This is my Monitor column, which ran Tuesday’s paper. It’s too late to attend Science Cafe, but maybe you’ll learn something!
Last month Philips Exeter Academy unveiled a big, new building for sports activities, and also announced that much, but not all, of the electricity for the fieldhouse’s lights and heating and cooling systems would be provided by solar panels.
Praise rolled in for their green-minded attitude, via an AP story among other things.
Not long after, Lindt Chocolates and Eversource NH announced a new efficiency program for the company’s huge Stratham plant that would reduce the amount of energy used by existing lights, heating, cooling and machinery.
Here’s the kicker: The Philips Exeter array is estimated to produce 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year but the Lindt program will save an estimated 3,500,000 kilowatt hours annually. (An average New Hampshire house uses 8,000 to 10,000 Kwh a year.)
In terms of “saving the Earth,” the efficiency program will do six times as much good as the solar panels, especially when you consider that the solar farm involved new electricity use while Lindt was reducing existing electricity use. Why was it overlooked?
Because energy efficiency is boring, that’s why.
As a company head once put it to me while I was covering the rollout of a solar array: “You won’t come and take pictures of insulation.”
Well, this topic is not going to be boring Tuesday night, when Science Cafe New Hampshire answers all our questions about how and whether and if it’s worth it to make buildings more efficient, from houses to offices to factories.
“I think efficiency is becoming more of an interest to people,” said Margaret Dillon, and independent building and energy consultant who will be one of three panelists at Science Cafe to answer all our questions.
As always, the event is free and open to all; starts at 6 p.m. in The Draft Sports Bar, 67 S. Main St., Concord.
Dillon, who’s been involved in construction and development for much of her adult life, said that the most obvious benefit of such programs, saving money on future bills, is important but not always vital, especially as concern about climate change increases.
“A lot of my clients, saving money is not always the top priority. They’re also interested in reducing carbon footprint, and for a long time it was energy security, blackouts, volatility of oil supplies – many things,” she said.
Ignoring building efficiency is particularly bad if we really wants to reduce our emissions. Buildings last a long time, so wasteful structures that exist now will dog us for decades. Changing the way we create buildings is hard, since you have to keep in mind how buildings are used, how they fit into their surroundings, and regulations for everything from fire safety to whether adding balconies will ruin local funky-ness.
“It’s a very slow industry to change,” said Dillon.
Still, she says, it is changing. She pointed to air-sourced heat pumps, which were a disaster when rolled out in New England in the 1980s but which have improved as an efficient way to heat buildings.
More importantly, she added, are attitudes. “I don’t think the technology has changed as much as we’re doing things smarter.”
In particular, she says that people are realizing that improving building efficiency can go hand-in-hand with making itmore comfortable.
“Comfort plays a huge role. If you’re cold, putting 200 gallons of oil in your tank every month is miserable – putting 180 gallons in your tank and being warm, suddenly there’s a reason for writing that check and you’re happy,” she said.