Article first appeared in Facility Executive
By Tom Hartman
Among the flurry of conferences, webinars, and workshops aimed at increasing awareness and developing collaborative efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, nearly all concerned identify improving energy efficiency as a key — or even the only — near-term response that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the order of magnitude believed to be needed.
Unfortunately, the building industry appears to be caught in the classic conundrum of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Building construction and operations leaders have for decades claimed to be placing a strong focus on improving building energy utilization. And indeed, the energy efficiency of appliances, equipment, and building systems has improved. But according to the most recent U.S. Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CEBCS) data (2012), overall commercial building energy use intensity has declined hardly a tick since the early 1990s. At one recent conference, a presenter made a compelling case that our newest buildings are among the most energy wasteful ever. How is that possible?
The building energy efficiency movement has focused on reducing energy use through individual components and subsystems. The thinking is that designers can select from a menu of potential improvements. This approach has failed to deliver the expected benefits because it doesn’t account for how changes to one element can affect others. (A simple example is energy efficient lighting upgrades that lead to increases in heating energy use.) Yet this item-by-item strategy continues to dominate. Energy audits in existing buildings and efficiency plans for new buildings continue to treat each energy consuming element separately. The result is that buildings rarely achieve their expected overall energy performance.
An Integrated, Occupant-centered Future
To reduce building energy use dramatically, we need to discard the efficiency menu approach and shift from heating and cooling entire buildings to installing more integrated, decentralized systems that support occupants’ actual use of a building. Some of the technologies that will enable this shift are still emerging. But facility executives and the providers they work with can take steps now to significantly reduce energy consumption in their new and existing commercial buildings.
Based on my review of building energy efficiency initiatives that have delivered real results, the following are proven paths to success.
- Collaborative design
- Advanced controls
- System-level optimization
- Accountable support
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