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Cascade: No. 74, Spring/Summer 2010

Drexel Advises PHA on Energy Improvements

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) is working with a Drexel University research and advisory team to measure energy usage and evaluate energy-efficiency improvements fully or partially funded under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The improvements include a building automated system (BAS) that will capture energy usage data at more than 40 PHA sites, the rehabilitation of 422 units, and the new construction of 318 units.

This green roof atop the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Warnock Village senior building is one of the energy-efficiency improvements made by the Philadelphia Housing Authority since the agency started working with a Drexel University research and advisory team.

This green roof atop the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Warnock Village senior building is one of the energy-efficiency improvements made by the Philadelphia Housing Authority since the agency started working with a Drexel University research and advisory team.

Carl R. Greene, executive director of the PHA, said that he proposed the initiative because he anticipated that housing authorities would be asked to evaluate energy improvements made with ARRA funds. Greene said, “There’s not a lot of data that measures the results of energy conservation and energy-efficiency efforts. In the Drexel initiative, a highly motivated academic team is working with practitioners, namely, PHA engineers and architects. Our goal is a national model that can be used by HUD for housing authorities across the country and that can inform the affordable housing industry.”

The Drexel team has provided the PHA with state-of-the-art research on energy conservation techniques and has collected energy consumption and utility data on different types of PHA buildings (i.e., scattered- site, high-rise, low-rise, and townhouse dwellings).

The Drexel team has several goals:

  • Developing simulation models to assess the impact on energy efficiency and usage of alternative energy systems and different designs for building and heating and cooling systems;
  • Evaluating actual versus projected savings from energy-efficiency measures funded under the ARRA;
  • Advising the PHA on implementation of the BAS, a centralized building control, operation, and energy measurement system in which data will be transmitted to a central location; and
  • Advising the PHA on the cost-benefit of energy-related investments.

The PHA has begun to implement some of the Drexel team’s recommendations, such as installation of geothermal heat pump systems, solar hot water panels, and soybean-based insulation.

Jin Wen, an assistant professor in Drexel’s department of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering who heads the Drexel effort, said that she and Greene started to talk about working together after both spoke at a conference. She said that the four full-time graduate and undergraduate students who are working with the PHA “are very excited to work on this project because they can see the immediate impact of their work.” In addition, Patrick Gurian, assistant professor of environmental engineering at Drexel, is assisting the effort on cost-benefit analysis, policy analysis, and indoor air quality.

Wen added that Drexel will provide the PHA with an advanced engineering model. The findings from Drexel’s work with the PHA will be published, which she said will help others retrofit multifamily buildings.

The contract for Drexel’s work is in effect from August 25, 2009, through August 24, 2011, and Greene said that he expects it to be extended. Drexel’s work is funded with PHA operating funds.

For information, contact Jin Wen at 215-895-4911 or jinwen@drexel.edu E-mail Address, or Audrey Lim with PHA at 215-684-5772 or audrey.lim@pha.phila.gov E-mail Address.