Better Buildings Initiative Is Decarbonizing America’s Built Environment

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In 2011, the US Department of Energy started the Better Buildings Initiative. Today, this public-private partnership includes more than 900 businesses, state and local governments, utilities, housing authorities, and other organizations across the United States, all of whom are pursuing ambitious energy, waste, water, and/or greenhouse gas reduction goals to improve the energy efficiency of American homes, commercial buildings, and industrial plants. Better Buildings partners commit to expanding their investments in energy saving technologies, share best practices with each other, and measure their progress toward pre-determined goals.

Every year the Department of Energy releases a report that outlines the progress made by the Better Buildings Initiative during the past year. According to the 2022 report, the program has saved participants more than $15 billion since its inception and avoided 155 million metric tons of carbon emissions — equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 20 million homes each year. Decarbonizing America’s building sector is a key part of President Biden’s plan to reach a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

“Leading companies, state and local governments, and other organizations are working with DOE’s Better Buildings program and have committed to using less energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and sharing the solutions that work,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “This year’s progress report underscores the incredible impact of those commitments in decarbonizing the sectors responsible for over 35% of America’s emissions. Our partners are leading the way to a prosperous clean energy economy and a healthier planet.”

The 2022 Better Buildings Progress report summarizes the achievements of Better Buildings partners, which include 36 of the country’s Fortune 100 companies, 10 of the top 25 US employers, and more than 100 state and local governments. Together these companies represent 14% of the American manufacturing energy consumption footprint and 13% of total commercial building space. The DOE’s Better Buildings Solution Center now features more than 3,000 real world solutions that can improve energy, water, and waste efficiency.

The Department of Energy has helped provide $28 billion in funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects though its Financial Allies  program since the start of the Better Buildings Initiative. Members of the partnership report that improvements to their buildings have saved approximately 9 billion British thermal units based on envelope technologies alone.

Dvele Builds Better From The Start

Dvele home
Image courtesy of Dvele

In the past, thinking about weatherproofing homes and building was never much of a priority. People would put rolled up newspapers under their window sills to keep out drafts. Some used seaweed to insulate exterior walls. Storm windows over single pane glass was considered high technology. There used to be a feeling that a house needed to “breathe” in order to provide a healthy environment for the people inside.

All that is changing, and one company is leading the way toward an energy efficient future for our built environment. Dvele builds manufactured homes that meet or exceed all current building codes and construction standards. Homes built in a factory can be made to precise tolerances, save significant time compared to constructing a stick-built home onsite, and reduce construction waste to a minimum.

But there’s more to Dvele homes. Since 2020, every one comes complete with a rooftop solar system and battery storage built in. Combined with heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water, together with LED lighting throughout and advanced control of electrical circuits, all Dvele homes are designed to operate independently of the electrical grid.

The underlying premise is that producing homes that require significantly less energy to operate will reduce the total energy needed to power the home. With this goal firmly in mind, producing a self-powered home becomes much more attainable, the company says.

The solar array included with each Dvele home captures clean renewable energy during the day. The company uses panels that produce more power in low light conditions so more clean energy is created earlier in the day and later into the evening. They also are designed so that if shading occurs on one panel, it does not degrade the production on the rest of the array.

The battery stores the energy the rooftop solar system produces. The home then uses that energy to operate the home’s electrical devices through the peak power window without any draw from the grid. The batteries can also store excess energy which can be used to charge an electric car at night or be exported to the electrical grid. All Dvele eco-friendly homes are Passive Certified, meaning they are designed to make the most efficient use of “passive” environmental influences like sunshine and shading to lower energy demands up to 90% in the living space.

The company says, “At Dvele, we are committed to catalyzing the human transition into buildings that are significantly more sustainable. By revolutionizing the way homes are designed, produced and experienced we are making a substantial, positive impact on our customers and the planet. Our team shares a common vision to inspire a new future full of beautiful, health promoting homes that are entirely self-powered, adaptable, safe, and highly resilient. ”

In an email to CleanTechnica, Dvele CEO and co-founder Kurt Goodjohn said, “As leaders, it is our job to create every possible solution we can to avoid climate catastrophe and there’s not another second to wait. By scaling our production of fully electrified, self-powered and intelligent homes, Dvele is showing the world a profound, positive impact on the electrification of everything.

“We are bringing energy independence to homeowners, as well as creating a new generation of self-powered, healthy homes and driving society to a clean energy future. Our children and future generations are depending on the actions we take today.”

The Takeaway

We are in the mess we are in because fossil fuel energy is so cheap and so abundant, we feel we can afford to waste it and it won’t matter. Only about 25% of the energy in a gallon of gasoline ever gets used to actually move a car or a truck forward. By the same token, up to 50% of the energy we use to power our homes goes right out through the roof, windows, walls, and doors.

One of the reasons oil and gas are so cheap is because our economic system imposes no obligation to pay for the damage they do to the environment. That is clearly an absurd and unsustainable economic model but so long as most or our political leaders are in thrall to the fossil fuel companies (who pay to get them elected, after all), change will come slowly.

The Department of Energy is helping businesses and organizations reduce their carbon footprint and lower their energy costs, and companies like Dvele are doing the same for individual homeowners. As a popular bumper sticker says, “If the people will lead, their leaders will follow.” It’s up to us — each and every one of us — to make choices that save us money while helping to keep the Earth fit for human habitation.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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