Tag Archive: Energy Efficiency

Morrison Residence Hall may have won an Environmental Protection Agency national award for energy reduction last year, but the building’s environmentally friendly upgrades did not live up to initial expectations.

Hot water producing solar panels were added to the residence hall in 2006. The student-run renewable energy special projects committee contributed $185,600 and the N.C. Energy Office contributed $137,000 toward the project, said Assistant Director of Facilities Steve Lofgren.

During an annual tour of the rooftop solar panels held Saturday, Lofgren said green upgrades to the building were not straightforward.

The project designer was not well equipped to plan the unusually large installation and the company that sold the panels would not provide input, Lofgren said.

This led to a system with less than optimal hot water output.

“They thought they knew what they were doing but they didn’t completely,” Lofgren said. “The university had to step up.”

Even though facility service workers weren’t trained to deal with the system, engineers worked hard to become more knowledgeable and to make improvements, he said.

The solar system – originally intended to provide hot water to faucets, showers and washers  – was tied to the building’s heating and cooling system by university engineers.

This regularly decreases the amount of steam the university’s cogeneration power plant needs to provide to the residence hall.

The 172 rooftop solar panels now provide an average of 40 percent of the building’s hot water usage, according to a UNC-CH sustainability office press release.

In September, the system reduced carbon dioxide output by 15,201 pounds, according to a document from the department of Housing and Residential Education. This is about the same amount of carbon dioxide that comes from burning 760 gallons of gasoline.

“We didn’t get it right out of the gate,” Lofgren said. “It’s a learning institution and it caused the institution to do some learning, and that’s always a good thing.”

To go beyond the rooftop panels in advancing Morrison Residence Hall’s sustainability mission, building leaders are competing in the Residential Green Games this year, Morrison Community Director Taris Mullins said.

The Residential Green Games is an environmental competition that seeks to promote sustainable behavioral change and education in UNC-CH residence halls.

“Morrison Community is not leading Green Games, we are doing quite well so far this year,” Mullins said. “We encourage sustainability in a number of ways through bulletin boards, encouraging residents to bring their own items to programs, and also looking for creative ways to reduce our footprint in the community.”

Luz Cuaboy, a Morrison resident who attended the tour, said she appreciated the green focus of the building even though the expense of the hot water producing solar panels surprised her.

“I think the cost is justified,” Cuaboy said “Over a long period of time, it’s going to do some good.”


While a multitude of incentives exist for homeowners to retrofit their homes with energy efficient upgrades, it is sometimes confusing to figure out what qualifies for an incentive and under what program.

Below is a list of programs and what retrofits they cover.

Chapel Hill WISE Program link

This program provides retrofits that provide the maximum return on investment with the most incentives.

From the website:

50% subsidy (after all other incentives):
• Envelope air sealing and insulation improvements
• Duct sealing and repair
• Outdoor thermostats for homes with heat-pumps

25% subsidy (after all other incentives):
• Heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades
• Energy-efficient appliances
• Hot water heater replacements
• Re-circulating hot water systems
• Programmable thermostats in gas-heated homes
• Lighting upgrades
• Solar thermal hot water
• Solar photovoltaic or geothermal renewable energy systems ONLY if in combination with energy efficiency improvements estimated to generate 15% or more energy savings.

For a homeowner to receive a subsidy, a home energy audit must be conducted to show that the improvements being made will generate a 15 percent or greater savings on the homeowner’s energy bill.

Duke Energy Incentives

Energy Star Homes – link

Homes that receive an Energy Star certification are eligible for rate discounts through Duke Energy. Rates vary based on time of year and account type. For more information, see Duke Energy’s rate schedule for Energy Star homes.

Smart Savers Program – link

Consumers who install new energy efficient heat pumps, air conditioners and geothermal ground loops can receive rebates through Duke Energy.

North Carolina

Residents can take advantage of multiple incentives from North Carolina including:


Citizens can receive tax credits for a variety of different purchases.

  • An energy efficiency tax credit where consumers can get up to 30 percent back on water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, central air conditioners, building insulation, windows, doors, roofs and circulating fans used in a qualifying furnace.
  • A renewable energy tax credit where consumers can get 35 percent back on certain technologies, like solar-thermal and solar-electric installations.

Incentives to promote energy efficiency in Chapel Hill will continue for the next few years, but federal tax credits may soon expire.

“Right now Congress is thinking about other things,” said Tom Simchak, senior research associate at the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency. “It’s looking like the federal tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements will expire at the end of this year.”

Tax credits that may expire this year include rebates on energy saving insulation, water heaters, doors, windows, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, but a local program may continue until 2013.

“There’s a whole lot more action going on at the state and local level,” Simchak said.

Chapel Hill, with $455,000 from the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, began the Wise Investments Save Money program (WISE) in March 2011 to offer incentives for energy efficient home retrofits.

“For a community our size, it is somewhat unusual to see a program like this,” said Town of Chapel Hill Sustainability Officer John Richardson. “This is the project nearest and dearest to me at the moment.”

To participate in the program, a homeowner must first have a home energy audit conducted to determine what efficiency improvements will have the greatest impact.

The homeowner can then choose to pursue those improvements, so long as the auditor can show that the efficiency upgrades will have at least a 15 percent impact on the homeowner’s electricity bill.

WISE provides incentives for improvements to duct systems and insulation at a 50 percent subsidy and for improvements to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, appliances, lighting and hot water heaters at a 25 percent subsidy.

“Our list consists of those measures that give the best bang for the buck,” Richardson said.

Rainer Dammers, a Southern Village homeowner, installed a $23,670 solar energy system and will pay only $6,214 after incentives from federal, state and local governments.

Dammers saved $7,010 with a tax credit from the federal government, $8,285 with a tax credit from North Carolina and $2,071 with a rebate from the WISE program, he said.

Dammers said with incentives, the solar system will take less than nine years to pay for itself.

To be eligible for a solar system rebate from the WISE program, a homeowner must first reduce energy consumption by at least 15 percent.

Dammers’ energy audit showed that he had a few leaky ducts and gaps in his insulation. By fixing these problems, he achieved the required consumption reduction and received 50 percent of the cost back in rebates through the WISE program.

“A 50 percent subsidy is quite significant. You can do more than otherwise you would have wanted to do all by yourself and get better results,” Dammers said.

Before the introduction of the WISE program, Dammers had upgraded his lighting and windows, added storm doors, and applied weatherstripping to his house. Many of these improvements were eligible for rebates at the federal and state level.

Dammers said he would have waited for solar systems to become more cost effective, but he was worried that some of the government rebates might disappear.

“What made my decision was concern with the political shift and the financial struggles on the federal and state levels,” Dammers said. “I’m just concerned that the landscape obviously is not as much in favor with these types of incentives as it may have been a few years back.”

“I view this as an investment in the future,” Dammers said.