January 31, 2012 |
by Ashley M. Halligan
With an ever-increasing emphasis on sustainability in building, a project’s design team should always be on the lookout for ways to meet and exceed environmental performance goals. But only part of a building's sustainability can be directly linked to its design team.
The other part relies heavily on a building's tenants. Surprisingly, even with state-of-the-art Building Automation Systems (BAS) and eco-savvy designs, tenants make up for as much as fifty percent of energy usage.
The Lucid Design Group gathered empirical data that demonstrated average tenants use measurements of 30 to 50 percent of a building's total consumption. The question then: How to engage tenants so that they share the same environmental performance goals as the design team?
Through a handful of interviews with both software gurus and Leadership in Environmental Design (LEED) professionals, I've come up with five strategies to boost tenant compliance, and subsequent improvement of alignment with performance goals.
1. The Eco-Charrette
The first idea is an eco-charrette, a strategy to boost engagement before tenants move in.
An eco-charrette is a pre-occupancy meeting between the design team, building managers and soon-to-be occupants. With this initial meeting serving as a forum for suggestions on how to best achieve these goals, this becomes an opportunity for the design team to express the importance of their goals so that tenants are more aware from the beginning.
2. Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles
Josh Radoff, Principal at YR&G Sustainability suggests taking a holistic approach to sustainability, including encouraging healthy lifestyles through eating habits, being active, recycling and composting. A holistic approach increases the likelihood of tenant participation in sustainability plans, he says. “There’s a mistake of focusing solely on energy and water. While they’re important for a lot of people, they’re abstract ideas. It’s hard to get too far only focusing on energy,” says Radoff.
3. Technological Feedback
Another approach is factoring in a technology system that provides live data on usage patterns, comparisons between tenants and can incorporate social media elements to create a public platform for these measurements. One such system is Lucid's Building Dashboard, which has set the bar for tenant-use monitoring, but has also created tenant interest.
4. Keeping Up With The Neighbors
Another suggestion from Lucid is to create competition between tenants. This can be a powerful extension of a facilities management systems when rallying tenant interest.
According to Lucid's objectives:
"Consider the Prius Effect: when you can see how your car is performing in real time, you tend to fine-tune usage in order to improve, sustain and eventually surpass your current level of performance. This phenomenon is especially true when friends, family and spouses get involved, each competing to outperform the recent mile-per-gallon ‘winner.’ By analogy, the outcome of using Building Dashboard is like the social and psychological effect produced by using the energy monitor in a hybrid vehicle."
5. Educating Tenants About Building Goals
And lastly, Radoff suggests creating transparency.
Because performance goals and energy use measurements can seem abstract, creating a means to simplify these things is necessary for tenants to remain committed to an idea. It's important that tenants understand performance goals and the true impact of their habits and behaviors; otherwise, they'll quickly lose interest.
All these things said, however, green projects are still a new area that requires continuous research. New ideas are forming as quicklt as projects unfold. And beginning with the aforementioned tactics can be a great start to boosting efficiency from Day 1.
Photo by hobvias sudoneighm/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from CSRwire
by Eric Woods
The news that the 2012 TED Prize has been awarded for the first time to an idea, The City 2.0, is further evidence of the importance of cities in addressing global issues of sustainability, economic development and technology innovation. The TED Prize is linked to the acclaimed TED conferences and video series promoting ground-breaking technical, scientific and cultural ideas. According to the prize director, the idea behind the award is to challenge the TED Community “to embrace radical collaboration on one of the most pressing issues we face: how to build sustainable, vibrant, working cities.”
The TED announcement is just one of series of new studies, events and initiatives all focused on taking sustainable urban development programs to the next level. Eric Bloom has already covered the recent IBM-sponsored smart city gathering in Rio de Janeiro. He highlighted the innovative projects in Rio that are addressing systemic challenges and preparing the city for the arrival of the World Cup and the Olympic games. The UN has provided another useful example of how major events can propel new thinking about city design and development. It has pulled together lessons for sustainable cities drawn from the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, which had the theme of Better City, Better Life. The Shanghai Manual, A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development, provides a 300 page overview of the opportunities for cities to take new approach to issues such as economic development, transport, building, waste management and the use of ICT. The manual is part of the UN’s attempt to educate and train city authorities around the world on how they can make their cities a positive force for economic development and environmental sustainability.
