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Notes from the BPA Conference: It’s Good To Be Back in Person!
From April 11-14, the Building Performance Association (BPA) held the 2022 National Home Performance conference and trade show in Nashville. The conference was the first in-person industry event for many of us in the industry since the Covid pandemic surfaced in early 2020.
Three of us from Efficiency First California attended the conference. Packing bags and heading out to the airport felt odd at first, but once in motion, it was quite a treat to go to another city and participate in an in-person conference, something we used to take for granted. Given how well-attended the conference was (nearly two thousand people came), I think many were glad to be back. Video conferencing has become part of our work experience, but it will never replace being there in person.
Nashville was hopping. The city was hosting the Country Music Television awards. Broadway was closed to cars, and a stage with live performers filled the middle of the street. People were everywhere in all states of consciousness. If you were trying to build your Covid anti-bodies, this was the place to be.
The weather was dramatic and wide-ranging, from an eighty-degree humid evening to rain and thunderstorms, followed by a torrential downpour, then sunshine. It was a welcome change to be in a region more concerned about flooding than drought.
It was remarkable how much people had changed in two years. When you see your peers a couple of times per year, they look pretty much the same. Add a couple of gap years in between, and suddenly, they all look so much older. I think a lot of people have had similar post lockdown experiences.
The BPA sessions were excellent and covered a wide range of topics. On the first day, I toured some local high-performance buildings. The first was a high-performance addition transforming a house from 1,200 square feet to 3,700 square feet. The addition’s wall structures combined the latest moisture and vapor control products with low-carbon exterior insulation and cladding. The owner and the builder were there to discuss the details, and this project was all about the details. High-performance windows, impressive wall assemblies, and variable-capacity heat pumps were all a part of the project. It was great to be on a job site again, especially one so dedicated to building science, measured performance, and low carbon materials.
The second project was a multi-family project with five buildings and over three hundred units. Again, the construction incorporated advanced building science principles intended to improve the comfort of the occupants while reducing energy consumption at the same time. Thanks to Pearl Certification, who coordinated and sponsored the event.
The industry, like most others, has been heavily impacted by the aftermath of the Covid lockdowns. During the conference sessions, we learned that most contractors across the country are dealing with similar challenges: supply chain issues, lack of inventory, price increases, and the big one —the lack of skilled workers. We had numerous conversations with contractors who had more business than they could handle but could not grow due to a lack of employees.
We need to address the lack of a trained workforce if we plan on scaling this industry. The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL) includes $3.16 B in weatherization funding, which means this problem will worsen before it gets better. Workforce education and development will be critical in the transition to clean energy.
There were multiple sessions focused on ways to improve your business model. There was a lot to learn from marketing sessions from top experts. Other sessions dealt with weatherization and other business models. A large group of vendors showed their latest products.
There was some new messaging this year at the BPA national conference.
There were multiple sessions on expanding your employee network to build a more diverse company. Addressing the needs of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community needs to be included in all conversations, and the building science industry is no exception.
Another takeaway was how the messages of decarbonization and electrification are part of the conversation from coast to coast. I participated in a panel discussion with folks from Home Performance with Energy Star, a program that has shaped utility rebate programs for years. I was there to provide details on California’s decarbonization efforts. Courtney Moriarta of NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) was there to explain decarbonization efforts in New York.
Both California and New York have established aggressive climate goals intended to reduce our impact on the environment drastically. Both states have recognized that we will never meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels in buildings. Heat pumps are getting attention in both states, partially due to their efficiency and the ability to be powered by carbon-free electricity. I knew that New York had embraced decarbonization and electrification, but it was surprising to see things like natural gas bans enacted in other states.
I must admit that I was even more surprised to learn about Tennessee’s decarbonization efforts. We met Jennifer Westerholm, the Sustainability and Outreach Manager with the Nashville’s Department of General Services, during the high-performance building tour. She explained how her agency has adopted aggressive decarbonization goals and is implementing decarbonization measures across multiple sectors, including actively working to decarbonize government-owned buildings in the Nashville area. They are also working to electrify their fleet of vehicles, over 1,600 in total, to reduce their GHG greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts. It was encouraging to hear how a local government was addressing decarbonization. They were knowledgeable, discussing heat pumps, electrification, electric vehicles, microgrids, and decarbonization. Further proof that the decarbonization via electrification has traction nationwide.
Overall, the conference was a success, and there were tons of great sessions and the top professionals in the industry. It was a treat to attend an event of this scale in person, and we all made it home intact, for the most part. Hats off to the folks at the BPA for yet another successful event. My apologies to all the folks I wanted to have further discussions with and ran out of time. I guess we will have to pick up the conversation next time.