Accounting for the Value of Energy Resiliency in Buildings

September, 19, 2017
Thomas G. Bourgeois
Deputy Director
ClimateEnergy EfficiencyFuels & Transportation

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are fresh in our minds. We read of the homes, businesses, healthcare facilities the customers numbering in the millions who were without power. Although unpleasant for most, not having power, heating and cooling can be fatal for some.

 

In Hollywood Hills, Florida, New York Times reported deaths of 8 residents at The Rehabilitation Center, where air conditioning systems failed due to a power outage. This stands as a stark reminder of the importance of maintaining continuous energy services for certain vulnerable populations and for high priority services. When the power is out at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted and senior living, large multifamily and public housing complexes, there are few good options. One approach that has succeeded time and again in the past is an onsite, combined heat and power (CHP) system that has been constructed to run during grid outages.

Properly designed, configured, and operated combined heat and power (CHP) systems can provide power, heating and cooling to buildings during energy outages of extended duration, as was delivered during Super Storm Sandy. Pace Energy and Climate Center discusses in Powering Through Storms, natural gas (generally not affected by storms) powered CHP is capable of delivering energy services so that the site remains comfortable, habitable, and functional.

At businesses, campuses, healthcare centers, and multifamily complexes where energy demands are suited, well-designed CHP systems can be smart, cost saving investments. They offer a suite of benefits, well beyond cost savings, that are often overlooked. An important benefit of a CHP system is the resiliency the building and its occupants can depend on. Post Katrina,  Sandy, and now Post Harvey and Irma It’s time that decision makers account for the reliability that a CHP system offers them when making investments in buildings.

The resiliency value of CHP has been well documented in  “Combined Heat and Power: Enabling Resilient Energy Infrastructure for Critical Facilities” prepared for Oak Ridge National Labs 14 case studies from around the country describe the performance of CHP systems during emergency events. When disasters, like hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Sandy, Katrina, and others, strike we are all reminded of the enormous economic, personal, and social value of operating hardy buildings. The ability to withstand and recover from a storm is particularly important for critical infrastructure facilities, such as hospitals and wastewater treatment plants, or in residential complexes where vulnerable populations--the elderly, the infirm, and the very young—are best served by a “safe in place” strategy to the extent possible.

It would behoove anyone charged with making investments to value the resiliency of buildings, especially critical infrastructure. The investment in combined heat and power generates economic returns and environmental benefits over the long run. By also valuing building resiliency, CHP becomes an ever more attractive, yet far too often overlooked investment for a broad class of buildings.