Would you spend $520 to save $1,200? That’s the choice McKinsey & Co is offering to the U.S. about energy efficiency. In their new report on energy efficiency, released last week, McKinsey shows how the U.S. can reduce its non-transportation energy use by 23%, eliminate the emissions of 1.1 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually, and save $1,200 billion, for a cost of about $520 billion.
They do recognize that achieving these results requires some new thinking on our parts:
Such energy savings will be possible, however, only if the United States can overcome significant sets of barriers. These barriers are widespread and persistent, and will require an integrated set of solutions to overcome them – including information and education, incentives and financing, codes and standards, and deployment resources well beyond current levels.
The report not only provides the conclusions, but also the steps we can take to address barriers and achieve the desired results. They suggest an overarching strategy, including the key point that “energy efficiency is an important energy resource to help meet future energy needs…” and the need for an integrated portfolio of different approaches to unlock the full potential of energy efficiency.
An article in Sunday’s Science Daily reports on research showing that more than half of the Earth’s warming since the dawn of the industrial age is due to the heat released from our energy use, not atmospheric warming due to the greenhouse effect.
While the greenhouse effect is still a significant contributor – and will become more so as GHG levels in the atmosphere rise – simply the heat released when burning fuels is also being stored in the atmosphere, as well as in the earth, sea, and arctic ice.
The researchers have calculated that the heat energy accumulated in the atmosphere corresponds to a mere 6.6% of global warming, while the remaining heat is stored in the ground (31.5%), melting ice (33.4%) and sea water (28.5%). They point out that net heat emissions between the industrial revolution circa 1880 and the modern era at 2000 correspond to almost three quarters of the accumulated heat, i.e., global warming, during that period.
Their conclusion is that simply capturing our CO2 emissions, will not prevent global warming. We have to actually reduce the amount of heat we are releasing into the world via our energy use – which mostly involves burning things, and therefore generating waste heat.
The good news is that solar photovoltaics, wind power, even solar thermal generate much less, or even negative, waste heat than either conventional energy sources, or nuclear energy. And of course energy efficiency is the cheapest and most cost-effective mitigation we have at our fingertips.
I surf across hundreds of articles a week as I learn more and more about green building, energy efficiency, and climate change. Most are interesting, but a few become touchstones that I end up talking about with others, and returning to again and again. Some candidates for that status that I found in the last week are below:
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Bjorn Lomborg (of The Skeptical Environmentalist fame) argues that emissions reduction goals like the Kyoto Protocol are never going to work. Instead, we have to replace our dirty energy sources altogether with non-polluting sources. (Of course, increasing energy efficiency is a cheap way to replace half our energy usage.)
Lomborg set of a firestorm of controversy when he argued in 2001 that although global warming was important, we would be much better off as a planet investing in other areas of human suffering, such as finding a cure for AIDS and wiping out malaria. He now has a more recent book about climate change specifically: Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (Vintage)
Green Building Advisor’s Peter Yost describes the goals of the Thousand Home Challenge put up by Linda Wigington of Affordable Comfort.
In “Forgotten Pioneers of Energy Efficiency” on Green Building Advisor’s “Musings of an Energy Nerd” blog, Martin Holladay describes the Saskatchewan Conservation House, built in 1977, the shining – and forgotten – example that would later influence Dr. Feist in Darmstadt to develop the PassivHaus.
Treehugger reports on Professor Eberhard Jochem, recently awarded the first Bayer Climate Prize. Eberhard, of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), has shown through his experiments and theories that improving energy efficiency 80 percent in the industrialized nations is not only possible, but profitable.
On Thursday 23 April (tomorrow as I write this) I will be giving a brief talk about passive houses and my recent visit to the 13th International Passive House Conference in Frankfurt last week. The talk will be in San Francisco at the Prana Restaurant on Howard St., starting at 7pm.
[I] will provide a report on the 13th International Passive House Conference… This is the premier conference on passive homes, homes so energy-efficient that they don’t require a furnace or air conditioner to keep their occupants comfortable.
