A design solution created for the final project of the course "Design & Policy in Humanitarian Impact", a collaborative learning experience created by both the School of Design and the School of Public Policy and Management. Projects were inspired by Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto's 100 Days; 100 Policies to Change Pittsburgh. My team focused on policy #48, formulating a project which deals with energy benchmarking and energy disclosure in multi-residential buildings.
As it currently stands, there are no energy disclosure laws in Pittsburgh due to many problems: an elderly population, low development of new buildings, and an outdated paper-system for energy disclosure. Energy benchmarking is important in order to gauge a city's energy usage to create further steps towards saving energy. NGO's such as Pittsburgh 2030 and ReEnergize Pgh are making attempts at improving energy usage in the city.
Many cities across the US have enacted energy disclosure laws, taking small steps in Pittsburgh can help push for putting these laws into place.
Through our research, we discovered part of the difficulty of encouraging energy benchmarking without any disclosure laws were multi-residential buildings. In order for a building with many tenants to disclose their energy, every party has to sign a waiver for the landlord to submit to the power company. This can be difficult, as there is not much time or resources to go door-to-door in, for example, apartment buildings.
In turn, we created an online waiver system where tenants can easily visit to quickly fill out a form to release their energy data. We also wrapped a marketing campaign around the online waiver, creating a number of materials for distribution to explain the openVolt program. These pieces are targeted to two audiences: the building manager and the building tenant. There are also stickers which can be rewarded to buildings which are able to get every tenant to release their data, thus allowing the Green Building alliance to recieve the data for the entire building. By displaying this sticker, building owners are able to advertise their units as taking an additional step towards being environmentally friendly.View The Online Waiver at openvoltpgh.com
A visual illustration of the key stakeholders.
A visual illustration of the key stakeholders' roles in the process.
In effort to better understand the current environment of Pittsburgh's push towards energy efficiency, we got out in the field and interviewed a number of key individuals in the Pittsburgh area.
Pennsylvania state program that incentivizes building owners to reduce their energy consumption. It also requires utility companies to reduce energy consumption by 1% annually.Disincentives
There is no upside to disclosing energy usage, only serve to hurt building owners.Portfolio Manager
Created and managed by the EPA, Portfolio Manager is a tool that allows individuals, businesses, and building owners to disclose their energy. However, it is cumbersome, complicated, and difficult to use.Waiver
In order to get energy usage data from the utility company, Green Building Alliance needs the approval from each individual property owner, which is infeasible.
Enacted in major cities across the nation forcing buildings to disclose their energy usage.Green Button
Customers can tell their utility company to disclose their information directly.Site vs. Source
What’s more effective, reducing site consumption or cleaning up emissions a its source?Utility Companies
Without a legal mandate for utilities to release information, there is no reason for them to cooperate.
They don’t realize how much energy they use and would be able to make easy changes that have a significant impact on their bills.Costs
Energy is too cheap in this country, outweighing the costs of going green.
The only way to get energy information is when a house is sold in conjunction with property tax records.Smart Meters
In 5 years, everyone will have meters that measures everyone’s energy usage. Currently, 45% of all U.S. homes have one but nearly 0% for homes in Pittsburgh.
Motivates energy disclosure and energy efficiency through a competition between communities.Waiver
Currently, there’s only a paper form to allow utilities to release your energy usage. An online form would make this process much easier.
There is a lot of city, county, and state support for sustainable and efficient buildings.
We created three personas as potential use-cases for the OpenVolt program, focusing on a building owner and two student tenants.
“I don’t have time for this, I have to keep this building in one piece. These damn tenants have no regard for my building -- I need to call a dozen people everyday to come fix something. Upgrading my systems to expensive green systems is just gonna cost me extra money when the tenants break them again. On the other hand, I swear some of them have to be using unapproved appliances; my electric bill goes up every month! If you can prove to me that going green will mean better tenants that don’t waste my electricity and don’t bust up the place, then maybe I’ll think about it.”
“I mean I’m all, like, ‘make Oakland car free’ and ‘convert the universities to solar.’ I’d totally love to know how much energy I’m using compared to everyone else in the building. I mean, fine, I, like, leave my TV on all day, but it’s only so that my two dogs have something to drown out the sounds of those idiots next door. I’m sure those other guys are using much more energy than I am – a few of them even have, like, illegal air conditioners. I even think that that one guy might be growing things in his apartment. If you could do something about that, I would totally be down. Oh, and don’t tell the landlord about my dogs.”
“Does that mean the landlord would find out how much energy I’m using? I’ve got five computers up there and a ton of film editing equipment and I need all that for the movie I’m making. Not to mention all my grow lights. I’m guessing all that might be using a lot of energy. I’m only living in this dump because the rent is cheap and no one cares what I do. Besides, it’s not like I have three dogs like that girl that keeps her TV blasting all day long. Between that TV and the dogs barking I have to crank up my music just to hear myself think.”