, whereas an economizer would just open up and bring in fresh air to cool off the kitchen.  

Computers Running All the Time

Computers are often left running in an office, sometimes out of necessity, but more often just out of laziness. Computers do not use a ton of energy these days, especially with smaller and more efficient screens.  However, they will often have a lot of accessories linked to them that can cause phantom power draw (its a thing!), like phones, speakers, and additional monitors. 

Solution – Smart Power Strips

Smart power strips cut power when the primary energy user is not drawing a certain wattage.  This device does not save a ton of energy, but it provides the added value of protecting your equipment.  We recommend this to all of our commercial customers, especially if utility incentives cover the cost.  

Screensavers are so 2001, so make sure to put your computer to sleep (or at least the display).  

Servers Create a Lot of Cost and Heat

Servers are at times a necessary evil for many institutions.  However, those institutions are shrinking, as cloud based servers are so inexpensive and safe.  Servers create a lot of heat, and are best housed in cool climates with cheap energy.  Since huge energy users pay less for electricity – server farms get great rates and can locate in places close to wind farms and hydroelectric sources of energy production.  

Solution – Cloud Based Server System

If it is 2018 and you have not gone to a cloud-based server, please do so for your own sanity.  Servers are a lot of headaches to maintain, and there are so many inexpensive options that it is worth shopping around.  Save the heat, headaches, and high energy costs of servers.

Commercial, Nonprofit, and Public Sector Solar in 2018

Illinois Solar PhotoVoltaic (PV) in 2018

A Complete Guide to Commercial, Nonprofit, and Public Sector Solar in 2018

It’s been a long time coming, but Solar Photovoltaic (PV) will finally penetrate the Illinois and Chicagoland market in 2019.  2018 has already shaped up to be an interesting and foundational year in Illinois – but we really see 2019 as the breakout year for solar in our communities.large-solar-farm-in-England-producing-electricity

Why is Solar Relevant in Illinois?

Here are the 3 reasons that Solar will penetrate Illinois in 2019.

  • The Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), which passed in Illinois in December 2016, lays out a ton of spending from Comed (and Ameren) to support the solar power industry.  This law was an incredible and rare compromise in Illinois politics that improved the already awesome energy efficiency portfolio, provided support for Illinois nuclear power plants, as well as expanded significantly the way that solar PV is developed.
  • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are a common way that state legislatures pass laws supporting solar generation.  In Illinois, we have an ambitious goal of 25% of our energy from renewable sources by 2025 (California has a 100% goal for carbon free energy production).  The public utilities purchase “certificates” each year to help meet those goals, and that funding provides added economic support for solar PV and wind power generation.  Before the FEJA law was passed, I think it is safe to say that our REC market in Illinois was dysfunctional, and therefore, not supporting solar appropriately.
  • Federal Tax Credit.  As it stands now, the federal tax credit that covers 30% of the cost of solar PV will start to phase out in 2020. This means that 2019 will be an important year, as that is especially important for profitable businesses to invest in solar PV.  While it will phase out this tax credit slowly, the peak value of the federal tax credit is right now.

Illinois has always been an important state for the wind market, at least as long as wind has been a viable and competitive form of energy production.  Solar has been decreasing in costs in the past few years, and it is a really interesting time. Illinois is not theoretically ideal for solar, as we lack the sunshine that Arizona or Colorado enjoy, but the market is as good as any.

In 2017 or before, if you were interested in solar in Illinois, you were reliant on a fairly small group of contractors and distributors to provide this quotation and service.  There are (and were) a lot of really good partners in town. However, since the size and impact of solar PV was small, the pricing was expensive as there were not a ton of competition.  Few installers were purchasing large quantities of solar panels, which can drive down the costs. As FEJA begins to impact the community, more companies will mature in their efforts, more experience will come from other states, and the prices for installation and materials will drop. This market force is important, as an individual’s decision to install solar PV depends on the cost and how long it will take to return the initial investment.  More players will drive competition and lower prices.

While it would be ideal to increase electricity costs (therefore increasing the value of the electricity generated by solar) through a carbon tax to additionally support the payback or ROI of solar, that is not a viable federal option at the moment.  The key note here is at the moment. I strongly feel that the federal government needs to raise revenue somehow, and a carbon tax will potentially fill this void and benefit the solar industry.

Good Use for Solar in Illinois

Let’s take a moment to look at the different applications of solar in Illinois, and the expected impact of this in 2019.

Residential – Individual homes will begin to make decisions to install solar, especially as they see more and more of their neighbors installing solar.  In addition, you will start to notice and feel an increased sales presence of door to door and marketing outreach from solar companies, as nationwide companies notice the attractiveness of the Illinois market.  Residential solar works well for families or individuals that plan to stay in their home for 5-10 years.

Community Solar – groups of individuals can purchase solar from a “solar farm”, which is installed somewhere in our utility territory.  This is run by an investment group that owns the solar PV farm, and typically sell your home a credit off your bill for some long time period, possibly 10-20 years.

