According to a new white paper released today by Environment America the country's energy consumption could be cut by 11 percent by 2020 through simple building efficiency measures. “Building an Energy-Efficient America: Zero Energy and High Efficiency Buildings” describes the many opportunities for increasing energy efficiency in buildings and makes recommendations for what local, state and federal officials can do to secure huge energy savings in new and existing buildings.
“An enormous amount of energy is wasted in buildings, and capturing this energy is vital in order to set America on a new path to a cleaner, smarter energy future” said Environment America Energy Associate Siena Kaplan. “With global warming looming and energy prices soaring, we need to be doing all we can to save energy.”
Nearly half of the energy we use in the United States—10 percent of the energy in the world—is consumed powering the buildings in which we live and work and much, if not most of that energy is wasted. “Building an Energy-Efficient America” describes policy steps that states and the federal government can take to significantly cut that waste and realize our technological potential for energy efficiency:
- 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.
"Building efficiency enhances housing affordability and lowers business costs, since utility savings more than pay for the efficiency measures. And when you invest in efficiency you're enhancing the value and equity in your home or business," said Austin Mayor Will Wynn. "So you have to ask yourself, which would you rather do -- make investments that will create positive cash flow and increase the value of your assets, or send your money to the utility and watch it go up a smokestack?"
Edward Mazria, founder and executive director of Architecture 2030, said, “The policies called for in this paper fully support the energy reduction targets of the 2030 Challenge. We encourage everyone to put its recommendations into practice.”
The energy savings that can be achieved through these cost-effective policies cannot be understated. Key findings in the paper include:
- By 2020 we could reduce annual United States energy consumption by 11 percent through simple building efficiency measures such as more efficient lighting, water heating, and appliances, and by designing new buildings to be more energy efficient.
- Strong energy codes alone, adopted nationally and adequately enforced would reduce national energy consumption by 2 percent by 2030.
- One quad of energy, roughly 1% of our nation’s total consumption, gained through building efficiency would cost $42.1 billion. This much energy would cost three times as much gained through new coal plants, and, at least five times as much through new nuclear plants.
In September a major opportunity will present itself, when officials from towns and cities across the country come together to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – the national model code most states use to shape how new homes are constructed. The officials could vote to improve the model code to require new homes to be 30 percent more energy efficient.
“‘The 30% Solution’ was developed by the broad-based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition – which includes Environment America, utilities, government, academia, business and other energy efficiency advocates – to reduce the enormous amount of energy that is wasted in our homes” said EECC Director William Fay. “What’s amazing about not expending this energy by building more energy efficient homes is that the homeowner actually receives positive cash flow from the investment.”
“This little known process represents one of the most important energy votes of the year,” said Kaplan. “Mayors who send their officials to vote for the 30% Solution won’t just be saving their citizens money, they’ll be setting the stage for the entire nation to dramatically reduce the energy we waste and global warming emissions,” she added.
Congress is currently sitting on two decisions that could have a profound impact on our clean energy economy by helping to fund energy efficient building projects:
- Production and investment tax credits that have helped fuel America’s clean energy boom, including investments in energy efficiency, are set to expire at the end of this year. The clean energy incentives have passed the U.S. House numerous times, but have continually been blocked by Senate Republicans.
- The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program was established by the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007”, but Congress has yet to allocate the $2 billion per year to fund the program. The program was designed to help America’s local governments increase their energy independence by reducing the amount of energy they use and could be used to assist communities to promote high performance, energy efficient buildings.
Many states are already leading the way with building codes, incentives, and rules that set strong minimum standards for efficient building and encourage efficiency far beyond the minimum and renewable energy.
- Maine recently passed its first statewide residential building energy code, which requires that the state continually incorporate each update to the model code as its energy efficiency increases.
- Oregon enacted tax credits for energy-efficient building practices in 2007, which can amount to thousands of dollars and large percentages of the incremental costs.
- California, as part of its ground-breaking Million Solar Roofs legislation, mandates that solar panels become a standard option for all new houses by 2011.
Environment America called on decision makers to make a commitment to do everything it will take to move our country forward, past the old, inefficient and wasteful, and put ourselves on track to make all new buildings zero-energy by 2030. In the short term, this means passing the 30 Percent Solution, renewing the energy tax credits, and allocating the funding for the EECGB Program.
“Gas and electricity bills could be obsolete by the middle of this century, and we can start by taking advantage of the large savings that are already at our fingertips,” said Kaplan. “We need to make a commitment and work towards that vision of clean, efficient, homegrown energy by making the most of the opportunities in front of us right now.”
Environment America is a federation of state-based environment groups across the country.