With the new administration’s robust focus on energy policy, energy efficiency efforts have taken on momentum around the US. In 2050, roughly half the US building stock will be buildings that are standing today. While new buildings will be constructed, we will also need to substantially reduce energy use and emissions from existing buildings. Typical building retrofits reduce energy use by 10-25%, but deep retrofits save at least 30% and sometimes more than 50%. To green a building is to increase the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials and of reducing impacts on human health and the environment for the entire lifecycle of a building.
Green-building concepts extend beyond the walls of buildings and include site planning, community, and land-use planning issues as well.
In the US, according to data from the Green Built Alliance, buildings account for:
- 39% of total energy use
- 68% of total electricity consumption
- 30% of landfill waste
- 38% of carbon dioxide emissions
- 12% of total water consumption
While we here at CleanTechnica have an affinity for electric vehicles, we also really respect the potential of energy efficiency to mitigate the climate crisis. Greening a building through energy and water efficiency is the fastest, most effective way to cut our pollution while saving money at the same time.
Many initiatives are in the works right now to increase the energy efficiency of buildings across the US. Let’s take a look at some of these efforts, shall we?
Energy efficiency is front and center in the Air Force’s mission to decarbonize itself and the entire Department of Defense — $403 million is being poured into a massive energy upgrade for Yokota Air Base in Japan.
A critical tool for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is buried in the fine print of the massive “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021,” as a provision offers permanent tax incentives for highly energy-efficient commercial buildings. This incentive can accelerate efforts to transform the buildings sector from one that causes some 15% of all climate pollution to one that is essentially pollution free.
Even the US Department of Energy (DOE) has leaped on the energy efficiency bandwagon, with its October 30 “Weatherization Day.” This is an annual opportunity to reinforce the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes.
COVID-19 has put new obstacles in the way of the energy efficiency industry, specifically in the residential space. But, albeit slow, progress to green a building from the inside out continues. Indeed, the EPA has announced its final criteria for the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2021 certification. These criteria will recognize the most efficient ENERGY STAR products in 2021 across 12 product categories: air source heat pumps and central air conditioners, ceiling fans, clothes washers, dryers, computer monitors, freezers, furnaces, geothermal heat pumps, refrigerator-freezers, room air conditioners, ventilation fans, and residential windows and sliding glass doors.
Coal Country to Consider Energy Efficiency in State-Owned West Virginia Buildings
West Virginia’s energy generation landscape remains dominated by coal, with renewable energy sources accounting for just a fraction of all of the state’s power. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, a professional environmental scientist, is among the handful of lawmakers who consistently advocate for energy diversification, sustainable solutions, and green economic development opportunities. A bill he is introducing focuses on energy efficiency improvements.
“This bill follows up on study resolution that was passed last session that required a study of energy use at state-owned buildings,” he said. “My bill would set a target of 30% energy savings in state-owned buildings by 2030 and would also set a process in motion to identify electric meters that the state is still paying for that actually don’t provide any electricity — they’re called orphaned meters, and there are a lot of those.”
The efficiency improvements would require an initial investment, which will pay off “very quickly,” Hansen said. “We would save taxpayer dollars, and it would create a lot of energy efficiency jobs across the state.”
Plans to Green a Building Increasingly Popular for Companies, Too
According to Johnson Controls’ 2020 Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, more than half of organizations plan to increase their investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart building technology next year. Of the factors determining investment, 85% of respondents said that reducing energy costs was a very or extremely important driver of investment, and more than 76% believe that protecting the health and safety of occupants during emergencies was a very or an extremely important driver of investment.
“Digital offerings that integrate a number of systems are more of a priority than ever for organizations evaluating their investment plans for 2021,” said Michael Ellis, executive vice president and chief customer and chief digital officer at Johnson Controls. The integration of new technology continues to be a consistent theme, with 79% of respondents noting that data analytics and machine learning will have an extremely or very significant impact on buildings, up 5% from last year’s study.
The 13th Energy Efficiency Finance Forum (EEFF) will help companies like these explore initiatives and opportunities to finance projects that save energy, reduce costs, and create jobs. The EEFF — a virtual experience — will kick off with a workshop that provides an introduction to the world of energy efficiency finance. Instructors will help participants understand the key components that make up an energy efficiency financing program, review many of the most popular financing models, discuss the state of the market, and provide insight on what drives program performance. The workshop will cover financing related to the 3 major market sectors: residential, commercial, and government facilities, with a discussion of the pros, cons, and applicability of different finance mechanisms available for each.
To Green a Building: Final Thoughts
The growth and development of our communities has had an enormous and frequently devastating impact on our natural environment. The manufacturing, design, construction, and operation of the buildings in which we live and work are responsible for the consumption of many of our natural resources.
Yet positive consequences occur every time we green a building.
Environmental benefits of green building:
- Enhance and protect biodiversity and ecosystems
- Improve air and water quality
- Reduce waste streams and restore natural resources
Economic benefits of green building:
- Reduce operating costs
- Improve occupant productivity
- Enhance asset value and profits
- Optimize life-cycle economic performance
Social benefits of green building:
- Enhance occupant health and comfort
- Improve indoor air quality
- Minimize strain on local utility infrastructure
- Improve overall quality of life
Look around at your space. What can you do to increase your building’s energy efficiency?