This is wildly popular in Illinois in 2018, and has some historical success in other states like Minnesota.  It is a great plan for folks that do not have a good existing roof for solar (too many trees, poor direction of your roof angle, or perhaps you live in an apartment building and don’t have access to your roof.  Typically, the downside of this arrangement is that it is a long term contract, but the upside is that you can get involved in buying solar PV at a relatively inexpensive cost – possibly even less than you would buy electricity from the utility.

Public Sector/Municipal Installations – Lots of government buildings have solar installations, and that will continue to increase.  One great reason for this is that government buildings are typically going to be there for the next 50 years, so putting a capital asset in place that will pay for itself in 7-10 years is not a huge obstacle.  They can also do this to help meet the voters needs for environmental action, and this has taken place throughout the state.

Nonprofits/Religious facilities – Nonprofits also can often look long term, and do not have the same profit motives as businesses.  These institutions have historically been an important part of the solar PV investment, although they are not able to benefit from the federal tax credit.  Creative scenarios exist where individual donors might own the asset, and benefit from the tax credit and the donation. These groups often benefit from grants around environmental work as well, or donors that can “own the system” and benefit from the tax credit.

Utility Scale Installations – Utilities can really hit cost effective solar arrays in large scale installations in brownfields or rural areas.  While it is not always clear, evidence suggests that new power plants being built with solar PV or wind are cost effective compared to building traditional power plants.  There is a huge array in Rockford, and you will start to see more and more of these as significant parts of FEJA lay out this type of investment.

While these arrays are typically less expensive per kWh of electricity generated, they have to be placed where energy is not typically used, which is less than ideal. One of the best parts of rooftop solar PV is that it generates electricity where it is consumed, so you don’t have large amounts of energy lost in transmission.

Commercial/Business Installations – In my opinion, business investment in solar PV is the single most important part of a success story in Illinois.  If there is a business case for solar, it means the market is mature enough that it is here to stay and won’t just be a fad. We are seeing ROI (return on investment) for businesses between 2.5 and 7 years this year, likely indicating a market that is going to really succeed.

Understanding Solar Size and Components

Solar PV is fairly simple – it has cells that generate DC electricity that need to find somewhere to be used. In Illinois, we have net metering, so there is no need for expensive batteries installed in a business or home with solar.

This means that if your solar array produces more energy than you need, your meter will flow backwards and create a “credit” for when you next use energy (likely at night when the sun isn’t shining.  You can therefore put in larger solar arrays than just what you use during the day, allowing you to store some for the night usage. This means your need to have a connection point between your solar array and the grid and it needs to be approved by the utility for safety (you must be able to stop your solar power from running into your building and the grid in an emergency).

Solar PV has some exciting new technologies, like roof shingles and flexible cells. However, it is safe to assume that those won’t be viable for years, so traditional solar is what we will have for the next 5-10 years.

The efficiency of solar PV does get a little better each year, but there likely won’t be significant improvements to dramatically change the landscape (like cell phone batteries or TV prices dramatically falling).  We will likely see continuing improvements of 1 or 2% per year. I would love to be wrong on this, as it would dramatically change solar cost effectiveness, and investment in technology around the world could change this.

Rooftop Solar needs to be converted from DC into AC, so it can work in your home or business.  This is done through an inverter, which is an important and not inexpensive component in your solar array.  Old inverters would convert less than 90% of the energy from DC into AC, but modern inverters are much more efficient.

So that is basically it, a solar panel, an inverter, a connection point with the grid, and your building.  If you live in a rural area, you could add a large battery for storage and not need the grid. If you have an all DC building, you would not need an inverter (but good luck watching Netflix in a DC only home).

We find for commercial that flat roofs are the best application, ideally one that has been replaced in the past few years.  Solar set ups will last 25 years, so it is better to have a roof that will last at least 10 years. The panels can be ballasted, which basically means that they rest on your roof without creating a penetration point in your new roof.  Ballasted means that there is weight to keep it from lifting off your roof with wind, as all solar works best when pointing toward the sun (which is in the south direction).

Residential roofs that face South are ideal, as that maximizes that amount of sunlight that hits your building each day.  When facing the correct way, the same panel generates more light and therefore, creates a better ROI.

Costs for Solar PV

Solar installations are usually considered in terms of cost per watt of generation.  This can range, and a smaller array is typically more expensive than a larger one because of efficiencies of scale.

Whats a Watt?

A Watt is a unit of electricity that is produced in any given time.  For example, an incandescent light bulb uses 60 watts at any given time when turned on.

Watthour, kWh

Since energy is used over time, that is used in kilowatt hours, or kWh.  That same 60 watt light bulb over 1 hour is 60 watt hours. Over 100 hours, that would be 60*100 or 6,000 watt hours.  Since numbers get large fast, we typically consider electricity in kWh, which divides watt hours by 1,000. That 6,000 watt hours is 6 kWh.

We think of solar panel systems in terms of W or kW or even Megawatt, but we think of their output over time as kWh.  Fortunate for us, there are great software tools that can easily model a rooftop and the amount of energy that a solar array could produce at a given time period.

