7 Best Practices for the Energy-Efficient and Solar-Resourced Multifamily Building

June 10, 2019 Brody Vance

A project that integrates energy efficiency and solar resources has many moving parts. It’s not something you want to underestimate in terms of complexity. Here are seven key points that should be on any multifamily program administrator’s checklist to ensure a smooth trajectory from predevelopment to maintenance.

solar-panel1. Make solar contingent upon energy efficiency upgrades.
When rooftop solar systems go hand-in-hand with weatherization improvements, high-efficiency lighting, appliances and easy-to-operate equipment, the installation process goes exponentially better. This combination not only ensures accurate sizing, but also enables projects to meet energy savings projections. As an added precaution, programs should require solar installers to account for how energy efficiency improvements will affect the building’s energy use and need for a solar system as the two work hand in hand.

The ACEEE report “Our Powers Combined: Energy Efficiency and Solar in Affordable Multifamily Buildings” recommends that solar program administrators extend solar incentives to affordable multifamily owners with one major caveat: Applicants must also install energy efficiency upgrades. This mandatory dual upgrade ensures your projects gets started on the right foot.

clipboard2. Appoint a single point of contact.
Many solar incentive programs still have a siloed model of operation, functioning independently from energy efficiency and water conservation programs. To add an additional layer of confusion to the mix, multifamily customers can be both commercial and residential. Negotiating all the separate program requirements is a definite barrier to adoption.

The programs that are the most effective bundle these offering together and assign a single point of contact to the customer. It is the role of the single point of contact to navigate the ins and outs of the different programs to leverage all potential offerings when presenting options to a customer.

tools3. Repair infrastructure first.
There’s a bit of homework involved with solar projects. They require a solid infrastructure, with repairs for longevity and safety handled prior to the installation of energy efficiency and solar resources. Roofs in poor condition are a no-go when it comes to solar projects—or at least they should be. Missed repairs on a roof add up to missed energy efficiency opportunities. If a customer is addressing the roof, they should be addressing the insulation levels at the same time (see best practice #1). Besides roofing requirements for adding solar, upgrades to a building’s electrical system before installing solar PV is often needed. Only a handful of newer buildings are being constructed as “renewable ready” so the need for completing updates to the infrastructure is an often an overlooked expense when pricing out solar.

handshake4. Prioritize teamwork.
Energy efficiency and solar professionals need to become better allies. Rather than the two kinds of contractors remaining narrowly focused on their respective fields, it would be far better, in terms of a whole-building approach, if they coordinated work on a building. Program administrators should encourage the mutual interests of these two groups by providing cross-training opportunities so both types of contractors/consultants can identify the potential solar or energy efficiency projects.

benchmark-graph5. Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark.
Combined energy efficiency and solar projects require substantial investment. Benchmarking services and software ensure that projects have the potential to generate the anticipated savings and financial returns. Benchmarking is critical for effectively monitoring and improving a building’s energy and solar performance.

apple-for-education6. Emphasize resident education.
It’s not always likely that residents will know how to operate the new energy efficiency and solar equipment in their building, but all too often, resident education falls between the cracks. To get optimal savings and increased resident buy-in on the project, it’s key to inform residents about energy-efficient behaviors and their benefits. Be it a pre- or post-installation tenant engagement event at the building or videos and leave behind materials, tenants need to be educated on the operations and benefits of their new equipment. Without it, tenant behavior is not changed, and the building occupants may not operate the new equipment properly negating potential savings.

Not all of the education should be focused around the solar or energy efficiency savings, but they should touch on non-energy benefits such as added comfort, better indoor air quality, or improved light quality. When educating the tenants, don’t forget to educate the maintenance staff as well as they will be the people handling the education of the first wave of new tenants when people who received the initial education move out.

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dollar-sign7. Incentivize owners with utility allowance adjustments.

All multifamily building owners typically require a little incentivized motivation, but affordable housing owners may require additional assistance making this feasible. Utility allowance adjustments are a way to incentivize owners to make a generous solar investment that lowers renters’ energy expenses but doesn’t reduce their rent income overall. In fact, for individually metered units, owners may have the option to recoup their solar investment through charging higher rents. There is a case where tenants may not benefit financially from these projects if utility allowances are not considered. Demonstrating an opportunity to improve the overall quality of units and providing the potential to raise rents will resonate with building owners and boost program participation across the board if utility allowances can be adjusted.

To learn more about how Franklin Energy can work with your utility to implement these practices, schedule a meeting with an expert today! 


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