The core themes of the UN study were also the common topics of conversation at the Intelligent City Expo, which I attended in November. Over three days in Hamburg – European Green Capital 2011 – city managers and political leaders, not-for-profit organizations and suppliers debated the way forward for cities. There was general agreement that a smart city is one that combines a commitment to sustainability with continued economic and social development supported by the innovative use of technology. Much of the discussion focused on the practical challenges of developing the political leadership, citizen engagement, and new operating models that enable the transformation to a smart city.
One of the biggest challenges is how to provide the financial underpinning for that transformation. In fact, the first question asked at the conference to the opening panel was “Who pays?” I chaired the panel that addressed this topic on the second day of the conference, comprising representatives from European investment bodies, including the European Investment Bank, and also from the private equity sector. In Europe at least, investment funds are available for trials and pilots, but taking projects to large-scale deployment is still uncharted territory in most cases. It’s also clear that the private sector is eager to find new ways to work with city authorities but they need to find the right service and right business models.
One area of growing interest is the value of information and data assets in helping to reimagine the way the city operates. This issue has been taken up by The Climate Group, in a new report on smart city economics, Information Marketplaces: the New Economics of Cities. The report, produced with the help of Accenture, Arup and the University of Nottingham, examines the potential for cities to use untapped data and information assets to improve decision making, make better use of city infrastructure and develop new forms of cooperation with the private sector and with citizens. It’s a useful contribution to the growing debate as to how city data and information assets can provide a technical and financial basis for smart city transformation. The challenge for cities is to understand what data they should make available, in what form and above all what partnerships they need to forge to ensure that that hidden value is realized.Eric Woods is an analyst at Pike Research who focuses on the smart grid and green information technology.
Tiny houses are here to stay. In recent years, with the mainstream success of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, housing prices going through the roof, greater awareness of sustainable and ecological living issues, living in tiny homes has become an attractive option for increasing numbers of people.
Deek of Relax Shacks has posted his top 10 tiny houses books for folks interested in designing or living in their own small home.
Living in a Tiny House
These are books meant to inspire and educate about how living in a tiny house can be liberating, and an act of living environmentally.
On a related note, Lloyd Kahn of Shelter Publications has been working on his own book about tiny living, titled: Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter. The book is due out in February 2012. Yahoo!Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
by Susan DeFreitas
While more people are choosing to build green than ever before, the fading away of federal stimulus funds and a general slowdown in the commercial building sector put a crimp on green building projects in the past year or so – a trend that’s likely to reverse in the coming year, according to Jerry Yudelson, an architect and LEED fellow based in Tucson, Ariz. This is one of Yudelson Associates’ predictions in the firm’s Top Ten Green Building Mega Trends for 2012, which also foresees increased emphasis on green retrofits of existing buildings.
Based on Yudelson’s conversations with green building industry leaders in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia over the past year, the report calls for a rebound in North American green building in 2012 due to faster growth in green retrofits, with ongoing college and university projects and NGO activity serving to take the bite out of the slowdown in new commercial and governmental construction. Additionally, the report sees LEED growth as remaining rapid in China and other fast-growing economies.
According to the report, green building in 2012 will also continue to benefit from Obama administration’s support, with its commitment to a minimum of LEED Gold for all federal projects and a focus on major energy-efficiency renovations. However, the majority of LEED projects will remain firmly in the retrofit category, driven, in part, by significantly higher rents and asset prices for certified green office buildings across the U.S. and Europe.
Other trends projected for 2012 include a heightened awareness of the need to conserve water in buildings, more and more green certification programs in countries around the world, and a sharp increase in the number of architects and designers stepping up their green game from LEED (or comparable certification) to net zero status. More information on these and other trends predicted by the report is available online.
Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
Apple unveiled its plans last week for its new striking headquarters campus in Cupertino, California.
"I want to leave a signature campus that expresses the values of the company for generations," Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson.
The spectular spaceship design is a 175-acre circular structure, with a footprint larger than the Pentagon. Its four stories high with glass circular walls.
The plans show that much of the 750,000 square foot circular roof will host a solar array, which could be as large as 5 megawatts, making it the largest rooftop solar PV system in the US.
The plans also indicate there will be 320,000 square foot solar canopy topping the mostly underground parking garage.
Still the main source of energy is expected to be natural gas from an independent on-site generator.
No announcement has been made as to whether the building will be LEED-certified.
The 2.8 million square feet spaceship will house over 13,000 employees and should be finished by 2015.
Six thousand tree species surround the building in a native landscape that will be preserved.
In November, we learned that Apple is also building a solar plant at its new $1 billion data center in North Carolina.
Currently, the largest solar system is 4.26 MW for Avidan Energy Systems' commercial building in New Jersey, which will soon be superceded by a 5.38 MW system on the roof of a Toys'R'Us distribution center, also in New Jersey.Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Chris Keenan
After the real estate market crashed and the recession began, many industry experts projected that construction would turn to more energy efficient and environmentally friendly housing. The essence of green design means more efficient homes that typically need less square footage. From an economic view, smaller would mean more affordable, as well. As new construction moves away from the McMansions of yesterday, they’re not going smaller, they’re going boxier.
Even as prices fall for average-sized new homes in this depressed economy, sales of big-box houses are on the rise. New home builders have discovered a market of buyers who want a lot of square footage because they’re in need of the space. Others want to buy the large boxy design because it’s too good to pass up at such a low price. In states where land sells at fire-sale prices, such as Texas and Florida, builders are constructing big-box houses and selling them for the price of a mid-sized home.
In Orlando, Meritage Homes credits the sale of their big-box houses (houses with 4,000+ square-foot floor plans) with more than half their sales in the Orlando area. Two years ago the company imported a model from its Texas location, and the big-box design has been selling well ever since. Overall, the big-box houses account for at least 30 percent of the company’s total sales, depending on the area.
Other builders are following suit. Lennar recently announced its 4,054-square-foot Himalayan model in the Tampa, Florida, market for $270,990. D.R. Horton followed suit with The Surrey, a 4,600-square-foot home in Lakeland, Florida, starting at $223,990. The list continues as builders try to cash in on the bigger home trend. The competition lies in resale, however, not with other builders.
The big-box home trend arose specifically as a way to compete against resales. It’s hard to find larger homes among foreclosures and resales, so the bigger size becomes the difference in product. A larger home with garage doors also passes appraisal easily because the price per square footage is less and the higher-priced portions of the home, kitchens and bathrooms, are amortized over a larger number of square feet.
Figuring the profits on a big-box home is tricky. In this economy, the profit margin is thin. First, the land has to be inexpensive. The builder must stick to the box-on-top-of-a-box design because it’s cheaper to construct than an average house that has a pitched roof and more intricate styling. Also, material costs are down in this economy and labor is cheap. All of this contributes to a large, boxy house built for cheap, and that’s what matters to banks, appraisers, and the average buyer.
Meritage is taking steps to make themselves greener, but a true change in the market will only be made when consumers stop thinking bigger/cheaper is better and put their money in sustainable, greener housing.Reprinted with permission from Green Building Elements
by Eric Bloom
At the IBM Smarter Cities forum in Rio de Janeiro last week, I had the chance to go behind the scenes and take a first-hand look at Rio’s smart city project. My main impression is that the project represents one of the purest emerging examples of a smart city project that is simultaneously developing smart solutions on multiple fronts – natural disaster management, public safety, health, utilities, to mention a few – and is starting to achieve a true “system of systems” – nirvana in smart city terms. This level of integration and interoperability across city agencies – and the successes Rio has had so far – bodes well for the smart city opportunity not only in emerging markets but worldwide.
The City of Rio de Janeiro has accomplished this by deploying smart technologies ranging from broad, continental-scale weather tracking down to mobile device-enabled notification systems for potholes and burnt-out streetlights. The centerpiece, of course, is the Rio Operations Center, which features Latin America’s largest screen and dozens of stations that provide visualizations of real-time data feeds. Within the center, 35 city agencies work together to synergize their responses to city events. (One interesting detail is that the operators wear uniforms modeled after NASA that create a sense of camaraderie and homogeneity across the historically separate city agencies, which creates something of a spectacle.)
To provide an example of how this works: If heavy rains cause flooding in a specific portion of the city, the operations center coordinates teams that notify citizens ahead of time via text message, close down the streets, mobilize ambulances, and shut down electricity distribution systems in the neighborhood to prevent electrocution. These processes are all pre-determined via standard operating procedures (SOPs). On the city side, bringing all these agencies under one roof helps break the silos that perennially plague the smooth delivery of city services. And, on the citizen side, it certainly helps that Brazil’s mobile device and networks are exploding, providing the platform for vigorous smart city app development and citizen involvement.