Incentives for Installing Solar PV in Illinois

Man-on-roof-top-checking-on-solar-panel-installationNow that your mouth is watering and your wallet is bursting at the seams to buy solar, let’s look through the costs of solar and the incentives that play out in Illinois.

Federal Tax Credit –  There is currently a federal tax credit in place until the end of 2019 that covers 30% of the overall cost of an installation for solar.  Now, this assumes that you are profitable and pay taxes, but it can be carried backwards one year, and forward up to 10 years to offset taxes.  Since this is a credit, this can be significant as it is dollar for dollar off your taxes ($10,000 credit would mean you won’t be paying $10,000 in taxes).  In 2020, this credit will decrease to 26% of the overall cost, followed be 22% in 2021, and 10% in 2022. As of now, this is the largest impact on the decision to put solar PV on your roof or business.

Utility Smart Inverter Rebates – Comed and Ameren both offer a smart inverter incentive of $250 per kW of installed PV.  This is smart (pun intended) as it helps them integrate solar PV to the grid safely and with oversight. This incentive seems to kick another 10% of the overall project cost, covering a bit more of the larger projects (as scale leads to efficiency in pricing).

Solar Renewable Energy Credit – One of the most exciting (and confusing) parts of the incentives are the Renewable Energy Credits.  Utilities, like Comed, are required to purchase a certain amount of solar and wind energy by law specific to each state.

The mechanism that they do this, often instead of building their own, is to buy “credits” for these systems that are built by other folks.  This counter intuitive mechanism provides incentives for residential, commercial and public buildings to get additional funding to put in their solar array, and give “credit” to the utility to buy these RECs.  The private sector (think Google or Apple) will also buy these RECs, although they pay much less than the utility.

These RECs can be paid out right away, or slowly over a few years.  These certificates can only be used by one amount of energy, so you can only have one buyer of your RECs at a time.  Typically, these are paid out for over 1000 kWh, and the RECs can cover between 20-40% of the project cost. These REC prices vary greatly ($43 to $158 per REC) and are managed by the utility. The smaller the array, the higher the RECs, and non-profits and public entities that can’t take advantage of the tax credit also receive higher RECs.

Depreciation – I own and run a business, and still struggle to understand depreciation.  I’ll do my best to explain, but welcome clarification from any business or tax experts out there.  The federal government allows you to write off large capital improvements off of your taxable income by depreciating it slowly over time. Solar can be depreciated over 5 years through the MACRS change, and include 85% of the cost of the solar PV.  That can add some significant tax benefit, as high as 25% of the value of the installation.

Add that up – 30% federal tax credit + 10% smart inverter + 40% RECs + 25% depreciation savings = 105% of the cost.  Perhaps that math shows why solar will be so viable in Illinois in 2019, but of course, it depends on a profitable business with new flat roof and willingness to invest capital in the short run (as the RECs, tax credits, and other mechanisms all involve cash flow to the installers in order to regain the incentives.  While you can get back 105% of the outlay for solar (not even counting the savings on your electric usage), it could take up to 5 years to recoup the entire cost.

Solar Financed in Illinois 

Don’t have the cash to outlay on solar, let’s consider an alternative option through financing.

PPA or Power Purchasing Agreement – As there are so many incentives at play here, and there is currently so much capital in the world looking for safe investments, Power Purchasing Agreements are popular.  In this scenario, another company or investment group owns your solar array and you purchase the electricity directly from them. There is a markup here, so often you are getting solar at a great rate – but committed to paying this other entity for years.

Leasing or Traditional Financing – If you own the building and have good credit, there are a ton of financial institutions that understand solar and can help you finance the installation.  This is especially great if the tax credits and RECs do not come for a few months or years, allowing you to wrap the entire cost into the financing and get short term windfalls when those incentives come to you.

Community Solar – As we described before, you can “buy” into a solar array and get credits off your bill for years from solar.  While not unlike a PPA, this would entail the solar array being somewhere else.

As you can see, Solar PV is here in Illinois and if we can help you sort through the best option for you, please drop us a line!  We look forward to a bright future in Illinois.

S2E3 Loyola Center for Social Enterprise Seth Green Podcast

Seth Green from Loyola’s Center for Social Enterprise talks about sustainability and how these practices shape successful businesses in our modern economy.

Interior Lighting

Replacement or Retrofit of incandescent and fluorescent lighting to energy efficient LEDs improve lighting performance, save energy and provide a more comfortable environment.

Daylight and Occupancy Sensors

Installing LED lights are a must, both to save energy on the business and labor side. However, one new trick that really takes profitability to the next level are sensors that control both for daylight and occupancy.

Exterior Lighting

Replacement or Retrofit of high-intensity discharge bulb and ballasts to Energy Efficient LED solutions to reduce energy use but also provide incredible benefits such as safety and more.

Solar

The future of Solar is here and now is the time to act! Solar is the cleanest and the most abundant of energy sources available, and now going to be supported by incentives and rebates. There are so many benefits to going solar from the minimal impact on the environment to easy maintenance and more.

