As cities and towns across the nation look to hit next-level climate change-related goals, a city and county in Wisconsin are setting out on their own energy-saving initiative together.
Earlier this year, the city of Madison announced the U.S. Department of Energy would be giving Dane County, the city of Madison and local nonprofit, Slipstream, nearly $1 million to retrofit the 500,000-square-foot City-County Building with high performance, triple-paned windows and cost-effective LED lighting systems. The funding is being made available through the department’s Building Technologies Proving Ground — Public Sector Field Validation Funding Opportunity. This project is expected to produce whole-building energy savings, resulting from integrated HVAC and lighting systems that save 10% and 60%, respectively, while providing key grid services simultaneously.
According to Kathy Kuntz, director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change at Dane County, Wis., the project is significant in part because of the joint nature of the effort. She said the two government entities became aware of the grant last year and determined it was best to streamline efforts.
“The City-County Building is kind of typical of older government buildings,” she said. “It’s had various retrofits and additions at various points in time. And it’s a big project to tackle the windows in a holistic way because they’re really expensive. And so, figuring out a way to do that, that would be cost effective was sort of challenging. And because the city and county share the building and are responsible for their own spaces, it was complicated for either of us to sort of do it on our own. So, coming together seemed like a really good idea.”
This isn’t unusual in the sense that, according to Kurtz, they have what she refers to as “an active collaboration” among the cities, towns and villages in the county on clean energy and sustainability issues. The project is expected to total about $1.5 million, with Dane County and the city of Madison allocating approximately $500,000 in matching funds.
Since receipt of the grant in February, Kuntz said officials have been busy refining the scope of the work and agreeing on the specifics. At the time of press, she said involved parties were expecting to finalize the contract with the vendor in the next few weeks. Then officials plan to spend the next six to eight months studying window technologies and how they can be coupled in tandem with innovations in interior lighting. Then implementation will follow, likely next year.
“That means that when the sun is coming in a window, the lights in that room might dim and save electricity in addition to the energy efficiency of those windows,” she said.
Speaking of energy efficiency, Kuntz said the plan is to monitor the building as it is now, to create a baseline for energy consumption. Following the installation of the windows and lighting, officials will do another round of measurements to really get a handle on the energy savings.
Comfort is another factor, she said, regardless of the season.
“It goes both ways in these aging buildings,” she said. “We get drafts in the winter because of these old windows. Heat comes through them in the summer, so it’s uncomfortable then, too. If we can more effectively reflect some of that heat off of triple-paned windows, we reduce our cooling costs and make folks more comfortable there, too.”
Keeping people safe and healthy might be another perk.
“In this COVID-19 era, when we’re thinking so much more about the quality of our ventilation in indoor air, this sort of takes on heightened interest,” she said. “We want to understand how that building functions now and how improved that functioning is going forward.”
Kurtz said officials have specific goals in mind for the project, and that’s where Slipstream comes into the picture. With offices in Madison and Chicago, Slipstream is a nonprofit that inspires new solutions to big energy challenges by empowering more people to adopt new practices and technologies. According to Kurtz, the organization will help the city and county with monitoring on the front and backend to help officials understand how the savings happened and how they might replicate success in the future.
“They have some experience doing super-efficient windows in other facilities and the data to back it,” she said. “So, they’re bringing a kind of technical expertise. But their primary role is to install monitoring equipment and to survey occupants … so we really understand such questions as: “What was the building like before? And what’s it like after? And what are the big lessons learned?”
Kurtz said another goal is to execute all of this with minimal disruption to the building’s occupants and its operations.
“Because any disruptions to our county government staff, ultimately, can lead to disruptions in services for the public,” she said. “We’re probably like all local governments in that our focus in these projects is always to make the upgrade happen as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize disruption. And so for us, it’s a cool opportunity to have the luxury here of having a research partner who whose very aim is really to understand the savings and feed that information back to us.”
She’s also bullish on the city and county’s partnership and what it might mean for the future. “What’s notable is that the city and county are coming together to do this work in a collaborative way,” she said. “It means that we’re learning from each other and comparing notes.”