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Minneapolis smart public housing project ensures energy efficiency isn't province of few

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Honeywell Building Solutions is orchestrating more than $100 million worth of similar projects funded with ARRA money.

To those who believe the affluent are the only ones among us experiencing the early benefits of smart buildings or homes, you might be interested in reading about several projects being spearheaded in Minneapolis by the energy efficiency arm of automation technology giant Honeywell.

This is just one of the representative projects that is marrying funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) with energy efficiency enhancements to public housing. It is also illustrative of how we can work toward a state of being where we actually cut the costs of what society pays to subsidize public housing programs. As cities prioritize projects, the Minneapolis example is worth some consideration.

The Minneapolis project calls for the city to upgrade 725 single-family homes and buildings, an initiative that will receive a $11.65 million grant through ARRA. The measures being adopted by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) are expected to save about $1.5 million in energy costs annually, or about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours. Nearly half of the buildings being targeted were built before 1950, and the projects will focus on really basic things such as installing energy efficient appliances, boilers, water heaters and new programming thermostat technology (which is Honeywell's big link into this initiative).

Emilio Bettaglio, executive director of facilities and development at MPHA, says the buildings chosen for the retrofits were selected for their ability to contribute to the city's overall carbon footprint reduction goals. "These funds are a huge benefit to us because they don't affect the regular flow of money," Bettaglio says.

He says the work being done by Honeywell will give his agency more specific control over temperatures and other technology systems: "It's like a giant programmable thermostat for high-rises. We can now program temperatures, whether it is AC or heating. We can even address address specific rooms for specific buildings."

This is actually the second major project of this type that Honeywell has signed recently with Minneapolis (the city of my birth!) The company also has a 20-year performance contract to reduce energy usage at another 40 high-rise buildings and 700 single-family homes. That contract is intended to cut consumption by $3.7 million. (Because it is a performance contract, that means Honeywell gets paid when it delivers on those utility cost cuts, which is how you will see many of these new energy-efficiency building projects being funded. The consumption reductions help fund some of the technology installations, over time.)

The team at Honeywell actually is working on more than $100 million worth of projects funded by the ARRA in the next 24 months. When I spoke with Paul Orzeske, president of the Honeywell Building Solutions division about its work, he said the group has many public housing projects going on all over the world. The big challenge, he noted, lies not only empowering residents to use the technology but educating them on why changes in behavior are important.

That sentiment is echoed by Bettaglio: "The population of MPHA tenants in these building are partners in this deal. We are developing training for them to elevate the level of awareness. They need to be more conscious of about consumption."

While energy efficiency is the main thrust of Honeywell's building solutions initiatives, Orzeske says more and more of the projects are integrating renewable energy technologies including geothermal, solar and wind—technologies that might play a role as the communities around these projects invest in the smart grid.

The new Honeywell Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management offering is one example of the services that the Honeywell team uses to assess the relevant steps that could help a building become more energy-efficient. The focus of this particular service is on measurement and monitoring of real-time emissions data so that building operators can figure out what they need to do to achieve various emerging compliance standards.

Here are two links for more information on Honeywell's energy efficiency work:

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure