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At Home in Buildings

Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, working, living, shopping and entertaining in buildings that consume enormous amounts of energy.

Buildings - Energy Efficiency Goals

The technological potential for reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions in the buildings sector is considerable. However, as the Energy Future: Think Efficiency report demonstrates, significant progress likely will occur only if near term, medium term, and long term policies are adopted that address imperfections in the marketplace.

In the Near Term

  • The goal of achieving signifi cant levels of construction of cost-effective residential zero energy buildings (ZEB) &ndash buildings that use no fossil fuels &ndash by 2020 is feasible, except in hot, humid climates. Most of the required technology to compete with traditional housing is available, but inadequately demonstrated. To achieve this goal in hot, humid climates will require increased R&D to develop low-energy dehumidifi cation and cooling technologies and strategies.
  • More generally, the federal government should raise its R&D spending for next-generation building technologies, for training building scientists and for supporting the associated national laboratory, university and private sector research programs. The current investment of somewhat more than $100 million per year is considerably less than the $250 million invested in 1980 (in inflation adjusted dollars), which led to important innovations. Funding for building R&D should be restored to the $250 million level during the next 3 to 5 years. The existing demonstration program for construction of low-energy residential buildings, along with associated research, should also be expanded. These steps are necessary to achieve the zero energy building goals of 2020 for all residential buildings and of 2030 for commercial buildings.
  • Federal and state governments should adopt policies to address the wide range of market barriers and market failures that discourage investment in energy-efficient technologies, especially in the highly fragmented buildings sector, where barriers are especially prevalent. A number of policies have proven effective on a large scale in promoting or requiring investment in energy efficiency in buildings, among them
    • (1) For whole buildings: building energy codes, labeling, audit programs and financial incentives for purchase of efficient technology;
    • (2) For appliances, heating and cooling equipment and lighting:
      • (a) Mandatory efficiency standards in the case of appliances and
      • (b) Voluntary standards, such as industry consensus guidelines in the case of lighting usage and federally promoted labels (Energy Star, for example) to highlight exceptional efficiency performance in the case of appliances.
  • The Department of Energy should develop and promulgate appliance efficiency standards at levels that are cost-effective and technically achievable, as required by the federal legislation enabling the standards. DOE should promulgate standards for all products for which it has been granted authority to do so. A streamlined procedure is needed to avoid delays in releasing the standards.
  • Demand-side management programs in which a central agency, often a utility company, invests money to assist customers in becoming more energy efficient have proven very effective. Yet, many states have hesitated to create such programs. Where DSM programs do not exist, the federal government should encourage states to initiate them through utility companies. The federal role could be to provide rewards to states that have signifi cant and effective DSM programs and disincentives to those that do not.
  • California has been a leader in developing its own building energy standards, which have proven very effective. Standards, such as those promulgated in California, should be implemented nationwide. States should be strongly encouraged to set standards for residential buildings and require localities to enforce them. For commercial buildings, performance- based standards that rely on computer software to compare a building design with a reference building are implemented only in California. The federal government should develop a computer software tool much like that used in California to enable states to adopt performance standards for commercial buildings. States should set standards tight enough to spur innovation in their building industries.
  • Reducing energy consumption and the carbon footprint is one of the most important goals for green buildings. Any green building rating system, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, should give energy efficiency the highest priority and require reporting of energy consumption data.

In the Medium Term

  • If current and emerging cost-effective energy-efficiency measures are employed in new buildings and in existing buildings as heating, cooling, lighting and other equipment systems are replaced, the growth in energy demand by the building sector could be reduced from the projected 30 percent increase to zero between now and 2030. Therefore, the federal government should set a goal for the U.S. building sector – to be revisited every five years in light of available technologies – to use no more primary energy in 2030 than it did in 2008.
  • A zero energy building (ZEB) – one that uses no fossil fuels – would typically have an efficient grid connection to a renewable energy generator that could produce as much energy as the building consumed annually. As a practical matter, the ZEB target will require the building’s energy consumption to decline by 70 percent relative to the amount a conventional building would use. Worthy as it is, the goal of achieving signifi cant construction levels of cost-effective new commercial ZEBs by 2030, already mandated by Congress for federal buildings, is not attainable without signifi cant advances in building technology and without the development and widespread adoption of integrated building design and operation practices. To achieve the 2030 ZEB goal for commercial buildings the federal government should create a research, development and demonstration program that makes integrated design and operation of buildings standard practice. The federal government, state governments and electric utilities should carry out the program co-operatively, with funding from all three entities.

In the Long Term

  • Long-range applied R&D in the buildings sector has been neglected for many years, in part due to the fragmented nature of the industry. We note that the Department of Energy’s focus on near-term research and demonstration programs within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has exacerbated the problem – an issue we draw attention to further in the following section on Crosscutting Objectives. Among the critical longer term applied research opportunities specifi cally related to buildings are advanced ventilation, advanced windows, thermodynamic cycles and ultra-thin insulators.