The energy (reduction) potential in America’s building stock is a tremendous resource, equivalent to tapping a second Saudi Arabia. The energy appetite of America’s buildings is enormous, but we can begin to cut back on the excess without sacrificing comfort or performance.
Craig Sieben spoke to this theme last week before the Realty Club of Chicago in a speech entitled “America’s Building Stock – The Second Saudi Arabia.” Craig referenced the excellent work of Art Rosenfeld, an award-winning scientist, one of the earliest promoters of energy efficiency in the U.S.—and one of Craig’s personal mentors.
In his speech, Craig emphasized smart and simple examples of what building owners and managers can do to cut back on their energy consumption. Reducing the energy appetite of our buildings is one small step towards a goal of U.S. energy independence. How can this be? Let’s do the math.
In 2008, the U.S. imported 1.5 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia. We consumed about 19.5 million barrels per day, which means that 8% of our appetite was satiated by Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves. Also in 2008, total U.S. energy consumption (all types) was 100 quadrillion BTU—3% of that total, or 3 quadrillion BTU, was the oil imported from Saudi Arabia. Our nation’s buildings accounted for 40 quadrillion BTU, or 40% of our total energy consumption in 2008.
If we’re able to cut the energy consumption of our buildings by just 15%, or 6 quadrillion BTU, we would reduce our total energy consumption by 6%, and we would offset twice the amount of energy that we import each year (in the form of petroleum) from Saudi Arabia. That’s a huge opportunity.
Retrofitting existing buildings is essential to reducing their energy consumption. Even simple steps, however, such as painting roofs white so that they reflect rather than absorb a greater amount of sunlight, can help mitigate cooling costs. Chicago alone has over 23,000 commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings—in addition to over one million residential units that range from single-family homes to condominium towers.
From the experience of hundreds of projects that Sieben Energy Associates has completed over the years, the energy consumption of a typical commercial, institutional, or industrial building can be reduced by 2–10% with very inexpensive (or even essentially free) energy efficiency measures. With a little more up-front investment that pays for itself with two or three years through lower energy bills, a reduction target of 15%, or even greater, is often easily achievable. Reducing energy consumption also reduces corresponding greenhouse gas emissions.
Trends show that America is moving in this direction. In June 2009, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act, or Waxman-Markey bill. For new buildings, this legislation calls for a national commercial building code with energy use reduction of 30% relative to ASHRAE 2004 (upon signing), 50% by 2015, and 75% by 2030. And for existing buildings, the bill requires implementation of a Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program, administered by the states, to help spur retrofitting throughout the country.
In July 2009, McKinsey & Company projected a 23% decrease in energy demand and energy savings of $1.2 trillion (net $680 billion) through 2020 from energy efficiency improvements in our nation’s buildings.
And in December 2009, New York City passed a substantial energy legislation package with energy audit and lighting retrofit laws that apply to existing buildings.
As more and more building owners and managers work to understand their energy usage and environmental impact, more and more are turning to energy efficiency as a cost-effective solution for their business and their community. Sieben Energy Associates has over two decades of experience in the energy efficiency industry and can help your organization improve the performance of your buildings while reducing your operating expenses.