Lighting and Heating Main Street and Residential Areas

Utilities and Broadband as Foundations for Economic Vitality in Rural and Urban Places

What does it take to upgrade lighting and heating utilities to achieve 21st Century energy savings and productivity?  How do decisions about Energy and the Environment – as one of seven needs identified in FCC National Broadband Plan – help local community institution networks gain confidence in their Digital Age visions for economic future?

 There are 3 answers: Payback, Design, and Visual Tools for Consumers

 A.  Payback, Payback, Payback

 Payback horizons loom large when making energy-saving investments of time and money. Accurate payback calculations help us plow back “pennies saved” per electricity and heating unit to harvest the “pennies earned productivity” resulting from  lower cost energy and lower impacts on our environment.

 Payback 1:  Regionally.  Good plans begin with multi-county regional planning agencies on short term (2 year), mid term (5-10 year) and long term (20-30 year) energy efficiency and transportation productivity plans.  These plans include near term US Department of Energy retrofitting and green design programs, and  5 year transportation capital plans for built environment energy impacts.  As the largest energy consumption and potential savings – by far – are in homes, commercial buildings, industrial plants including energy-generation plants, and public buildings, see focus of Energy Impact programs of  Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Payback 2.   Local-state financing. Local energy-saving projects are hatched in dialog with state bond financing agencies.  Financing agencies require that localities look at ways to payback interest and bond principal from annual energy cost savings when building or retrofitting public buildings, public works and public utilities.  This includes saving time and money in construction and maintenance of public and private utilities.  See Energy savings framework of Illinois Finance Authority for local municipalities seeking any kind of bond financing.   

See energy-savings in retrofitting public buildings as the basis for securing low-cost private sector financing.  Article: Chicago Launches First City Infrastructure Trust in the US : Energy Retrofits

Payback 3.   Local service areas.. It’s important for Smart Energy and Smart Grid service areas of utilities – and networks of utilities -- to have standardized grids, substations, local generation links and pipelines.  These enable “down the line” business, home and public institution consumers to control their actions, and thus to gain energy savings.  All utilities are involved, whether using coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind or other generation. 

As Illinois begins with energy consumption per output of about 30 % above other Midwest states, this means there is low hanging fruit to be harvested when local homeowners and public and private property owners invest in an array of Digital Age electricity and natural gas efficiencies.  As illustrated by Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center, specific energy strategies provide results for schools, libraries and public facilities, restaurants, convenience stores and supermarkets, condominiums, apartments, hotels and pools, warehouses, water treatment plants and ice arenas, data centers and desktop computer and server virtualization in many settings.  See 

B. Design, Design, Design

 Design means designing and zoning communities’ built and natural environments, their energy aggregation institutions, and smart utility distribution and consumer control tools..

1.Designing communities based on information infrastructure. Well designed communities attract commerce and built environments located along Digital Highways.  They have active transportation assets resulting in safe walking, biking and public transport access, and access to community spaces and natural environments.  These bring economic development productivities, including long term lowering of  average vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.  Smart communities, sometimes called livable communities, design and help finance community development and production in ways that are efficient in amount of energy used (such as average miles traveled, efficiency in electricity and fuel distribution, carbon footprint management, and product lifecyle management.  Broadband infrastructure and services enable smart communities to use everyday consumer control tools, and build flexibililty into decision-making, including through local energy aggregation institutions, or energy cooperatives.

For more on the need for a “firm and flexible foundation” of information networks and tools, see recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece: Infostructure Is the New Infrastructure | Benton Foundation

Also see September 17 Crain’s Chicago Business feature article and editorial comment on why Chicago and east-west corridors benefit from being along the transportation and utility lines, including transcontinental fiber and wireless tower networks.  Article: Why Chicago is one of the country's most digital cities - In Other News - Crain's Chicago Business.

Finally, see Clean Energy Design agenda of Environmental Law and Policy Center of the

Environmental Law & Policy Center Developing Clean Energy 

2. Designing  Community Energy Aggregation and Municipal Design Capacity  To achieve energy efficient livable communities, important assets are locally-responsive “energy consumer aggregation” partners for businesses, homeowners and public institutions.  State utility de-regulation laws, including in Illinois, can assist local business, homes, community institutions and public agencies “aggregate demand” and secure stable and lower energy costs.  On the November 2012 ballot in Illinois, see ballot propositions in Chicago and other towns which, if successful, will enable municipalities to play the role of consumer intermediary. 

See recent articles:

Building the capacities of local municipalities and counties to plan and implement sustainable communities investments and programs requires regular continuing education opportunities for staff and public officials to share “what works” among each other.  An example of sustainability training opportunities available for over 280 municipalities in the multi-county Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning region: Municipal Design Review event co-hosted by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, DePaul University, and the Chicago Metro Section of American Planning Associations.

3. Designing Smart Tools for homes, businesses and community institutions. Local energy savings comes from designing, selling and using Popular Mechanics-style energy management tools and toolboxes to aid investments and support sustainable energy use behavior.   See Energy & Environment outreach by Partnership for a Connected Illinois.

For the future, Community Anchor Institution networks in each of Illinois 10 E-team regions will integrate Smart Energy agendas as part of Economic Development agendas for their regions.   This include in Innovation projects for broadband adoption and use, and working with local energy companies, cooperatives and municipalities. 

C.  Seeing is Believing.  The Power of Visual Tools for Smart Energy

A picture is worth a lot of words.  When looking at ways to save energy at home, most people talk with neighbors and look at designs of “better homes” in magazines and online to see what others have done, what looks good to us, how much things cost, and how simple, or not, it is to accomplish.   First of all, we all want to “visualize the future” for ourselves, our families and communities.  For an example of what’s possible with good design, see home designed for less energy than a studio apartment. 

Then, visualize and talk with others about the path forward, although there may be many steps, in

  1. Finding an Energy Audit partner.
  2. Clarifying energy wants and needs, and learnhow to reinforce good lifestyle habits, including with Smart controls, by all in our family.”
  3. Cooperating in a team with others, whether in a multitenant building, a block, a chamber of commerce area, or a community anchor institution area..
  4. Setting priorities for a business or public institutions, looking at major power uses for lighting, heating, insulation, air conditioning, air sealing, refrigeration, production and occupancy control.
  5. Setting priorities for owners and renters in single family and multitenant buildings, looking at consumer controls for window shades, air conditioning, heating, dishwashing and laundry, refrigeration, lighting and video appliances, and remodeling, including insulation and window design.
  6. Making the first investments, and reflecting on the savings and next steps.

Remember: The Smart Grid is coming! 

To See How: Look at your mobile device.  It has places for “Smart Energy Apps” for lighting, security, heating, communicating with neighbors.  How will you and your family use them?

Tags: Blog, layton olson, rural areas, smart energy, smart grid, utilities

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