But technology is only one part of the winning recipe for a smart city. One persistent barrier echoed many times at the event is that smart city projects often rely heavily on the vision and initiative of specific mayors and administrations, which typically face four-year election cycles. The timetables required for certain types of infrastructure – particularly those involving high-tech and high initial capital expenditures – don’t always fit neatly into mayoral terms. Indeed, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, who spoke at the event, described the challenges of making progress on the project despite his uncertain future as mayor. Selecting smart city technology measures that optimize in terms of high net-present value, ease of deployment within a tight timeframe, and high PR benefits for the mayoral office seem to be emerging as the most pragmatic smart city solutions that address this challenge.
What differentiates Rio from other smart cities is the added challenge of managing its favelas – shantytowns perched on steep hillsides throughout the city that have historically received little in the way of city services or regulation – and integrating them with Rio’s urban fabric. These areas are among the most vulnerable to disasters such as mudslides as well as important symbolic testing grounds for Rio’s ability to serve even its poorest citizens as scrutiny of the city mounts in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. From the perspective of a smart city, the favelas also provide opportunities for infrastructural “leapfrogging,” installing smart systems that could catapult these portions of the city to levels found in the rest of the city using state-of-the-art technology.
All in all, though, the event provided a clear picture of the concrete progress that’s being made on the smart city front and, in particular, the unique opportunities afforded by cities in emerging markets.Eric Bloom is a green building and renewable energy analyst for Pike Research.
The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), approved last week after two years of development, applies to all new and renovated commercial buildings and residential buildings over three stories high.
The historic code sets mandatory baseline standards for all aspects of building design and construction, including energy and water efficiency, site impacts, building waste, and materials.
Although the final code won't be published until March 2012, many local and state governments have begun to officially adopt it.
"It represents a change in the standard of construction," says Jessyca Henderson Director of Sustainability Advocacy at the American Institute of Architects. "It will effect everyone that touches buildings...it will be a big leap."
How it Differs From LEED
The new code creates a mandatory "floor" - enforceable minimum standards on every aspect of building design and construction that now must be reached.
LEED certification, on the other hand, is voluntary. Although many buildings now strive for it, there are more that don't. The new code will thus raise the standards for ALL buildings.
Also to qualify for LEED, designers choose from a menu of options. They may choose to address certain aspects of energy efficiency, such as lighting, for example, while leaving others out.
Setting a "floor" through the code, creates the opportunity for LEED-certifications to push toward higher "ceilings," where buildings are awarded for truly reaching greater levels of performance, rather than receiving awards for what are increasingly expected standards.
Site Development, Land Use: it pretty much eliminates development on greenfields (undeveloped land), although there are exceptions based on existing infrastructure. It includes clear guidelines for site disturbance, irrigation, erosion control, transportation, heat island mitigation, graywater systems, habitat protection, and site restoration.
Materials: A minimum of 50 percent of construction waste must be diverted from landfills, and at least 55 percent of building materials must be salvaged, recycled-content, recyclable, biobased, or indigenous. Buildings must be designed for at least 60 years of life, and must have a service plan that justifies that.
Energy Efficiency: total efficiency must be "51 percent of the energy allowable in the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code" (IECC), and building envelope performance must exceed that by 10 percent. It sets minimum standards for lighting and mechanical systems, and requires certain levels of submetering and demand-response automation.
Water Efficiency: it establishes maximum consumption of fixtures and appliances and sets standards for rainwater storage and graywater systems.
Indoor Air Quality: It addresses radon, asbestos, VOCs, sound transmission, and daylighting.
Commissioning, Operations: it requires extensive pre- and post-occupancy commissioning and education of building owners and maintenance employees.
Every project is also required to choose an additional "elective," which pushes the envelope for the developer further. Once they choose it, it's enforceable. There's a long menu of elective choices, including whole-building life-cycle assessment to more stringent recycled-content.
Local governments and states have the choice of adopting the code, but once they do, it's enforceable. They can add their own requirements on top of the code that address local concerns such as stormwater management or lighting pollution control.
To help implement the code, IgCC includes a "cookbook" approach for smaller buildings to follow and a more flexible approach for large buildings.
To develop the code, the International Code Council worked with many stakeholders, with the American Institute of Architects, US Green Building Council, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), foremost among them.
Photo by Scott Meis/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business
by Kristy Hessman
By reducing a parking garage’s energy use by more than 63 percent, the University of Central Florida was named the winner of the 2011 Energy Star National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings. The competition, put on by the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), challenged competitors to pick a building and reduce its energy use.
