Energy Efficiency and COVID-19 Safety Measures: Can You Have Both?

Philadelphia Energy Authority – November 10, 2020

By Lennal Kalawa and Lisa Shulock

Philadelphia Energy Authority held a webinar about energy efficiency and COVID-19 mitigation in commercial buildings. The session covered operational adjustments and capital improvements to protect occupants’ health and manage energy use in commercial buildings.

Lisa Shulock from the Philadelphia Energy Authority moderated the panel and she was joined by Dan Kerr, President of Burns Mechanical, a high-performance building service company, Marcelo Rouco, Chairman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ecosave, a supplier of energy efficiency services, and Sam Elbarouki, Senior Vice President, C-PACE Business Development,  from Dividend Finance, a C-PACE capital provider.

Shulock kicked off the discussion and provided a high-level description of C-PACE, a financing tool that provides long-term funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation projects. C-PACE financing may be of interest to commercial building owners who want to upgrade their energy systems to achieve high energy performance while also making their buildings more “COVID-safe.”

Kerr shared some tips as to what he has learned as an engineer during the COVID pandemic. He stated that the most important health and safety precaution is for individuals to practice social distancing, wear masks, and practice other personal actions to protect themselves and others. Building operators can also help to keep their occupants safe, but there isn’t one technology or gadget that can be purchased or turned on. Building operators should first make sure their buildings are operating optimally. Kerr noted that approximately 80% of commercial buildings are not operating the way they should. The pandemic is showing that owners who have deferred maintenance have more work to do to get their buildings to safe operating levels. It is now generally accepted that both ventilation and filtration approaches on their own or in combination can reduce the risk of airborne transmission of the novel Corona virus. Achieving the ASHRAE ventilation standard (62.1-2019), maintaining relative humidity between 40-60% and upgrading when possible to MERV 13 rated filters or higher are probably the most important areas to focus on related to HVAC systems operation.  Kerr said that Burns has also installed disinfecting UVGI spectrum lights for several of their clients in the HVAC equipment because cooling and heating coils and other equipment inside air handling equipment can become contaminated.

Marcelo Rouco from Ecosave spoke about the reasons you would want to consider implementing energy-saving measures at the same time you are addressing COVID mitigation. He stated that COVID mitigation often increases energy consumption, however, by looking at other energy reduction measures in the building, building owners can achieve the goal of saving energy as well as having COVID mitigation measures in place.

Some of the benefits of a combined approach include:

  • Maintaining building health standard while reducing energy consumption
  • There is a cost reduction when COVID mitigation and energy efficiency are combined
  • COVID mitigation can be funded by C-PACE as long as it is combined with other energy-saving methods.

Sam Elbarouki from Dividend finance, a C-PACE capital provider explained how they help finance building upgrades and new construction. C-PACE can provide financing for up to 100% of the cost of energy efficiency upgrades and there is a lower cost of capital than many alternatives. C-PACE is able to integrate with other economic development initiatives such as Opportunity Zones, Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), Historic Tax Credits (HTCs), and utility incentives.

Capital providers can finance roof replacement, windows and doors, lighting upgrades, HVAC systems, energy storage, solar systems and more. The minimum project size is $100,000 in Philadelphia and $10,000 in other Pennsylvania counties with a repayment term of up to 30 years with a fixed interest rate, generally in the range of 5-7%. There is also the option of retroactively using C-PACE financing with a two-year look back.

Shulock wrapped up the webinar by discussing the first Pennsylvania C-PACE projects. Information on the projects can be found here.

To watch the recording of the webinar, click here. The slides can also be found on the Philadelphia C-PACE program resources page in the Philadelphia C-PACE webinars section.

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