Austin is home to many successful housing projects that are exemplary for a focus on sustainability. Those projects were supported by one of the country’s most impressive sustainability efforts – Austin Energy.
Austin Energy was created as the country’s first green building program by the City of Austin more than 20 years ago. Austin Energy Green Building is now the nation's most successful sustainable building program. Austin Energy has rated more than 15,000 single-family homes, 160 multifamily properties that represent more than 26,000 units, and 261 commercial properties including another 8,000 housing units.
These amazing accomplishments positioned the group up to be honored as a HIVE Top 50 Innovator in December 2019.
Key to the group’s success so far has been a willingness to openly communicate and collaborate with other parties, including universities, manufacturers, service providers, other government entities, developers and utilities. Getting to the next level of building performance will continue to take strong collaboration and a purpose-driven approach that can only be achieved without ego in the way, according to Heidi Kasper, the energy efficiency services manager at Austin Energy.
Kasper credits fate for leading her to Austin Energy during the downturn, and now she drives innovation in dozens of different types of projects. In this podcast, Kasper chats with Philip Beere, host of the HIVE RE:think podcast, on her beginnings and what she believes will be key to tomorrow’s successful sustainable projects.
Austin Energy has been involved in the SHINES program, which is a great example of this strong collaboration. Austin SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Austin Energy to create more value from solar generation and energy storage by managing the resources with a single operating system that would control those systems to optimize the revenue and electric distribution system support value of those resources collectively.
“The idea was to test the hypothesis that solar generation and energy storage can provide more total value when dispatched in a centrally coordinated manner than the value those same resources would create if they were allowed to run independently,” said Kurt Stogdill, manager for green building and sustainability, Austin Energy. “Austin SHINES has been a model of collaboration, from funding to project execution. From an execution perspective, all of the partners, which ultimately numbered over 15, all worked actively on the project from conception to execution.”
Just as Kasper mentioned, the success of SHINES has been based on strong communication, starting with a clear definition of the stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, and leading into regular, ongoing communication on progress to manage issues.
“The project was designed out of necessity to include multiple potential points of failure, trying to network new, developing and legacy systems from multiple vendors all while embracing the requirements of several standards,” said Stogdill.
Kasper also shared another unique Austin project that is a good example of collaboration and innovative leadership – the Lakeline Station Learning Center by Foundation Communities.
“Foundation Communities really seems to take the time to look at projects after completion to see how they are performing and whether they are living up to the expectations,” Kasper said. “They listen to property managers to understand problems on the operations and maintenance side so they can address them in future projects. They engage us with challenging questions and a two-way dialogue rather than just as a checklist.”
Kasper recommends these steps for a successful project:
- Gather all stakeholders
- Make sure everyone is on the same page about project goals
- Outline communication protocols
- Ask clarifying questions
Sustainability will move a lot farther down the road with these key steps in mind.