Gaining Current-cy

As someone who obsessively recycles and was disappointed when I learned—from two separate solar energy providers—that the city-owned trees beside my house are too tall to permit installation of panels on my roof, I’ve been enthused at the way alternative energy solutions are taking off.
Editorial Director Suzann D. Silverman
Editorial Director Suzann D. Silverman

As someone who obsessively recycles and was disappointed when I learned—from two separate solar energy providers—that the city-owned trees beside my house are too tall to permit installation of panels on my roof, I’ve been enthused at the way alternative energy solutions are taking off. In fact, with costs dropping and energy storage becoming more accessible, before you know it, the term “alternative” will be passé.

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A big driver is a 75 percent drop in battery costs, as Jeffrey Steele writes about in this month’s cover story, “Rising Powers.” That makes it more viable for a property to store site-generated power for later use—not only if the property generates more than it can immediately consume but also for use when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, as Jason Smith—senior designer with Stevens & Wilkinson Architecture, Engineering and Interior Design—points out in the article.

Alternative on-site options like co-generation and fuel cells, which require far less space than solar panels, are also providing greater viability, eliminating the need for a big roof or parking area (think major central business districts). Meanwhile, property owners and managers are learning to address power usage more effectively, reducing costs still further and even allowing them to return power to the grid for a financial gain.  

And then there is the growing potential for obtaining alternative energy from off-site sources, as costs drop and availability increases. According to recent reports from the U.S. Department of Energy, for instance, wind farm capacity grew to more than 7 gigawatts last year, providing 6.3 percent of U.S. electricity supply—and a whopping 30 percent in the Plains states of Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota. 

A new concept, at least in North America, is a recently opened facility that stores energy through use of hydrogen. Owned and operated by Canadian gas company Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. in partnership with Hydrogenics Corp., the 2.5-megawatt Markham, Ontario-based facility is still operating on a small scale, but is already producing more power than the gas company can use, and hopes are to expand the number of markets it benefits as soon as next year.

As options increase, challenges are also mounting—including greater expectations on the part of municipalities and even the Energy Star program itself, which raised its standards as of late August. Property owners and managers that stay savvy, though, can benefit in multiple ways. “CRE leaders are seeing that massive change is coming in our energy grid, and there will be new ways to make money for large consumers of power,” Yardi Energy vice president Matt Eggers told Steele.

Property owners and managers, consider yourselves empowered.

Read the October 2018 CPE Digest.