Affordable Energy Management Applications

In response to growing demands for sophisticated technologies helping building operators measure and define their buildings' energy consumption and environmental impacts, application developers are creating rather inexpensive solutions providing an array of functions. 

As resources become less abundant, the cost of traditional energy rises, and people strive for energy independence, consumers and suppliers are taking a more responsible approach to both consumption and distribution. Suppliers are encouraging wiser usage and making data more accessible so that people understand how their usage both affects the environment and their wallets. 

Furthermore, consumers are expressing an interest in their carbon footprints, how their behaviors affect the environment in general, and in taking control of how much they're spending on energy. This symbiotic relationship between consumers and suppliers is leading to all sorts of new efforts--including acts, bills, and technology. 

Here are three examples of standalone energy management and environmental performance applications at three affordable price points: 

Melon Power -- $500 per building (with a discount for owners of multiple buildings): This application is a tool that calculates an ENERGY STAR score stemming from Green Button data supplied by energy providers--and reports the score to the EPA. 

HVAC ASHRAE 62.1-2010 -- $19.99: This application measures indoor air quality and minimum ventilation rates, ensuring that commercial buildings are within the ASHRAE minimum--which is the industry-accepted minimum. This app also lets operators know whether they're in the appropriate range to achieve indoor air quality LEED credits. 

ecoInsight Mobile Audit for iPad -- free: This free tool performs energy audits and suggests energy upgrades based on user-inputted data including things like area, luminary wattage, etc. 

These tools demonstrate that any organization can implement technology to boost their environmental performance and energy conservation--and without a hefty investment. 

[Guest blogger Ashley Halligan is an analyst at Austin-based Software Advice. Read her original story here.]


'Reinvent the Toilet Challenge' rewards innovation in efficient design

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to make number two a number-one priority; that’s why it launched the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” a year ago.

The goal was to solicit creative toilet designs that could provide clean bathroom facilities to the approximately 2.5 billion people in the world who lack access to sanitary waste disposal methods. The contest required designs to operate without electricity or running water, so they could be used in remote parts of the world. The foundation also asked designers to come up with a way to turn waste into something useful – like energy.

In August, The Gates Foundation announced the winners of the innovative contest. The California Institute of Technology won first prize and $100,000 for its solar-powered toilet that uses human waste to create hydrogen and electricity. Second place and $60,000 went to Loughborough University, in the United Kingdom, and third place and $40,000 went to the University of Toronto, in Canada.

While the Gates Foundation emphasized the philanthropic value of these emerging technologies, the environmental implications are not to be overlooked.  

Environmental benefits of the reinvented toilet

All of the winning toilet designs have the potential to improve the quality of life in developing nations where modern restroom facilities are not available. Because the toilets do not depend on any plumbing or utilities, each toilet could be fully functional even in the middle of a barren desert. The devices would help recycle human waste into resources that communities all around the world could benefit from, including fertilizer, which could improve the quality of agricultural crops.

The initiative coincides with growing political support for waste-to-energy efforts. The Obama Administration, in particular, has been supportive of agricultural efforts to convert waste matter into energy or fertilizer.

Saving the world without a fancy toilet

These new, high-tech toilets may be the future of indoor plumbing and waste disposal, but in the immediate future it's unlikely that they will be widely available to consumers. Being tied down to outdated plumbing doesn't mean there aren't other ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Water conservation and resource recycling are both viable ways of adopting eco-friendly practices into your daily routine.

For example, using “graywater” – dish water, bath water, laundry runoff –  to water plants is one way to cut down on water use, as is the installation of water-efficient fixtures in bathroom and kitchens. Water filters can provide you with pure, clean drinking water and eliminate the need for more expensive, wasteful bottled water. And while you can't exactly recycle your own waste materials and turn them into fertilizer, you can compost organic materials like leaves and grass clippings, and use them as fertilizer in your garden.

