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Greensburg GreenTown is a charitable nonprofit organization working in Greensburg, Kansas to rebuild the town following the devastating tornado in May of 2007. The town has made a remarkable comeback, reinventing itself as a model for sustainable building and green living now recognized around the world. GreenTown works to make green building and living easily understood, appealing and accessible to all.

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Wednesday
Feb082012

Greensburg's Energy Savings: The Full NREL Report

NREL's Shanti Pless, Lynn Billman, Chad Lobato, & Rachel Sullivan in front of Greensburg's City Hall, one of 13 buildings studied

The much-anticipated report from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy), which documents the energy savings of 13 of the most sustainable projects in Greensburg, is now available. NREL's document is entitled Rebuilding It Better: Greensburg, Kansas - Buildings Meeting Energy Savings Goals.There are many impressive statistics in NREL’s findings, including the fact that the studied projects alone are saving Greensburg $200,000 annually in energy costs.

Last week GreenTown interviewed Shanti Pless, Senior Research Engineer with NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy). Shanti was part of the team, led by Lynn Billman, that was instrumental in ensuring that Greensburg’s civic buildings and other projects would achieve the highest standards of energy efficiency possible given their designs. This interview was a great opportunity to find out what the most important lessons were learned here in Kansas so that we can share these findings with other communities who are rebuilding post-disaster.

Shanti is a very well-respected expert in the field of energy efficient building design, and we in Greensburg have been very fortunate to have his assistance during the rebuilding phase. He says that a key lesson learned in Greensburg is that attention in the design phase is critical. Up front planning in the design leads to the maximum performance  in a building (as opposed to going back after a building has already been planned and trying to retrofit). Features such as how a building is placed on the lot relative to the sun’s rays (solar orientation), the inclusion of south-facing windows (and exclusion of west windows), the number of floors in the structure are some of the most important considerations. According to Shanti, if early design decisions are  made with energy efficiency in mind, they don’t have to cost extra. This is a crucial point and addresses the common mythology that green building is more expensive. Shanti notes that you’re paying for these features already – e.g., the placement of the building on the lot, and the windows. It pays off to spend the time early in the process educating people about these money-saving options.

Another key lesson demonstrated by the Greensburg study is that investment in small, passive, efficient systems can result in high performance. Shanti is feeling very excited about the results in our community, saying the buildings are “all saving as much or more than we hoped for”.

A lot of projects elsewhere in the country suffer from “too much” technology, i.e., the investment in some of the more complex systems doesn’t necessarily pay off in energy savings. When you do have to have more complex projects (e.g., hospitals), it is imperative to have qualified maintenance people to work on them once they are in place. We are fortunate in Greensburg to have skilled wind technicians, and all the local turbines are working well as a result.

Shanti talked about the importance of tracking monthly utility bills, as it is important to benchmark the savings, and to compare spending in these new facilities to the buildings that were in operation before the tornado. Awareness goes a long way in maintaining performance. Shanti added that he believes that the local conservation tradition in Greensburg has also played a key role in assuring energy savings.

We urge readers to take a look at the full report, and to be sure to check out the table on page 3, which is a snapshot of the savings of each of the 13 projects that was studied in depth. The assistance provided by NREL staff assures that Greensburg’s city and county governments, businesses, and other buildings will continue to save large sums of money for a long time to come.

There are many reasons to be excited about the successful use of technology and what we’ve learned about the potential for energy efficient building as demonstrated by the NREL report. NREL’s findings illustrate the dramatic savings of dollars that otherwise would be sent out of the community. In Greensburg’s case, the $200,000 in annual savings stays in town to benefit the local infrastructure and economy. Many studies have shown that every dollar that is not sent out of the local economy has a several-fold multiplying effect as it circulates inside the community. This is a lesson for every local government, business, family, and individual: all of the planning and attention to detail when building efficiently contributes to the long-term viability of ourselves and our communities.