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RECAP: Superhero Buildings, AUG Hot Topics

Staff | Published on 8/4/2023

RECAP--Superhero Buildings:
Our Secret Weapon to Save the Planet!

As Central Florida endures record setting temperatures,  the panel 
discussion probed how the energy efficiency of new construction and existing buildings can be dramatically improved and then combined with renewable energy to drastically reduce energy use.

Some questions asked:
How do the costs for zero-energy and low energy-use buildings compare to conventional buildings?  What are the insurance implications?  How will affordability affect the progress for these new buildings?

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Read REVIEW of Program
Read REVIEW of Program

Joy Wallace Dickinson and Susan Windmiller

Today’s Hot Topics was a classic League of Women Voters event: It was all about educating League members and the public on vital issues. Given that it took place on a sizzling day that was expected to be Orlando’s hottest this year—a day that also saw a rare national “excessive heat warning”—it was as if Mother Nature herself was agreeing that this was an important and necessary conversation.

As moderator George Waldenberger noted in kicking off the program, it’s an especially vital conversation because it “affects us all.”

Waldenberger, a veteran meteorologist with WFTV-Channel 9, posed a series of detailed questions to panelists Ashley P. Van Stone, City of Orlando Sustainability Manager; Philip Fairey of the Florida Solar Energy Center; Lisa Pearcy, CEO of the company 15 lightyears; and architect Philip Donovan of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, who designed Florida’s first zero-energy school, in Osceola County (see more on the panel below).

Questions for the panel began with noting that “buildings account for 75 percent of electricity generated and 40 percent of emissions” and dove deep into a complex subject that ranged across both commercial and residential buildings. Topics ranged from the use of software simulations to energy tax credits to energy-rating indexes, and plenty more.

The panelists seemed to agree about the importance of education and advocacy—education for homeowners, renters, builders, and even school-age children, to begin awareness at a young age, and advocacy to elect candidates who support zero-energy policies.

At one point, Philip Fairey emphasized the importance of energy efficiency. We need to make sure that our buildings are as efficient as possible in every way and then work on using renewable energy, he noted. Efficiency can involve windows (keeping out heat), efficient air conditioning, or LED lighting that provides lots of light but much uses less energy than older lighting methods.

Philip Donovan stressed that, while design is incredibly important, it’s also important to monitor how buildings are used—especially listening to people who use a building. It’s not enough to design and build high-performance buildings, he said, but to make sure that they remain so over the long term.

In a “lightning round” of quick responses, panelists were asked to offer key takeaways from the conversation, including how can League members help.

Ashley Van Stone stressed the importance of increasing educational events such as today’s program, as well as voting for leaders who support energy efficiency and zero-energy buildings. Philip Donovan looked to the future and the importance of fostering empathy for future generations. “We are all connected,” he said. Lisa Pearcy urged the value of listening, learning, and getting curious, and (as noted above), Philip Fairy stressed a focus first on energy efficiency, and then adding renewable energy as much as possible.

The panel advised attendees to request a free Home Energy Audit from our utility companies. It’s a great place to start.

As LWVOC Vice President Lee Rambeau Kemp noted in introducing the program, a new “space race” has begun—except instead of going to the stars, it’s a race to reimagine Earth’s spaces, the infrastructure where we all live, work, and play. 

Thanks to the Hot Topics Committee and Energy Subcommittee and to Mary Dipboye, who chairs the Energy Subcommittee and who organized today’s panel.

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Moderator George Waldenberger
 has been a meteorologist at Central Florida’s WFTV-Channel 9 for a decade. He grew up in Wisconsin before moving to Orlando. He has wide experience in science reporting across the region, including rocket launches, water treatment, coastal erosion, sinkholes, flood mitigation, and solar-energy technology, and has accompanied NOAA’s hurricane hunters on missions that included hurricanes Irma and Dorian.

Ashley P. Van Stone is a Sustainability Manager for the City of Orlando’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience, where she coordinates the city’s Clean Energy, Green Buildings, and Transportation efforts. She has more than a decade of experience in sustainability strategic planning, project management, assessment and evaluation, stakeholder engagement, and community outreach and education.  

Philip Fairey has been Deputy Director of the Florida Solar Energy Center since 1990 and has more than 40 years of experience in the building-science research area. He conceived and developed the Florida Building Energy-Efficiency Rating System and led the development of EnergyGauge®, a user-friendly, software tool for code compliance, energy ratings and economic analysis.

Lisa Pearcy is the founder and CEO of 15 lightyears, an Orlando-based solar installation and energy-testing company that successfully installed solar panels on Orlando's first zero-energy building. She also played a significant role in establishing the Green School program at Orange County Public Schools, which promotes a comprehensive approach to sustainability, school-ground enhancement, resource conservation, curriculum connections, and community involvement. 

Philip Donovan, an Orlando-based architect who specializes in regenerative design, directs the Regen CoLab with Little Diversified Architectural Consulting. He has served as a project architect on five net-zero energy schools, including NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee, Florida’s first zero-energy school, and is a member of the Florida State AIA advisory council on Resilient Design, the Green Energy Taskforce for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and the Orange County Sustainability and Resiliency Committee. 

PANEL Resources

George Waldenberger, WFTV Meterologist 

Ashley P. Van StoneCity of Orlando Sustainability Project Manager
Philip Fairey, Florida Solar Energy Center(FSEC), UCF
Lisa Pearcy, CEO, 15 Lightyears 
Philip DonovanLittle Architects; designed the sole FL Green Public school in Osceola County
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Ways to Take Action
Ways to Take Action


1. Homeowners - get an energy audit from your electric utility or a private vendor.   When your air conditioner needs replacing, install a high efficient heat pump.
Use less electricity by turning thermostat to 78 degrees during the summer and 68 during the winter.
Turn down the temperature on the water heater tank to 120 degrees.  

2. Renters - Use less electricity by turning thermostat to 78 degrees during the summer and 68 during the winter.   Turn down the temperature on the water heater tank to 120 degrees.  

3. Students - Ask to see the Sustainability Plan for your school or district and ask to be involved in its implementation.  Advocate for stronger sustainability goals in your school's Plan.  Join a group focused on Sustainability at your school or join the LWVOC's Natural Resource Committee.

4. Retirement Home Residents - sign petition urging AARP to highlight how seniors can save money
and fight climate change.  Sign AARP Climate Action Petition | Take Action on Climate Change.   Start a Green Team and advocate for improvements in energy efficiency, recycling and more.

2023 Aug Hot Topics: Superhero Buildings

EVALUATE the program if you attended or viewed on YouTube or Facebook Live:

Climate First Bank is our Platinum Sponsor. The bank will be supporting LWVOC Hot Topics events for 2023. Climate First Bank is the world's first FDIC-insured community bank founded to combat the climate crisis. Climate First Bank offers a complete, full-service portfolio of simple and easy-to-use traditional banking products designed to do good for people and the planet. Please follow this link to learn more:

Interested in becoming a sponsor?

Contact our Fund Development team for more information:
Lee Rambeau Kemp