Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Building Better: How High-Efficiency Buildings Will Save Money and Reduce Global Warming

By Mike Sherling.

Hello MPW readers. I’m Mike Sherling, a field associate with Environment Maryland. Environment Maryland is a statewide, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization.

Today, Environment Maryland released Building Better: How High-Efficiency Buildings Will Save Money and Reduce Global Warming, a new report that outlines the economic and environmental benefits of improving the energy efficiency of our buildings.

We found that investing in building efficiency could significantly reduce our energy use, saving Maryland families $1,172 every year on their energy bills by 2030 and slashing projected global warming pollution from buildings by 37 percent.

The message of this report is clear: Let’s not waste any more time, any more energy, or any more money on outdated buildings. We need to invest in efficiency today so we can start building a better tomorrow.

We have the technology and skills to make buildings vastly more efficient than the ones we have today, including zero net energy buildings, which are so efficient they’re able to produce all the power they need onsite from renewable sources like wind and solar. In 2006, Habitat for Humanity set out to build a high-efficiency home in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. It wasn’t a mansion commissioned by a wealthy family, but a moderately sized home built for a single mother and her two sons. When it was finished, the house was able to generate more power than it used just from the solar panels on its roof. Projects like this prove that zero net energy buildings are not a dream waiting to be realized; there are already tens of thousands of them all around the country.

Right now, more than 40 percent of the energy we use in America goes toward powering our buildings, and this amounts to almost 10 percent of all the energy used in the world. This high level of energy consumption costs Americans $400 billion every year and pumps billions of tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere. Worst of all, many of our buildings are badly designed or lack proper insulation, so the energy we produce and pay for leaks out through poorly sealed windows or gets used up in inefficient heating and cooling systems.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only do we know how make zero net energy buildings, we also know how to make existing buildings much more efficient and we have a skilled workforce ready to make it happen. The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income families make energy-saving improvements. Over 6 million homes have been weatherized in the Program’s 30-year history, and every dollar invested has returned almost $3 in energy savings and new jobs.

If we take these efficiency improvement techniques and apply them to all our buildings, we can reduce America’s overall building energy consumption 35 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that these goals are well within our reach, and we can achieve them by implementing a two-part strategy that sets strong efficiency standards for new buildings and encourages renovations to improve the efficiency of the buildings we already have.

Our report looks ahead and compares these efficiency improvement targets to a business as usual scenario, and the results are striking. Meeting our efficiency goals would reduce Maryland’s projected building energy consumption by 37 percent over the next 20 years, conserving enough energy every year to power nearly four million homes.

These enormous energy savings translate directly into financial savings in the form of reduced energy bills. The average Maryland family of four can expect to save $1,172 by 2030. That’s the best part about making energy efficiency improvements: they pay for themselves as consumers enjoy lower energy bills and a cleaner environment year after year.

Reducing Maryland’s energy consumption would also prevent the emission of 16 million tons of global warming pollution every year by 2030, which is equivalent to taking nearly three million cars off the road.

With benefits like these at stake, it’s clear that we should do everything we can to improve the efficiency of our buildings as soon as possible. We know how. What we need now are policies that will help pay for the upfront costs of energy efficiency investments and ensure that buildings and developers are taking advantage of all available efficiency improvements.

Environment Maryland is calling for policies that will help us reach our efficiency goals, including:

• Steady improvements to building codes over time so that all new buildings are increasingly efficient, culminating in a zero net energy standard by 2030.

• Investing in energy retrofits and weatherization to improve the efficiency of existing buildings 30 percent by 2030.

• Supporting innovative financing mechanisms that will help consumers and businesses pay for efficiency upgrades.

There are already thousands of super efficient buildings all around the country including in Maryland. Most buildings last for decades, so investing in energy efficiency locks in savings for years to come and builds a strong foundation for the future of our environment and our economy.

Thanks for having me. You can find the report on the Environment Maryland website, If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at