More than 245 buildings were entered in the competition from across the country. By making improvements in operations and maintenance and upgrades to equipment and technology, competitors were able to cut energy costs by a total of $5.2 million annually. The total reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings equaled the amount used by more than 3,600 homes.
Each building’s energy was measured for a full year – from Sept. 1, 2010, through August 31, 2011. Competitors tracked their building’s monthly energy consumption using EPA’s Energy Star online energy tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. The University of Central Florida had the largest percent-reduction in energy use, adjusted for weather and the size of the building.
Central Florida pulled off its enormous energy reduction in two phases, according to the EPA. First worked on the garage’s interior, installing high performance T-5 Fluorescent lights in place of 150-watt high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures. Then, during Phase II, the top deck of the garage was retrofitted with 16 Cooper LED 236-watt lights in place of the existing 400-watt HPS fixtures. “Ultimately, the lighting retrofit not only yielded significant energy savings and reduced the lighting bill by more than half, but also provided better visibility for the UCF community and visitors,” the EPA said.
Coming in behind Central Florida was Twinsburg High School and Sports Complex, in Ohio, which had a 46.3 percent reduction in energy use. In third place was the Polaris Career Center in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, with a 43.4 percent reduction. According to the EPA, energy use in commercial buildings accounts for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The full report on this year’s competition is available online as a PDF.Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
by David Biello
No more cost-effective way to make major cuts in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions exists than retrofitting buildings. Now, from New York to Mumbai to Melbourne, a push is on to overhaul older buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Of the hundreds of thousands of buildings in New York City, none is more iconic than the Empire State Building. Completed in 1931 as the tallest skyscraper in the world, the Art Deco edifice was meant not only to house thousands of office workers, but to serve as a dock for the coming age of dirigibles.
Now the 102-story building has a new tale to tell: efficiency. A recent $20-million retrofit — which included everything from cleaning and re-insulating more than 6,000 windows to caulking leaks in the building’s facade — reduced energy use by nearly 40 percent, according to air and energy program lawyer Katherine Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council. And the Empire State Building is just the most visible example of a new trend — retrofitting old buildings to be more energy efficient. For example, billionaire businessman Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room and the Ygrene Energy Fund are leading a consortium that will invest as much as $650 million in similar retrofits in Miami and Sacramento.
Globally, businesses, national and local governments, and property owners have begun to retrofit millions of older buildings in a bid to cut down on energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These retrofits are the most cost-efficient way to combat climate change and save on rising power bills, according to analysts ranging from the McKinsey Institute to the International Energy Agency. Melbourne, Australia, for example, plans to reduce energy consumption in 1,200 of its office buildings by the end of the decade. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency is running a “Battle of the Buildings” in which 245 facilities compete to save the most on their utility bills through energy efficiency improvements. In recent years, five major international banks have joined four multinational energy services companies and invested $5 billion in retrofitting old buildings in 16 of the world’s biggest cities, from Mexico City to Mumbai.
“It’s effectively job creation, resilience to future climate change and keeping operating costs low, all at once,” says Karin Giefer, an associate and sustainability consultant at the engineering firm, Arup, who just wrote a report on such retrofits for the World Economic Forum. The bottom line, says Giefer, is that “if it will pay out and save energy, [building owners] will do it.”
Buildings currently account for approximately 40 percent of the world’s energy use. Roughly half of the buildings standing today will still be in use in 2050 — and those buildings could generally improve energy efficiency by at least 20 percent through simple fixes like better insulation. “The effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change will be won or lost in cities,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a recent conclave of mayors at C40, an international planning group for 59 major cities engaged in efforts to combat climate change. “As the primary centers of economic activity globally, cities are significant consumers of energy and emit nearly three-quarters of the world’s carbon emissions.”
In June, C40 partnered with the World Bank to help secure funding for retrofitting projects. The first stage of the partnership will ensure that cities measure and report greenhouse gas emissions and reductions in broadly similar ways, allowing for comparison — and verification. In exchange, the World Bank will allow the cities — as yet unselected — to access its climate-related funds to finance such projects.
Similarly, the Carbon War Room, which Branson helped create to harness entrepreneurial thinking to fight climate change, and green energy financiers Ygrene will use a program known as PACE — property-assessed clean energy — to help fund commercial building retrofits worldwide. The program allows property owners to take out loans provided by the consortium’s partners, including Lockheed Martin and Barclays Capital, to pay for energy efficiency improvements and then pay those loans back through a surcharge added to a building’s property taxes. A similar scheme had been employed in California and 26 other states starting in 2008 to enable homeowners to install solar power systems. But it foundered in recent years when major mortgage providers, including governmental entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, objected to any additional liens on mortgaged properties.