HVAC

Many of our customers upgrade their HVAC rooftop units to Tier 2 energy efficient units. While the energy savings are significant, the main motivation is removing the expense and concern around older rooftop units. Brand new units come with the state of the art equipment, economizers, and are warranted. The best part for business owners – utility rebates can cover a portion of the cost, as much as 70% in Chicago land for small business classified customers.

Advanced Refrigeration Controls

Nothing keeps a restaurant owner up more at night than a failed Walk-in Cooler or Freezer, since so much of their ability to serve their customers are perishable and stored inside that unit. If you have walk-in coolers or freezers, let’s talk about how the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program just increased their incentives around EC Motors.

Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats are a great way to address a high electric bill, along with high gas bills. Not only do they out program programmable thermostats, but they also have motion sensors that detect movement to set back temperatures on days that you are not occupied.

Smart Power strips

Computers and their associated equipment have some exciting features these days – low energy usage sleep settings, as well as more energy-efficient screens. When you combine these with a smart power strip, one that cuts the power to accessory items when not in use, you can find a little more profit in your business with a pretty low-cost move.

Weather stripping

Yes, a very low-cost item like weather stripping can really impact your business’s bottom line. Reducing the energy usage in summer and winter not only makes your business more comfortable for your customers but also saves energy business costs and will lead to increased profitability.

Instant Discounts

The Instant Discounts program is designed to help commercial customers acquire discounted energy efficient projects without jumping through any hoops. This ComEd rebate comes directly off your invoice from the distributor – that’s it!

S2E2 City Colleges of Chicago and John Brophy

A discussion around sustainability in the City Colleges in Chicago, and the initiatives that they take to be sustainable.

Small business

If you own and operate a business in Chicagoland, you likely fall into the Small Business Energy Efficiency Program, small business grants or rebates as a benefit that is available to all commercial customers. This program is one slice of the greater ComEd Energy Efficiency Program in Illinois and is designed to help businesses move forward with efficiency improvements through rebates and incentives.

First – why would ComEd share rebates with businesses to help them use less energy? Isn’t that against their business model since they get paid for the electricity we use? While that is true that ComEd benefits from the greater amount of electricity that we use financially, they are also required by theFuture Energy Jobs Act law to spend a significant amount of money annually on energy efficiency. Since 2007, Illinois has been collecting a tax on each residential, commercial, and public sector’s electric bill and spending that on energy efficiency.

ComEd, like most utilities, differentiates commercial customers by the amount of electricity drawn at any one instant. Unlike a kWh (kilowatt-hour), they do this by kW (kilowatt). I imagine this helps them stabilize the grid by understanding how many businesses are drawing large amounts of power at any instant, although this classification may have less importance today with the advent of the smart meter.

For commercial customers that are classified as Small Business (0-100 kW), they are eligible for the Small Business Energy Savings Program. Since this classification is about how much energy is drawn, and not how much revenue is earned – this can lead to very large businesses qualifying for this program (so the name can be misleading). Here is a list of likely candidates that will qualify for the 0-100 kW classification, but the only way to really know is to check on your utility bill.

This program has been designed to really encourage businesses to move forward with energy efficiency, with very generous incentives. I like to think of it as designed for organizations that do not have a person dedicated to evaluating investments to see if they make sense to move forward.

Target and Walmart likely has a whole team dedicated to evaluating LED lighting for their parking lots, stores, and thinking about how that investment can benefit the company. A small business does not – it usually has an owner that is stretched thin and makes most decisions. With large incentives that cover huge portions of the cost, it can make moving forward with energy efficiency a “no-brainer”.

The core offering of this program is a $.70 per watt reduced incentive on LED conversions.For example, a 4 lamp 4 ft T12 troffer is considered to have 164 watts in energy usage. If you install a 36 watt LED fixtures in its place, your incentive would be 164 – 36 = 128 * $.70 per watt reduced = $89.6 of incentive.Outdoor lighting rebates are actually stronger, at $.80 per watt reduced on LED conversions. In addition, they offer incentives on occupancy sensors, photocells, and advanced lighting controls.

However, once you get past lighting, the program actually gets more interesting.

Refrigeration is a common energy hog for restaurants. The program incentivizes EC motor upgrades, as well as evaporative fan speed controls – which only make that fan run when the evaporative cooler is calling for cooling. This can combine to improve the efficiency on a shaded pole motor by 90%.

HVAC incentives are also very popular in this program, and there are incentives of up to $600 per ton to encourage folks to take their current rooftop HVAC unit and upgrade to a CEE tier 2 energy efficiency RTU. Since our most commonly replaced units are 10 tons, that is $6,000 on incentive.

A few products can be provided to the customer at no cost, and those are the following:

If you have not participated in this program before, it might be because it sounds too good to be true. Well, as an active trade ally for the past 5 years – I can assure you that it is true. In fact, I can assure you that your neighboring businesses have participated and even your competitors. Yes – your competitors might be using less electricity and having a competitive advantage over you!

One caveat – this program is run through a closed network of trade allies. You must work with one of these highly trained partners in order to receive these very generous incentives.

