America’s Biggest Untapped Energy Source Key to Cutting Global Warming Emissions

Environment America Report Shows Energy Efficient Buildings Would Save U.S. $500 Billion by 2030

Environment Montana

A comprehensive plan to make our nation’s buildings more efficient by 2030 could save enough energy to power all of our nation’s cars, homes and businesses for a year and a half while saving Americans more than $500 billion, according to a new report by our national federation, Environment America.  By renovating old buildings and ensuring that new ones use 50 percent less energy within ten years and generate as much energy as they use by 2030, we can cut U.S. global warming emissions by at least 34 percent by 2050.  

“Aggressively confronting the building sector is the key to successfully addressing the economy, climate change and energy independence”, said Ed Mazria, Executive Director of Architecture 2030; whose call to make all new buildings use zero energy by 2030 has been embraced by President Obama, the nation’s mayors, and a number of governors.  

Nearly half of America’s energy – and 10 percent of the energy used in the world – goes towards powering our buildings, and much of that energy is wasted.  Buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming. Building a Better Future: Moving Toward Zero Pollution with Highly Efficient Homes and Businesses outlines policy steps that local and state officials and the federal government can take to significantly cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

“We have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with energy efficiency in buildings,” said Rob Sargent, Energy Program Director for Environment Montana.  “Shortsighted builders are being penny-wise and pound foolish when it comes to investments in the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses.  They should not be allowed to pass the cost of higher energy bills and excess pollution onto future generations.”  

The report calls for a comprehensive plan to make our nation’s buildings more efficient including:

  • Upgrading and enforcing building energy codes to  require 30 percent more efficiency by 2012 and 50 percent more efficiency by 2018, and have all new buildings and substantial renovations meet these codes;
  • Setting codes to have all new buildings be zero-net energy by 2030 through a combination of energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy;  
  • Stimulating investments in energy efficiency retrofits in all existing commercial and residential buildings before 2030.

The report illustrates the scale of reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions that can be achieved by adopting these measures, including:

  • Saving 144 quadrillion BTU, or enough energy to power all of America’s homes, businesses, cars, and power plants for a year and a half;
  • Avoiding a total 11.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, nearly equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S. and China combined;
  • Paying back upfront costs and netting more than $542 billion in energy savings from renovating existing buildings.

The recently passed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act represented a first and important step towards increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings. This significant piece of legislation provided $25 billion for weatherization and energy efficient upgrades for commercial and government buildings. 

“Investing in our homes and businesses to make them more energy efficient is a practical, common sense way to create jobs, save money and do our part to fight climate change,” said Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), whose Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program has been incorporated into the American Clean Energy and Security Act. “The energy wasted by leaking buildings represents a major untapped energy source. By plugging those leaks, we can help jump-start our economy and cut down on unnecessary energy costs.” 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to begin considering the American Clean Energy and Security Act as early as tomorrow.  The committee is aiming to pass the bill before Congress recesses next Friday for the Memorial Day break, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the full House will consider the bill this summer.  The bill sets a framework for moving to a clean energy economy and stopping global warming and includes strong requirements to promote efficiency in new and existing buildings.

“Bold action to improve the efficiency of our nation’s buildings would go a long way toward meeting America’s energy challenges and stopping global warming. But, we must act now,” said Rob Sargent, Energy Program Director for Environment America. “Congress should pass a strong bill that speeds the transition to a clean energy economy and maintains science-based pollution reduction targets.”