“The PACE Commercial Consortium is the missing piece in the puzzle for cities looking to implement green plans,” Branson, head of the Virgin Group of companies, said in a statement in September announcing the funding. “I’m thrilled by the news of this ground-breaking mechanism, and believe it will unlock a trillion dollar market for green retrofits.”
Retrofits include everything from the prosaic — better windows and more insulation — to the advanced, such as systems that make ice at night when electricity is cheap and use it to cool a large building by day. Companies such as IBM offer software and sensor packages that help manage and improve a given building’s energy performance. For example, new, inexpensive sensors are placed on air ducts, boilers, chillers, computer rooms, lights, thermostats, water pipes, and other critical infrastructure. They then provide real-time data to building managers that alerts them to anomalies, such as defective equipment.
“It’s using information technology to make better decisions,” says Sharon Nunes, IBM vice president for smarter cities, noting that the software can do something as basic as pointing out when a building is running its heating and cooling systems at the same time.
Such efforts are not confined to major metropolitan areas. IBM is working with Dubuque, Iowa on energy and water efficiency measures, among other projects. “Smaller and medium-sized towns are the most innovative,” says Konrad Otto-Zimmerman, secretary general of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, a municipal government group. He cited examples such as Freiburg, Germany and its bid to build passive houses that require limited heating and cooling — if any. In Cleveland, Ohio, architects and engineers are creating a new aluminum and glass facade around the old outer shell of the Celebrezze Federal Building to help improve its insulation.
Of course, such retrofits have been a good idea for a long time. The U.S. government has had a retrofit program since the 1980s, yet only 1 percent of the country’s nearly 5 million commercial buildings have been redone. “It comes down to the fact that nobody trusts anybody else’s numbers,” Arup’s Giefer says of conflicts between government entities, financiers, utilities, and operations managers to get such projects done. And projects actually undertaken, which represent a small fraction of those possible, reported energy savings of closer to 12 percent than 20 percent, according to a UN Environmental Programme report. Improved technologies and growing concerns about climate change are likely to boost retrofitting efforts in the coming decades, though many hurdles remain.
In the case of New York City, while a small percentage of buildings are responsible for nearly half of all electricity demand, disconnects between those who pay the energy bills — tenants — and those who would pay for any energy efficiency improvements — owners — impede action. The city will now require buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to document their energy use, which may inspire energy efficiency upgrades.
Updating building codes will also be critical, mandating more insulation, for example, or even allowing for things like solar arrays on rooftops, currently blocked by a fire code that requires clear roof access. “We can easily knock 30 percent off our energy use with very simple things like insulation and more efficient boilers,” notes New York City developer Jonathan Rose, whose company is responsible for the Via Verde subsidized housing development in the South Bronx that incorporates a host of energy efficiency measures, including simple things like cross-ventilated apartments outfitted with ceiling fans to help keep cool.
The need to make buildings more efficient will become more pressing, especially in summer as rising temperatures spur the use of more air conditioning. On July 22, during a major heat wave, New York City broke its record for electricity demand, with the city’s more than 6 million window air conditioner units virtually all in use. “I am much more concerned about window AC units than [electric] cars,” says Colin Smart, manager for demand response at New York City utility Consolidated Edison. Window air conditioners all tend to turn on at the same time when it gets hot, while any future demands on the grid from plugged-in electric cars will likely be staggered throughout the day.
Another challenge is that buildings often have unique designs and engineering systems, making it difficult to devise programs that will work on a broad scale. “Buildings are funny things,” Arup’s Giefer says. “They’re prototypes, they’re finicky.”
Revamping human minds to incorporate simple behaviors like turning off lights when leaving a room may prove as important as any building renovations for energy. In fact, the real battle to make buildings more efficient may be won in the minds of those running the buildings, such as New York City’s legion of superintendents. In light of that, the U.S. Department of Energy graduated its first class of “Green Supers” this year. “I was under the impression that these techniques were very expensive,” Victor Nazario, superintendent of a residential building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said during his address to his fellow classmates at graduation, each of whom spent 40 hours studying energy efficiency, air flow leak detection, and other green building operations. “It’s just time, it’s just dedication, and just applying it.”
Photo by Johan Hansson/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360