How do you find one of those partners? You already have – just give us a call at (773) 413-9587, or click the link below.

Med to large businesses

Commercial energy efficiency improvements are a core pillar of the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program in Illinois.  All businesses and public sector programs are available to participate in the Standard Program for energy efficiency program.  

While businesses that are rated 0-100 kW are eligible for their own programs for small business and small facilities public sector, they are also able to participate in the standard program for business energy efficiency if they prefer.  

The Standard program is very versatile and does not require the usage of an ICC Certified Trade Ally to install the product. However, it might be helpful to purchase your products through an Instant Discount distributor such as Verde Energy Efficiency Experts to make sure the products you are installing are Design Light Consortium approved, as are often required for the incentives.   

This program’s incentives, while lower than those targeting smaller facilities, are targeted toward larger facilities that often have a dedicated person to maintain supervision and staff on hand to replace lighting fixtures and advanced controls.  

2018 Highlights of the Program include:

Lighting

  • $.40 per watt reduced incentives for LED lighting, including Type C Tube and Driver installation
  • $ .18 per watt controlled daylighting plus occupancy controlled sensors
  • Made in Illinois bonus of 10% on any fixture that is at least 50% manufactured and/or assembled in Illinois
  • Opportunities for higher incentives for advanced lighting controls scenarios

Refrigeration

  • $4 incentive per square foot walk-in cooler and freezer strip curtains
  • $60 incentive per EC Motor installed in walk-in cooler and freezers
  • $90 incentive per EC Motor installed with evaporative fan speed controls for walk-in cooler and freezers
  • $100 incentive per beverage machine controls

HVAC

  • $50 per ton of new rooftop HVAC unit installed
  • $50 per ton controlled of economizer installed
  • $10 per bathroom exhaust fan sensor installed
  • $40-$75 per HP controlled Variable Speed Fan

Compressed Air

  • $20 incentive per high-efficiency air nozzle
  • $100 incentive per no loss condensate drain
  • $75 per HP – Integrated VSD on a new air compressor

Want to know your specific eligibility and where you can save energy?  Hit us up and schedule a free energy efficiency walkthrough, which will share a customized report with all of your eligible ComEd rebates.

Public Sector

Commercial energy efficiency improvements are a core pillar of the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program in Illinois.  All businesses and public sector programs are available to participate in the Standard Program for energy efficiency program.  

While businesses that are rated 0-100 kW are eligible for their own programs for small business and small facilities public sector, they are also able to participate in the standard program for business energy efficiency if they prefer.  

The Standard program is very versatile and does not require the usage of an ICC Certified Trade Ally to install the product. However, it might be helpful to purchase your products through an Instant Discount distributor such as Verde Energy Efficiency Experts to make sure the products you are installing are Design Light Consortium approved, as are often required for the incentives.   

This program’s incentives, while lower than those targeting smaller facilities, are targeted toward larger facilities that often have a dedicated person to maintain supervision and staff on hand to replace lighting fixtures and advanced controls.  

2018 Highlights of the Program include:

Lighting

  • $.40 per watt reduced incentives for LED lighting, including Type C Tube and Driver installation
  • $ .18 per watt controlled daylighting plus occupancy controlled sensors
  • Made in Illinois bonus of 10% on any fixture that is at least 50% manufactured and/or assembled in Illinois
  • Opportunities for higher incentives for advanced lighting controls scenarios

Refrigeration

  • $4 incentive per square foot walk-in cooler and freezer strip curtains
  • $60 incentive per EC Motor installed in walk-in cooler and freezers
  • $90 incentive per EC Motor installed with evaporative fan speed controls for walk-in cooler and freezers
  • $100 incentive per beverage machine controls

HVAC

  • $50 per ton of new rooftop HVAC unit installed
  • $50 per ton controlled of economizer installed
  • $10 per bathroom exhaust fan sensor installed
  • $40-$75 per HP controlled Variable Speed Fan

Compressed Air

  • $20 incentive per high-efficiency air nozzle
  • $100 incentive per no loss condensate drain
  • $75 per HP – Integrated VSD on a new air compressor

Want to know your specific eligibility and where you can save energy?  Hit us up and schedule a free energy efficiency walkthrough, which will share a customized report with all of your eligible ComEd rebates.

Multi Family

In 2017, Franklin Energy administers the pilot “Multi-family Energy Savings Program” to focus on reducing energy in the Multi-family building space in Chicagoland.  This program is one of the rare partnerships between electric (ComEd) and gas companies (People’s Gas and North Shore Gas) in Chicagoland, and is an important pillar of the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program.  Due to the overwhelming success of the multifamily energy efficiency pilot program among property managers, Trade Allies, and proven energy savings, this program is back for 2018 and expanded in scale and impact.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), comprehensive, cost-effective upgrades in multifamily buildings can improve efficiency by 15-30% , representing an annual sector-wide savings of almost $3.4 billion.

The Multi-Family Program is broken into two categories – market rate and Income Eligible.  For this comprehensive program to work, the program must have access to within the units for the entire building to upgrade.  Need some help from one of our energy efficiency analysts to help engage your building – hit us up!

