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SPRING NEWSLETTER: Energy disclosure review, Bullitt performs, Chophouse impresses

We took an early spring break from our monthly newsletter, so welcome back to this handcrafted, artisan collection of green building, energy efficiency and real estate development stories.

(Understandable) data is king
I love maps and data visualization. Oh, and building energy metrics are neat too. If you have a similar crush, please enjoy Philadelphia’s snappy building energy data hub, which was developed by Azavea.

Exploring this also led me to check in on results from the other cities with established energy disclosure programs.

New York City has issued three annual reports and boasts a robust data tool of its own.

Washington, DC lists three years (2011-2013) of private building data in Excel files, and public buildings are detailed in this report covering 2009-2012.

Seattle aggregated private building data for 2011-2012, and provides more detail on city buildings for 2012-2013.

San Francisco has published three years of public building data—20112012, and 2013.

Minneapolis published 2012 data for its public buildings.

And Chicago posted its 2014 report.

These and other cities with energy disclosure initiatives are helping the real estate market better understand and improve its energy performance. And nationwide, the Institute for Market Transformation maintains some great resources to help compare various city and state efforts. Read more

Please Finance My Energy Efficiency Project

(this article originally appeared in Conduit on November 13, 2014)

Ideas about financing energy efficiency projects are around every corner these days. Some are billed as silver bullets while others are clearly niche products.

Last week’s installment came at the Future Energy Conference, as a panel of five provided some nice variety and perspective. Three financiers and facilitators gave overviews of their respective approaches, and two users provided pragmatic perspective. A missing player was the utility, but you can read Stan Price’s piece, Making Markets Work For Efficiency, to learn more about Seattle City Light’s pay for performance effort.

My key take away from this session was that everything new is old again. Financing projects is still about careful technical and financial planning, credit-worthiness, appropriate leverage, strategic partners, and knowing your customer.

Jimmy Jia walked us through his approach that is based on fiscal discipline and resembles a revolving fund tailored for utilities and related expenses. The idea is fairly simple. Set aside funds to pay your utilities and to invest in improvements. As improvements are made, automatically re-invest the savings since your utility budgets are centralized in one account that is managed by Jia’s firm, Distributed Energy Management. DEM and its capital partner pay the utility bills directly, which further aligns the many utility-related expenses. On the savings side, DEM will also pursue utility incentives, and roll those savings into the master account. So in review, be proactive and create a holistic utility budget that centralizes all aspects and rewards. Read more

Seinergy launches new energy efficiency model

It’s been a while since we’ve posted, but we’ve been busy on a great project. It’s a startup and we’re in deep with the founder to prove a new, disruptive concept. So here’s the pitch. We partner with home retrofit contractors to collect site-specific data on residential energy efficiency projects that do not receive utility incentives or assistance. This data represents real energy savings that go undocumented by utilities. And since utilities invest in energy efficiency as a resource (alongside power supply sources), we sell these savings to utilities. We’re currently focused on Washington state utilities, who can most immediately apply these savings to our state renewables and conservation mandate, called I-937. Our data also provides enhanced customer insights, for utilities to better understand the efficiency activity happening in their territory. Utility power planning can also be improved, as more savings can be factored into supply and demand analyses.

We call it Seinergy. It rhymes with energy. And we are casting a big seine to catch lots of data. Get it? Explore www.seinergy.org for more details.

Crowdfunding hits real estate development

Soon after I typed up our vision of the FOD, I landed on an another favorite concept from the real estate world, although this one isn’t mine.

The folks at Fundrise have hit on a long-term frustration of mine—that real estate development is too often saved for those with loads of money, and that, in turn, these people (and corporations) are often not intimately connected to the places they are developing.

Enter crowdfunding. Fundrise jumped on it, and didn’t wait for the federal JOBS Act to be ruled on by the SEC. They made the connection to real estate on their own. Using a rarely used public offering qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission (technically, Regulation A), Fundrise is removing several middle men and allowing everyday Americans (well, actually Virginians and DC-ians at the moment) to tangibly help revitalize their own neighborhoods. Regulation A permits small offerings to unaccredited investors for under $5 million total. For Fundrise, this means that individuals can directly invest in development projects in their own neighborhood. In theory, this will lead to more appropriate and successful projects because the local community is supporting developments through real ownership.

Check out these more lengthy pieces at Atlantic Cities and VentureBeat.

And speaking of the JOBS Act, the SEC missed its original January deadline for a draft ruleset. Now with a new SEC chair incoming, uncertainty is most certainly the theme.