Environment America Research and Policy Center
America is the largest consumer of energy in the world. Almost half of the energy we use—10 percent of the energy in the world—powers our buildings. Most of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels. Our reliance on these fuels makes us vulnerable to supply disruptions, contributes to global warming and other environmental problems, and is becoming increasingly expensive.
We could be using far less energy in our buildings. Homes and businesses exist that use a fraction of the energy of typical buildings—some also generate 100 percent or more of the energy needed to power them on-site, using renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
Approximately 75 percent of our buildings will be new or renovated by the year 2035. Although this situation represents huge potential for saving energy, market barriers are preventing the widespread adoption of energy-efficient building practices.
Those barriers include:
• Many construction and home building firms resist the marginally higher upfront costs of actions to improve building efficiency and therefore are slow to adopt measures that would benefit renters and home and building owners.
• Buyers and renters lack the information needed to choose more energy-efficient properties.
Policies can be adopted to overcome these barriers and ensure that new buildings and renovations take advantage of energy-efficient practices, such as:
• Building energy codes should be improved and enforced. National model codes should be 30 percent more efficient by 2010 and state codes should match or exceed the model codes.
• Federal, state, and local governments should adopt policies that encourage building far beyond code and retrofitting existing buildings for increased efficiency.
• Policies should be designed to encourage on-site renewable power.
• Political leaders should set the goal for all new buildings to be zero net energy by 2030.
These policy changes would have a huge impact on energy use and global warming emissions in the United States, at little cost.
• Adopting and enforcing strong building codes nationally could reduce our annual energy consumption by 2 percent from 2030 projected use.
• Investments of $21.6 billion a year for five years through federal efficiency programs could reduce our energy use enough to replace more than 100 coal-fired power plants and lower annual carbon dioxide emissions by 433.5 MMT.
• One quad of energy gained through building efficiency would cost $42.1 billion, 35 percent of the cost to gain the same amount of energy through new coal plants, and under 20 percent of the cost to gain the same amount of energy through new nuclear generation.
Half of the buildings constructed today will still be in use in the middle of this century. The decisions we make today will have a lasting effect on our energy economy.