Market Rate Multi-Family Program

Market Rate applies to any building that is non specifically subsidizing low-income residents.  This would include all condominium buildings, as well as apartments that are market rate for their tenants.  Often, the property manager or a condo board member is the right person to contact Verde about this program.

Income Eligible

Income eligible, or low-income, are multi-family buildings that serve tenants that are low income.  These buildings are not necessarily located in a certain geography, but instead have a focus on providing subsidized rent or services specifically for low income populations in Chicagoland.  Property owners or managers are the best contacts for this, and we partner with Elevate Energy to deliver this ComEd rebate. 

Program Specifics

This program combines energy efficiency improvements in the common areas of multi-family buildings with the opportunities available in the apartments or condominiums in the building and may include:>

In-Unit Offerings

  • ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs
  • Advanced power strip
  • Programmable thermostats
  • WaterSense® certified shower heads
  • Faucet aerators for bathrooms and kitchens
  • Hot water pipe insulation

Common Area Offerings

  • ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs
  • TLED lighting
  • Exterior and garage LEDs
  • Programmable thermostats
  • LED exit signs
  • Occupancy sensors

Houses of worship/Non profits

Don’t just take our words for it.
See how we’re making Chicagoland more energy efficient.

Composting at Work and other ways to engage employees in sustainability

There are so many ways to get started in making your workplace more sustainable, but it takes buy in from the ownership.  Whether a huge corporation or a small business, your efforts at making your office or workplace better can be thwarted by management if they are not on board.

Here are 5 key ways to bring a little bit of your environmental passion into work, that won’t create too much disagreement and/or cost your company too much money.  You won’t need to hire an expensive energy consultant or engage waste consulting firms, but instead can start with these 5 steps. 

Composting 

green workplaceWhile composting gets a bad wrap at times (smelly, hard to do, flies), we have used a great service at our office that composts without the hassle from Urban Canopy.  They have a bucket that gets picked up every two weeks, and it works great for coffee, tea, and a ton of food waste.  Since they are an industrial composter, they can take more things like diary and meat products – so it opens up more opportunities.  We have not had any smell or fruit flies issues at work, which is a huge plus.

Buying Local

Its not as sexy as a solar panel or LED fixture with daylight controls, but it is important.  Buying local can happen several ways, and they can often save a business money at the same time.  As long as you don’t let it impact your main role at a company, few operations would complain if you brought them an alternative vendor that is local and would cost less – it just sometimes takes a bit of digging.

One of our favorite ways to buy local is to pick up lunch or meals at a local restaurant, instead of just getting delivery from the normal corporate place.  We have a local sandwich shop near us called Spoken that is a favorite of the office, we can walk or bike to for picking up food, and does a great job of keeping food waste to a minimum.  Nothing makes our office upset like mountains of styrofoam, especially in city like Chicago that is known for lackluster recycling.  I am never upset to show up to an event that is catered by the Corner Bakery, but I especially notice places that take time and order from local vendors.  

Another example of buying local was an analysis we did on purchasing our outdoor LED fixtures for our clients through China or from a local vendor, Jarvis Lighting. While purchasing from China is less expensive, we were constantly running into supply chain issues.  Occasionally, we had to air ship fixtures from overseas, costing both a fortune on our bottom line and our environmental impact (shiping via air has 50 times the carbon impact as shipping cargo via boat.  Our local vendor not only supplies a majority of our exterior lighting solutions, but they also have a lean manufacturing model and can turn around products for us in several days.  The impact on customers satisfaction, as well as environmental benefits, far exceed saving a few dollars on the fixture cost.

Bike Sharing

Bike Sharing is a good option for employees that mostly take public transit, but occasionally might need to take a Lyft or Uber.  A bike sharing membership costs less than $80 a year in Chicago with Divvy, and you can either subsidize it all or partial for employees.  Especially for those that occasionally go downtown, Divvy can be a super inexpensive perk that makes employees pumped up (pun intended).  

Divvy will even consider your business as a spot for one of their stations, if you are interested in a membership for employees.  While that may not make a huge difference, if you are a restaurant or bar – a Divvy station nearby could increase your traffic.

Smart Thermostats

Ok, so I often go on rants and tangents about smart thermostat solutions.  There is a reason for this, and it isn’t the hot and cool new features and styles.  

Smart thermostats give control over an empty business.  Business owners, especially in the early years, are more often to be the only one at the office late at night or early in the morning.  I can’t tell you then number of times I have been alone on a Saturday and realized that we left the heat at 72 all weekend long. 

With a Nest or Ecobee, you can login from your phone or desktop browser and lower the heat.  Better yet, they will use their smart powers to notice when the space is empty and automatically set back the heat or cooling.

Business owners also love control, or at least solutions to problems.  Have a customer coming by on a Saturday in the summer in an unusual time – you can make sure to pre-cool the space an hour before to make sure it is comfortable when they arrive.    In the past, you had to just leave the hold function on a programmable thermostat, and it may just override and set back.  Smart thermostats give you a ton more options for savings on both heating and cooling, and often make a space more comfortable for employees.

