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DOE invests in energy efficiency for small buildings

<p>Schools, churches, strip malls, restaurants and grocery stores will benefit from the effort, which initially will focus on six projects.</p>

Most efforts to upgrade buildings have focused on big ones so far, but now the Department of Energy (DOE) is turning to small ones, too.

Schools, churches, strip malls, restaurants and grocery stores will benefit. Those make up 90 percent of our commercial buildings and consume 20 percent of U.S. energy. They are less than 50,000 square feet.

DOE is putting $10 million toward six projects with the goal of developing user-friendly tools and resources that can be easily deployed at any small building. The funds will be matched by at least $14 million from the private sector.

For example, the average small restaurant could cut energy use by up to 45 percent; a grocery store would improve margins 16 percent by reducing energy costs by just 10 percent.  

The problem is that small building owners and operators often lack the capital and resources to invest in the measures that will produce these savings. So DOE's investment prioritizes hassle-free tools and practices that require little time, technical expertise and financial investment on the part of small building owners or tenants.

The funds will support these initiatives:

• BlocPower ($1.9 million): Based in New York, the company is developing a crowdsourcing website to help market, finance and install energy efficiency retrofits for 1,500 small buildings. Its pilot focuses on Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

• EcoCity Partners ($322,978): Headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., the organization is leading a project to design and offer pre-packaged technology retrofit options by building type and size, business type and climate zone. The project also will help small building owners evaluate commercial property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing options. It will handle retrofits at 50 buildings under its pilot.

• Ecology Action of Santa Cruz Inc. ($2 million): Will outfit an existing network of contractors in California with low-cost, high-impact tools they can use to analyze retrofit and financing options appropriate to small buildings. It expects to reach about 900 small buildings in Northern California, supporting retrofits in at least 300.

• Lawrence Berkeley National Lab ($2 million): The lab is partnering with Architecture 2030 to develop a 2030 District program for small commercial office and retail buildings, including a technical toolkit that provides financing guidance, best practices and resources for building owners and operators. The initial stage will center on 25 to 40 buildings across existing 2030 Districts in Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. It will support 5 to 10 new districts by 2015.

• National Trust for Historic Preservation ($2 million): Will work with DOE's National Renewable Energy Lab to provide low-cost energy efficiency services to small businesses in California, Wisconsin, New York and Washington state. The effort will leverage the Trust’s National Main Street Center, a network of communities focused on preservation-based economic revitalization.

• Southface Energy Institute ($1.9 million): Will develop low-cost evaluation and upgrade tools that help buildings meet or exceed Architecture 2030 Challenge targets that raise efficiency 50 percent for new construction and 20 percent for retrofits. They also will create training materials in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Lab and Georgia Tech to help local contractors conduct energy audits for about 240 small buildings in the Atlanta metro area.

DOE also is supporting development of leading edge building technologies and launched a database that makes the energy performance of 60,000 commercial buildings available to the public for the first time.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.

Image of store sign by pedrosala via Shutterstock.

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