Penn State receives funds for student-centered initiative on energy efficiency

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Penn State will use funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to launch a collaboration with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), and Private Energy Partners (PEP) to innovate a data-driven, integrated, student-centered, and market-driven approach to help small food stores and restaurants lower energy bills. The Department of Environmental Protection funding for the project is provided by the U. S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program.

The Penn State-led partnership will lower costs of retrofit projects by developing a new approach to energy efficiency retrofits. This will enable more small businesses to lessen the upfront costs often holding them back from long-term profitability. Greater Philadelphia is the initial test region; a successful deployment has the potential to be implemented on a national level.

This project will provide important data to assist researchers to identify the conditions that generate the energy efficiency projects with the highest probability of success.

David Riley, associate professor of architectural engineering, said in addition to aiding small businesses, solving this challenge will provide an experience-based learning opportunity, something that is invaluable to students.

In order to help bridge the gap between education and practice, Penn State has created an Energy Outreach and Assessment Center (EOAC) at the Navy Yard. Penn State and other university students will analyze whether or not projects qualify for the initiative based on potential lifetime savings. Experts in energy efficiency retrofits are currently training students to identify and assess viable buildings for financed energy efficiency projects, as well as supervising energy analysis.

As a partner in the initiative, PEP offers the building-level strategies for energy efficiency package design and financing models that maximize energy savings for customers.

“We know there is a huge untapped opportunity in small commercial buildings. We also know how to assess, finance and implement small commercial projects,” David Osher, CEO of PEP, said. “This collaboration is an exciting opportunity to unlock that opportunity while enjoying the synergies that come with university, public, and private sector collaborations.”

Contractors from the NECA network will then retrofit the structures with the largest payoff, forming an integrated supply chain to audit, finance, design, and build energy efficiency projects.

“NECA is thrilled to be connected to this innovative initiative that educates and empowers students and provides our contractor network with work and access to new clients, project design, and business development capabilities,” Jeff Scarpello, executive director of NECA’s Pen-Del-Jersey Chapter, said.

The multi-sector partnership will connect its participants with municipal energy efficiency initiatives and be an important part of the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, a 10-year, $1 billion initiative launched in February 2016 by PEA and City Council President Darrell Clarke to invest in energy efficiency and clean energy for small commercial buildings, low-income homes, and city buildings and schools. The campaign is expected to create 10,000 jobs, reduce utility bills and carbon footprint, and stabilize neighborhoods across Philadelphia. If focuses on projects in buildings typically underserved by the energy efficiency industry.

“We view small businesses as critical neighborhood infrastructure across the city, so reducing their energy bills — typically a high monthly expense for most small food stores and restaurants in Philadelphia — is a big step toward ensuring that all communities have access to the goods and services they need to thrive. We are thrilled to work within this partnership to help accomplish our goals in small commercial buildings,” said Emily Schapira, executive director of the PEA.

“We have worked to build a coalition capable of delivering energy savings to our city’s aging buildings, and this partnership is a critical piece that gives us confidence we can achieve what we set out to do in Philadelphia,” she said.

Combining Penn State’s recent successes with the successes of the other collaborators, the project shows great promise. Collaboration work kicked off in June 2016.