This meeting is designed for those interested in green homes to meet each other and discuss the topic. It is for anyone interested in building a green home or remodeling homes with green technologies/techniques. Learn about the techniques used and meet some of the green building thought leaders in the Bay Area. Architects, professional builders, suppliers, real estate agents, and anyone else with a special love of green homes are welcome to join in the discussion to help further general knowledge and interest. A great place to meet others with similar interests!
The location is:
540 Howard St
San Francisco CA 94105
I went to the Menlo Park City Council meeting last night to provide an in-person comment on their Climate Action Plan (CAP) draft. The draft has been circulating for comments for a few months and last night was the presentation of the comments from council staff to the council. As you may recall, my friend architect Matt Harris and I [intlink id=”450″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]provided a comment on the CAP[/intlink].
I have never been to a Council meeting before, so it was a new and very interesting and very long experience. The meeting started at 7pm, and the review of the CAP comments was agenda item F.2. Section F of the agenda was the most meaty, but even so it didn’t start until about 9pm. Agenda item F.1 consisted of staff recommending that the council find the traffic impact of a new development on El Camino Real (Menlo Park’s main street) was “not significant.” This consisted of a 1/2 hour presentation by two staff members who concluded that the development did not require installing “No Left Turn” signs at two intersections. The builder of the project, as well as the residents in the area agreed with staff on this point. It still took about fifteen minutes of council discussion to eventually agree. One of the council members did note that it seemed like a lot of effort to go to determine that no action was really required.
Anyway, that got done, then it was Climate Action Plan (CAP) time. The staff presented a summary of the comments, along with a request that that the council direct staff on how to proceed. Staff’s recommendation was that the draft plan be cleaned up with minor revisions, and published as version 1, acknowledging its shortcomings as delineated in the comments. They also recommended that the council further direct staff to begin work on a second version of the plan, addressing those shortcomings for publishing, with a target of publishing the second version in less than a year.
After the presentation from staff, the council accepted comments from the public. This was about 9:45 or later. There were two commenters. I was first, followed by someone from the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens Committee, who recommended following staff’s proposal (as did I).
After introducing myself, I said:
First, I want to express my appreciation to the Menlo Park City Council and the staff for initiating the Climate Action Plan, and for soliciting and considering our comments on the first draft. (I was a commenter.)
I just came back from an energy efficient building conference in Germany. All over Europe they’re constructing and renovating buildings of all types, from single family residences to apartment buildings to schools to office buildings, to use 80-90% less heating and cooling energy. There are over 30,000 of these energy efficient buildings in Europe now, from Scandinavia to Italy and Spain, and the number is rapidly growing. They’ve avoided millions of tons of CO2 emissions. The city of Frankfurt, as well as other German cities, have committed to use these energy efficient approaches for all new and renovated municipal buildings. And the EU will soon be requiring all new buildings and renovations to meet the standard starting in 2016.
Energy efficiency of the built environment provides one of the best sources of leverage for municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I’m happy to say that the initial version of the Menlo Park Climate Action plan suggests providing incentives for energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings. Future versions of the plan should then include specific performance standards for which incentives will be offered or specify that the planning commission will provide such a list, as well as the associated incentives.
Simply specifying a certain number of points on a LEED assessment or on a Green Point Rating assessment does not guarantee energy efficiency. Instead, I recommend the city specify specific energy efficiency performance standards, such as HERS, the German PassivHaus certification, or the TRNSYS building performance modeling tool.
The council thanked me and asked if I would be willing to provide additional information on these topics. I assured them I would. Then I sat down.
I stayed for another half-hour while the council discussed the CAP, then left to walk home at 10:30. They were still going, and there was still agenda item F.3 to go, which didn’t look it would start until after 11pm.
It was very interesting to see the wheels of local government moving (albeit slowly).
While the growth of passive houses in Europe is impressive, even in Europe there are still marketing challenges
The opportunity to use energy efficient buildings as a hedge against climate change is immense
We are way behind on energy efficient building here in the U.S. – in fact, essentially no one in the U.S. is doing this kind of building.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting about things I learned at the conference, and also about the implications of what I saw for building – and for climate change mitigation – in the U.S.
