CINDY SHEBLEY

Efficiency comes from scale. In this case, home energy performance is advanced by a community based solar microgrid that feeds all the homes in a development. This advanced thinking in energy performance could only be achieved by a collaboration between many parties.

In the beginning of the 21st century, smart technology led to smart phones and smart appliances. The smart home was next, but it was often without a surrounding community of homes built with an integrated approach to energy efficiency.

Then builders said, “Let there be a smart neighborhood.”

Just outside of Birmingham, Ala., Signature Homes recently completed a 62-home development called Reynolds Landing — the first “smart neighborhood” in the state and the first community in the Southeast to be supported by a microgrid (an adjacent site accommodating 1,200 solar modules, a battery storage facility and a backup natural gas generator).

“This neighborhood represents a great leap forward in providing energy in ways that improve peoples’ lives like we’ve never done before,” said John Hudson, senior vice president for Alabama Power.

“In addition to the microgrid, the energy-efficient systems, high-performance appliances and mobile-device-connected smart features inside each of the homes add up to a convenient, energy-efficient living experience beyond what seemed possible just a few years ago,” Hudson said.

The homes in Reynolds Landing are rated 35% more efficient than the average new home. And yet, early on in the project, that level of efficiency for an entire community had seemed impossible to some, including the builder himself.

“We’ve made great progress over the years in creating highly energy-efficient homes, but the standards [the build team and our partners] wanted to accomplish with this neighborhood initially seemed way beyond our abilities,” said Dwight Sandlin, CEO of Signature Homes. “They wanted all of the homes to achieve a mid-40s HERS index rating, which I thought was impossible, but in fact, we’ve accomplished that.”

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