Water Purification

This is one of the least popular moves that I have made, but I strongly believe in responsibly sourcing water for an office.  

water purificationWe used to use a water service, with a cooler that provided cold and semi hot water.  The tea was never good, and the cool water was refreshing.  However, the water bottles were brought by truck weekly, and the environmental impact on that is not insignificant.  The unit also always draws water.

About 18 months ago, we put in a water purification system from Berkeley.  It costs around $250, which took almost a year to payback in terms of our monthly water costs.  However, it will last literally forever and will continue to saving us money on both the water service and electricity for years to come. 

The best part for me – we got a $10 tea kettle and now have good hot tea, not that tepid tea water out of those water coolers. 

After all, those of us in Chicago have the greatest resource on the planet in vast quantities just miles from us – we don’t need trucks to drive it to us.  We can save that for our fancy french wine (or $3 chuck in my house).

S2 Intro to Season 2

Introduction to a new season, why we have pivoted in our interview topics, and what to expect.

VINCE DOYLE

After I bought my coffee shop, I had old lighting, outdated thermostats, and old equipment. I knew that I needed to do research on new products to improve the lighting and their savings, source products, and hire a contractor to do the work. Verde Solutions approached me and did all of that work, in addition to providing rebates from the utility that I was not aware of. After working with Verde, the space was brighter and our energy costs were significantly lower.

SARGON MANDO

Verde Sustainable Solutions worked really well with each of our locations, our energy savings was what they predicted, and we were cash flow positive on our project within eight months. I recommend Verde to any business or franchise owner, as they really understand our business and no one can match their pricing or expertise on new products This is a great franchise energy savings solution for any new or experience franchise owner.

Lorraine Herr

Josh Saunders

GRAPHICS VERIO

The whole experience with the Verde team was a positive one. Everyone we were involved with was friendly and very professional. The crew that did the work on the lighting was also friendly, professional and very neat as to how they did their work and in cleaning up after the project each day.

Mike Roche

Buddy Greene

Jamie Johnson

While serving as a firefighter on the north shore of Chicago, Jamie saw how much energy was wasted by leaving lights on overnight in the firehouse.  He ran calculations and aspired to find a way to both save energy and reduce costs. Shortly thereafter, Verde was born.

Saving clients money through energy efficiency and a keen understanding of energy rebate programs has always been Jamie’s passion – and it continues to be so today.

Tyler Morris

Tyler became passionate about sustainability when he went to the wrong summer camp.

Though he went on to earn a degree in economics from the University of Chicago, his passion for sustainability never faltered. He believes that while no one should be forced to make compromises in order to protect the environment, with an open mind, it’s easy to see how it is our best interests to do so.

Beth Holaday

Beth’s passion for the environment and sustainability started as a child growing up exploring the forest preserves of the Chicago region. Beth is a graduate of DePaul University in Environmental Science and Geography.

Lately, her hobbies include looking at bugs under her microscope, talking about invasive earthworms and playing outside with her cat, Dawkins.

Dawkins’ hobbies include eating bugs and complaining.

Sydney Fitch

Always being a kid full of energy (which holds true to this day!) Sydney grew up exploring the woods around her house, developing at a young age a true appreciation for nature and all it’s wonders. Her love for the outdoors continued as she took to the slopes in the winters, spent summers swimming in the Wisconsin lakes, and spent the last two years working for the National Park Service.

Sydney is excited to be working for Verde, helping to protect the environment and places she loves most.

Justin C Johnson

Justin is the 6th of 7 children in his family and it’s nice being a pseudo-middle child. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. Justin loves to play basketball and lacrosse to unwind. During his time at Mizzou, he actually played on the lacrosse team for 3 years and had an amazing experience with that.

Justin’s passion for the environment stems from his love for the outdoors. Weather permitting, you can always find him riding his bike or taking walks in parks around the city. Justin wants to do everything in his power to preserve the beautiful ecosystem for future generations to enjoy this planet like he has.

Brenna George

Brenna grew up in Chicago and loves living in a high-density area with exposure to a vast array of cultures. She also spent breaks at her family’s cabin in Utah hiking and skiing, giving her a great appreciation for the great outdoors.

After a 45-day backpacking trip in the Arctic Circle, Brenna knew she wanted her career to positively impact the environment. She went on to study Business and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Danielle Gaede

After being interested in atmospheric sciences from a young age, Danielle discovered her passion for sustainability while being a member of her high school’s Go Green club. She went on to receive her BA in Environmental Studies and her MS in Sustainable Management from DePaul University.

She now handles the day-to-day operations of the company, with a focus on scheduling and acting as a liaison to the various programs Verde works with. She looks forward to continuing to grow with the company and making sure the operations side hums as efficiently as possible.

Adrian Martinez

Adrian graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies: concentration Sustainability. Originally he was majoring in Architecture, but after taking an Environmental Biology class his career goals shifted. Verde is helping small business take control of their energy consumption and he is glad I get to be a part of that.