Not only are there more than 30,000 certified Passive House buildings in Europe, representing a lot of tons of CO2 averted, their level of building science and technology is very advanced. The exhibitors showed a number of innovative insulation materials (most of which are not available in the U.S.), many different very highly efficient window and door options (most of which are not available in the U.S.), highly efficient heat recovery ventilation systems (most of which are not available in the U.S.), and several innovative building technologies (available in the U.S.? I don’t think so). Even so, I thought the exhibition was remarkably small, with about 70 vendors, indicating that even in Europe, there’s a huge amount of growth potential.
Several of the presentation sessions reported on studies comparing the performance of buildings constructed or renovated using the [intlink id=”368″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]passive house approach[/intlink] – super-insulated, super-airtight, with heat recovery ventilation – to buildings using other energy efficiency approaches such as the European “low energy house” standard (which is more similar to U.S. energy efficiency codes). They found, as expected, that energy use in the passive house buildings, as well as comfort levels and measured air quality levels, were significantly improved. One study compared to identical apartment buildings, next to one another on the same street, one of which was renovated as a passive house, the other as a low energy house. Both buildings were instrumented with a variety of sensors, and then tracked over a two year period. The energy bills for tenants in the passive house were 1/3 those for the low energy house.
Obviously, these results reflect not only a savings for the tenants, but also a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, at a relatively low additional cost for the building.
Some future post topics:
What do you do if you want to build a highly efficient house, using the passive house approach, in the U.S.?
How does the passive house approach compare to other energy efficiency and “green” standards like California’s Title 24, LEED, Green Point Rating, and HERS?
How does the passive house approach work for buildings other than single-family residences?
If passive houses are so great, how can we get more of them in the U.S., and what will it take to make a significant dent in the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions via energy efficient buildings?
How do passive houses and “zero net energy” interact?
How about passive houses in temperate and semi-tropical climates like California and Florida, where it’s not heating, but cooling, that takes the most energy?
If you have other questions about the passive house approach or the conference, let me know in the comments and I’ll tell you what I know or find some answers for you.
Someone entered this topic in an online forum to which I subscribe:
The main problem with lowering the carbon level is down to individuals, to behaviour, to good citizenship and that is the biggest challenge of all… how many times to you see careless behaviours? how do you change that?
I just had to respond. I think this attitude is the best way to make sure that end in the end, nothing good happens. I’m reprinting my comment on the topic below, unedited (even though you all know about passive houses already).
Individual action will not solve the problem. For example, my hobby horse is highly energy efficient buildings such as the Passive House approach. They use 80-90% less energy than a conventional house, at typically 5-10% higher cost to build. Simply building only passive houses and remodeling to the passive house standard for the next ten years would reduce the U.S.’s carbon footprint by at least 20%. In fact, because the energy use is so low, there will be lots of excess solar electricity generated, so our carbon footprint might even go lower due to the compounding effects.
But people won’t build them without a) a large-scale education campaign for both builders and home buyers, b) incentives for builders and owners from cities, counties, and states, and c) a compelling business case for the suppliers of the highly efficient windows and mechanical systems required.
Passive Houses “tunnel through” the efficiency cost barrier to achieve their benefits at a relatively low additional cost. But even though they have a great cost/benefit ratio, they’re not going to take off without those structural changes. That’s why, instead of becoming a builder of passive houses, I’m becoming a lobbyist for passive houses. Builders can make a difference of 2-5 houses a year. As a lobbyist, I can make a difference of 100-1000 houses a year, or more.
Individuals weatherstripping their houses, and taking shorter showers, can slow down CO2 growth a bit, but turning it around takes large structural changes. Yes, those are driven by individuals, but they are not individual changes.
I use passive houses as an example, but there are lots more in other areas. Same is true for car use – it will take structural changes for people to be able to live nearer where they work. Or for food energy use – most people are not going to be able to garden enough to make a difference in the U.S.’s agricultural energy footprint – that’s going to take big changes in commercial ag. Some of those changes are happening, and that’s awesome, but it’s not going to happen by you putting in a garden, no matter how good and useful a step that is.
