Energy Efficiency for Public Housing

Jin Wen and Patrick Gurian:
Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering

A wide variety of alternative energy sources and energy efficient practices are available to public housing agencies seeking to improve their efficiency. While these new technologies and approaches offer potentially significant economic and environmental benefits, there are also risks associated with any technological transition. New technologies may not perform as expected or may involve unintended consequences for building owners, for residents, or for the environment. In addition, codes and utility rate structures must provide appropriate incentives for the adoption of new approaches by both building owners and residents.

Drexel University and the Philadelphia Housing Authority are working in partnership to establish a framework that will guide public housing authorities through the technology evaluation process that can speed the adoption of beneficial new technologies while managing the risks associated with technological transition.

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The project tasks include:

  • Building energy simulation modeling using architectural engineering software
  • Benefit-cost assessments of the returns of novel technologies under uncertainty
  • Data collection from existing facilities to identify benchmarks and pilot-test algorithms for the identification of likely targets for improvements
  • Data collection from novel technologies as such data become available, followed by validation and updating of both energy use simulations and benefit cost assessments
  • Development of site-specific recommendations for technology adoption
  • Identification of appropriate utility rate structures that provide incentives for the adoption of new technologies so that the benefits are shared by the housing authority and the residents
  • Refinement of the overall framework for managing the risks of technological transition in public housing

This research draws on Drexel's existing expertise in building simulation modeling and decision analytic approaches to risk management. The project has the potential to fill important gaps in the existing technical literature on how to conduct appropriate auditing of multi-unit energy consumption data and how to manage the risks of new technology adoptions and how existing utility rate structures for public housing may incentivize or fail to incentive the transition to more energy efficient technologies.

The interactive relationship between PHA and Drexel University presents a new model for policy making based on engineering studies and a new approach to researching urban systems. DECI anticipates that this partnership between Philadelphia Housing Authority and Drexel University can be leveraged for future efforts that would substantially extend the framework. In particular, the existing two-year scope will provide only limited validation data on performance of the novel technologies. In addition, the current effort is limited to a single climatic zone, and the performance of many alternative energy technologies is highly dependent on climatic zone. Further efforts in this area would build substantially on the experience and data from the existing project, while deepening its base of real-world performance data and broadening the applicability of the guidance developed by the effort.