His hobbies include riding his mountain bike on the trails and going to concerts with the love of his life, Stacey.

Sarah Tag

Sarah graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelors in Sustainability Studies and a minor in Biology.  It was there that she discovered her passion for conservation of the Earth’s resources, and her love of operations.

In the office Sarah focuses on efficient operations, coordinating energy rebates and project installations.
When she’s not in the office, Sarah enjoys biking with her husband and 2 children, and volunteering at school events.

Katie Parchert

Katie handles accounts payable, payroll, and human resources. She received her BS in Elementary Education from Millikin University and her MA in Curriculum and Instruction from St. Xavier University.

She enjoys keeping the company’s vendors and employees happy and well paid. When she’s not working you can find her spending time with her family and planning her next beach vacation.

Alanna Kerstein

Alanna graduated from Loyola University Chicago where she doubled majored in Environmental Studies and Spanish. Born on Earth Day, she’s always been passionate about sustainability.

In her spare time, she enjoys getting outside to run, rollerblade, kayak, or lay in a hammock. She loves to travel, explore new places, and eat all the vegetarian dishes this world has to offer.

JEN PANATTONI

Jen graduated from DePaul University with a focus on brand and consumer behavior. She is in love with Chicago and it’s people and wants to help build a more sustainable city one link click and LIKE at a time.

When she isn’t working with the Verde team, she’s at home with her three kids, dog, and husband Dan doing life stuff which might entail: family hikes, running with friends, or eating anything delicious.

Kevin Artz

Kevin was born in New Jersey, moved to Chicago before high school (Loyola Academy), then went to college at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe, where he studied Environmental Science and Ecology.

He has a Masters in Education (middle school science and math) from National Louis Halfway through he realized he wasn’t cut out to teach, but he made the best of it by doing six months of student teaching in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Kevin loves photography, reading, music, history and exploring the city. His dream is to retire to the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) to live in a tree house, photographing monkeys and birds.

Elton

Elton was born in northern Siberia but made his way to Chicago for the excellent hot dogs.

He studied Anthropology at the University of Verde, and loves a good ear scratching

Ian Hughes

Ian’s passion for sustainability and respect for the environment started way back when he was in Boy Scouts, immersed in all that nature had to offer from the top of Mount Baldy at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, to the banks of the French River in Ontario. From those experiences he was inspired to study environmental science at college down in good ol’ Appalachian Ohio, then landed his first job at Tetra Tech, and eventually changed things up by diving into sustainability in beer at Goose Island Beer Company. Ian joined Verde from working part-time at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and he is currently serving as the Sustainability Ambassador for the Brewers Association.

Tim Smith

Tim has embraced sustainability as long as he can remember, together with minimalist design, simple, elegant solutions and the importance of balance. He can be found wandering around exploring in the city or on hiking trails in nature. He has a big family with big hearts. He truly appreciates being a part of a value-driven organization that invests in great people who develop solutions that improve the environment each day, client by client.

MCDONALD’S

Exterior lighting was converted to 75 w LED, cooler and freezer T5 was converted to LED, interior kitchen and storage area was converted to 36 watt LED fixtures with advanced lighting controls, the play area was converted to LED fixtures, and 4 rooftop area HVAC units were converted to top of the line energy efficient units with economizers. In addition to the energy savings, this customer got brand new HVAC units with warranties on their entire rooftop HVAC system. In addition, their well tuned economizers will often bring in fresh air to cool their kitchen, instead of running their compressors and save significant energy.

LOS COMALES

This restaurant chain had the double combination of long hours and inefficient lighting. While it meant they had been spending a lot on electricity over the years, it also meant that they had significant opportunity to make energy use reductions and reduce their operating costs. At the time, we connected them with incentive programs from both CleaResult and ComEd, allowing us to make upgrades across many of their electrical systems. We addressed efficiency by installing LED lighting indoor and outdoor to cut electricity usage by 80%, smart thermostats to address heating/cooling during unoccupied times, and high efficiency fan motors and a control systems to prevent unnecessary operation. We think the results speak for themselves.

VERIO GRAPHICS

On December 27th 2017, Verde took on Verio Graphics’ warehouse. The multifaceted project had to meet the needs of Verio’s detail oriented service of wrapping vehicles.

Verio Graphics was in desperate need for

  • Lighting brighter than their old setup 
  • A bright, white color 
  • Lighting evenly spaced throughout their warehouse
  • No shadows
  • Decreased energy consumption
  • All of this needed to fit within their budget

The installers arrived at Verio ready to rock. Crew chief, Marcin quickly measured the warehouse and created a plan to evenly distribute the fixtures throughout the space, checking off a few of Verio’s “must needs.” Verde removed 15 old, inefficient fixtures, and installed 11 new Fluxsteam (equipped with automatic dimming features). The new 5000k Fluxsteam fixtures illuminated the warehouse, creating a brighter space than what was currently there, and thanks to the Verde install team the fixtures were positioned evenly throughout the warehouse, casting no shadows. The Fluxsteam fixtures were then programed to automatically dim when there is no activity occurring under neath them – bring on the energy savings!