The Gates Foundation's Reinvent the Toilet Challenge resulted in two major accomplishments: It produced viable options for next-generation toilets and waste disposal solutions, and it demonstrated that even the most ordinary aspects of our daily lives could be revolutionized with a little innovation. As natural resources become more valuable and scarce, conservation is even more crucial to our planet's future. While big innovations can engender change on a global scale, there are plenty of ways individuals can help conserve resources on a daily basis.

[Guest blogger Cassandra writes for When she’s not blogging about health, wellness or living green, she enjoys spending her time outdoors hiking with her dog, Joy.]


We can be heroes

Global climate change is a particularly difficult dragon to slay because we can’t see it.  All we see are symptoms like melting glaciers and rising sea levels. The real culprit appears to be carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But a closer look at CO2 reveals it’s not the true enemy, but rather the weapon. And who wields this weapon of mass destruction that threatens to destroy civilization? We do.

And that’s where many of us stop thinking about the problem. Imagine if you were reading a drama like Lord of the Rings and, when the enemy was revealed, you learned it was you. Would you keep reading? All drama, whether in literature or film, tells the tale of good versus evil; good is personified by the hero, and evil by the villain. The more clearly identifiable as some “other” the bad guy is, the more comfortable we are in rallying against him. Politicians know this, and are always trying to draw our attention away from domestic problems toward an easily labeled and identifiable villain, whether it’s an alleged “evil empire” or the “axis of evil”.

A politician who reminds us that we are responsible our own problems isn’t likely to get reelected, just as a book that reveals us as the villain won’t sell many copies. In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter tried to get us to accept responsibility for the runaway energy consumption threatening our future, and he was voted out in favor of Ronald Reagan, who redirected our fears toward a more popular villain, the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union.

Most of us, if confronted with the fact that we are to blame for global climate change, simply put down the book or turn off the video. It makes us too uncomfortable. We want to be the hero, not the villain. But denial is the surest way to perpetuate the villainy of climate change. Only by realizing that we are the cause of the problem can we hope to solve it.

Taking responsibility for climate change doesn’t make us evil. In fact, it gives us the chance to be heroes. In drama, the villain doesn’t just do evil, he is evil. And that’s where we differ from the storybook villain.  We’re not incurable and unapologetic bad guys. We’ve simply taken some actions that have done harm. Our “tragic flaw”, to borrow again from drama, has been our failure to recognize the global impacts of our local actions. The tragic flaw, however, is a characteristic not of the villains of our books and films, but of their heroes. Initially, it puts the hero in peril, as when Frodo, overwhelmed by his lust for The Ring, turns against his lifelong friend, Samwise. Facing up to his tragic flaw, as Frodo ultimately does in Lord of the Rings, is what gives the hero the strength to defeat his enemy.

Frodo’s tragic flaw was to allow himself to be seduced by the power of The Ring. Our own has been to allow ourselves to be seduced by another source of absolute power, fossil fuels. A single liter of oil contains more energy than any one of us can produce in one hundred days of manual labor, so burning it was an easy choice. And we didn’t know the consequences that would accrue as the whole planet took to burning it.

Now we do. But rather than condemn us as villains, our awareness opens the door for us to become the heroes of our environmental saga. Recognizing the global consequences of our addiction to oil, we can now change our behavior and overcome it. It won’t happen overnight; an infrastructure and economy built on oil make it nearly impossible to radically reduce our consumption. But we can become more aware of how we use fossil fuels and gradually reduce our dependence on them.

We can walk, bike and use more public transportation, putting less of that $4 per gallon gas in our cars. We can be comfortable in our homes while spending less on heating and cooling through low-cost energy efficiency improvements. And we can use less plastic. While plastic accounts for less than 5% of our oil use, it production generates roughly 10% of our CO2

The Golden Rule of plastic reduction is simply to say no. Keep cloth bags in your car or where you’ll see them when you head out the door to shop. Bring your own cup for drinks, avoiding plastic straws, lids and cups. Be aware of the plastic packaging wrapping all your purchases and choose alternatively, or at least less, packaged options. Your actions will not only reduce plastic waste, they’ll inspire others to think about their own plastic consumption.

We have seen the enemy, and he is indeed us. But in the most important drama humanity has faced, we can change our actions and ourselves, and we can transform our planet. We can be heroes.



International Green Construction Code advances zero-impact building

Every day, we're learning more and more about how our actions and lifestyles affect the world that we call home. Thankfully, with this awareness, has come lots of necessary, productive reform and change. We have developed ways to cut down on pollution, energy consumption and overall wastefulness. No strangers to this green revolution, the architecture and construction industries are furthering their commitment to sustainability through the development of the International Green Construction Code, a new set of standards and requirements touted as adoptable, useable and enforceable.

Created with the intent of being mandatory, this code shows growth and progress for the green building revolution. At its core, the code seeks to develop a built world that works with, rather than against, our natural environment. Its forward-thinking guidelines, which are to be enforced by building officials, challenge builders and architects to change their ways for the future.

Not meant to discount any prior ratings or standards programs, this new code is just another addition to the International Code Council's arsenal of initiatives seeking to achieve "zero-impact" building—a condition that means the environment is not negatively impacted at all by construction practices. Already implemented in ten states including Rhode Island, Colorado and Oregon, among others, the code is gaining the support of influential industry leaders including Jeff Potter who serves as the president of the American Institute of Architects.  Recently, Potter expressed his support, stating that, "the IgCC offers much needed clarification in a regulatory framework."

This code is the first of its kind to include sustainability measures for every phase and facet of a construction project—from designing to building and more. It incorporates several stipulations for energy monitoring, gray water reuse systems, and other aspects that are conducive to energy and resource conservation. For example, the code specifies that 55% of building materials must be recycled, recyclable, bio-based or indigenous. It also states that buildings should prohibit smoking and limit mercury levels for fluorescent bulbs. Overall it seeks to make building and structures more efficient while promoting community welfare and health.

For those seeking to learn more, the International Code Council offers a course that covers the basics of the code, in addition to an informative webinar that offers an overview of how the code fits in with the other green building standards and systems. No matter your level or role in the construction and building process, these sessions can prove very helpful. As our world continues to evolve and change, one can expect the green-building industry to do the same and this code is a perfect example of that.

[Guest blogger Barbara Jolie writes for She is an avid writer and blogger, interested in all things education. For questions or comments email her at]


Resource recovery facilities: benefits and concerns

In a recent article I wrote highlighting the symbiotic relationships between resource recovery facilities and the organizations recovering energy sources, I learned of several benefits and unique partnerships demonstrating the value in such efforts. 

Several U.S. organizations have created progressive symbiotic relationships showing how economic and efficient energy recovery can be. The installation of methane wells in landfills to collect methane (landfill gas or LFG) from rotting waste isn't a brand new tactic; however, some of the multi-faceted operations showing where a little innovation can take us are new. 

Rutgers University EcoComplex, for example, has installed wells in its 100-acre landfill, creating enough energy to power several facilities, including a greenhouse that produces more than 10,000 plants each month. Additionally, this particular resource recovery project led to a partnership between Rutgers and Acrion Technology, which used LFG to create liquid natural gas for truck fuel. 

Another resource recovery operation in Catawba County, NC includes the county EcoComplex which creates enough energy to supply 1,500 residences, sends remaining heat energy to Appalachian State University for biodiesel conversion, and even has a partnership between a pallet company and lumberyard--collecting lumberyard scraps to produce pallets. 

These types of partnerships show us the limitless opportunities that are both efficient and economically appealing. But surely there are some concerns around such operations? 

After some research to find out what kinds of concerns encompass resource recovery, I came across to common concerns: 

Outdoor ActivityThis concern stems from fresh trash, compost, and landfill gas. 

 Air Pollution 

The primary hesitations from residents and community members seems to stem from odors produced from methane collection--and the air pollution stemming from the collection and redistribution of energy. 

How significant are these concerns? And do they counter the value in recovering energy for reuse? Please chime in below and let us know your opinion, and experiences within this sector of energy collection. 

[Guest blogger Ashley Halligan is an analyst at Software Advice]