The US has been making a remarkably swift transition from coal dependency over the past ten years, but alternative fuel sourcing is only part of the sustainable energy equation. Energy efficiency is another, equally critical part of the long term strategy. Okay, so we admit that energy efficiency programs are not quite as headline-grabbing as the stunning reversal of fortune for the coal industry, but they have been racking up some impressive statistics of their own.
Come to think of it, energy efficiency has grabbed some rip-roaring headlines in recent times — anybody recall the notorious light bulb wars? — so let’s dig in to the latest update from the US Energy Department on its Better Buildings initiative and see what comes up.
The Low Hanging Energy Efficiency Fruit
The Obama Administration launched Better Buildings back in 2011, as a public-private partnership to set goals and share information with a heavy assist from the nation’s R&D institutions.
The goal is to cut energy use in buildings by 20 percent in a ten-year period. Aside from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the initiative is also an economic development program aimed at cutting utility bills for energy consumers. It also aims to create new jobs — an important selling point in 2011, as the US was still struggling with the fallout from the 2008 global financial meltdown.
Better Buildings got a quick start out of the gate with a lineup of 60 companies and other partners, and by 2013 the Energy Department was toting up the successes:
Some of the more notable initiatives since then include the imaginatively themed Better Buildings Challenge SWAP (see: reality TV’s “Wife Swap” series), a web series in which a teams of energy management experts from one company switches up with another company to see if they can ferret out more energy efficiency improvements.
The first round featured the San Francisco facilities of A-listers Hilton Worldwide and Whole Foods Market. Apparently it was a success, particularly in the areas of energy retrofits and behavior changes. The Energy Department is considering its options for Round 2.
SWAP is basically an information-sharing tool, and that’s really what Better Buildings is all about. It breaks down the competitive, zero sum business model and builds it back as a collaborative, goal-oriented endeavor.
Another good example of information sharing is the initiative’s online energy efficiency solutions toolkit, which launched in 2015.
The Better Buildings Challenge Today
Here are all the meaty bits (scroll down if you are not a fan of infographics):
The raw numbers are impressive. From the initial roster of 60 participants, the Challenge partners now number 310, 60 of whom have joined in just the first few months of this year. Together they represent 34,000 buildings and other facilities across the country. Their combined $5.5 billion dollars in energy efficiency investment also adds up to new jobs, an important factor to keep in mind as coal jobs continue to wither away.
The Energy Department is quite pleased with the latest round of new partners to join. Among the new members are well known names like UC Berkeley, Nike, and The Wendy’s Company.
The New York City Housing Authority also joined this year, which is noteworthy because low income and public housing represent some of the most significant challenges and opportunities in energy efficiency for residential buildings.
Saving water is part and parcel of the energy saving equation. Out of the 310 partners, fully 10 percent have already achieved their energy or water goals ahead of schedule.
The Better Buildings Challenge also includes coming up with innovative financing strategies, which can also be found in the online toolkit. Here’s the update from the Energy Department:
…The online tool now hosts more than 400 solutions including 100 implementation models, 150 showcase projects, and hundreds of supporting case studies, fact sheets, presentations, and webinars. The solutions partners are essential for demonstrating how advanced technologies, organizational strategies and partnerships with financiers and utilities are moving energy efficiency work forward across diverse market sectors.
Innovation accelerator programs are also part of the Challenge, including these ones aimed at solutions for low income neighborhoods and urban resiliency:
Local and national partners in the Better Buildings Clean Energy in Low Income Communities Accelerator will work to deploy clean energy in low income communities through expanded installation of energy efficiency and distributed renewables and lower utility bills for residents.
Cities and utilities in the Better Buildings Combined Heat and Power for Resiliency Accelerator will work to support and expand the consideration of combined heat and power technologies for improved efficiency and enhanced resiliency.
Group Hug For Better Buildings
As a public-private partnership, Better Buildings relies on motivating the private sector to invest in energy efficiency upgrades.
We US taxpayers are also doing our part. In support of Better Buildings, on May 9th the Energy Department announced a new round of $14 million in funding for new energy efficiency projects.
Most of the dollars (up to $8.4 million) will go to six projects under the agency’s Commercial Buildings Integration umbrella, which targets small and medium-sized commercial buildings.
The Energy Department expects the funding to propel almost $17 million in matching private sector resources, targeting retrofits and job training programs.
The remaining $5.5 million goes to eight projects in the Building America program, which is aimed at residential sector improvements including affordable housing.
Images (all): via US Department of Energy.