As I discussed in my earlier post, [intlink id=”602″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]Code changes and incentives are critical for energy independence[/intlink], it’s going to be tough to change the energy efficiency of our building stock until building and planning commissions provide incentives to owners and builders to take those extra steps, and spend that extra money.
So the question then arises, what should these building and planning commissions incentivize? “Energy efficiency” is not a sufficient answer, obviously. In particular because building codes are all now claiming to be energy efficient already. E.g., California’s new version of Title 24 is our “Building Energy Efficiency Standard.” Indeed, a house built to the new Title 24 standards will be 20-30% more efficient than a house built to the old Title 24. However, compared to a standard like the Passive House Specification, or the Architecture 2030 interim goals for 2010, it’s significantly missing the opportunity for energy savings of 80-90%.
OK, I’m preaching to the choir on this topic, I know. But the question then arises, what should the building and planning commissions incentivize? Here’s what I’m thinking, as a quick first cut:
Passive House Certification
22 points or more on the LEED for Homes Energy and Atmosphere category
X points (I don’t know the value for X yet) on the Green Point Rating system
My goal is to come up with several roughly comparable measures of advanced energy efficiency, any of which could be used to achieve the incentives. (Whatever they might end up being – I listed some in the earlier post mentioned above.)
I’m very interested to hear your comments on this list, and your suggestions for other additions.
Or rather, how do we get people to build and renovate houses to energy efficiency levels that are significantly above code?
The Architecture 2030 website has a great reference on how much beyond code you must build to achieve their interim and final energy efficiency goals. For example, in California’s we have a new 2008 version of the energy efficiency code, usually called “Title 24.” To meet the Architecture 2030 interim goal of buildings that use half as much energy as their conventional peers (the “initial 50% reduction target”), buildings in California need to be 10% more efficient than required by this new building code.
We all want this to happen, of course, and it’s relatively inexpensive to do so. But without incentives, it’s not going to happen. That’s why I’m working on the Menlo Park Climate Action Plan for example – we need the incentives.
And incentives will help. Have you ever wondered why so many Californians have bought Toyota Priuses, despite the fact that they are pretty expensive compared to regular cars, and you don’t save that money at the gas pump? It’s not because Californians are so green – although we are. It’s because there was an amazing incentive. If you bought a Prius or other hybrid, you could get a pass to drive in the carpool lane on California freeways – as a singleton! What does everyone in California really want? To get where they’re going faster! It didn’t cost the state much, and it got a lot of efficient cars on the road quickly. That’s the best kind of incentive.
Our municipalities (and eventually the states) can do the same kind of thing. For example, they could reward people for deciding to build houses to meet the “initial 50% reduction target” of Architecture 2030 by:
Expediting the building permit for free
Waiving some fees
Promising quick turnaround on inspections
Providing an automatic bump of 2% in their FAR requirements as a variance (floor area ratio – or how much of the lot can be covered by a house)
Those are just some of the options that municipalities have. Even just stating, in their climate action plans for example, that they have a goal of meeting the Architecture 2030 targets, or supporting the building of Passive Houses, would go a long way.
People want to do the right thing. They’re even willing to pay extra to do the right thing. But they often don’t know what the right thing is. And if they don’t have an incentive, they might do the wrong thing, or just something else, with that extra money that they’d be willing to spend. Many people, if they had the right “nudge,” would happily put more insulation in their new house or their remodel, and forgo the most expensive marble countertops. They’ll get the same resale benefit, they’ll save money over the life of the house, they’ll feel better about themselves, and they’ll actually make a significant individual difference in our planet’s future.
Let me know your thoughts, and if you have examples of code changes or municipalities providing incentives for efficiency in buildings, especially significantly surpassing code requirements, I’d love to hear about them.
I was contacted the other day by Bronwyn Barry, a designer and rater at Quantum Builders, and a member of the Passive House California organization up in Berkeley, so I did what any normal internet user would do – I Googled her. And I was excited to find, as one of the first results, a slideshow she’d made and put up on Slideshare. It’s a trip report from her visit to the 3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference held in Duluth last November. And, not only is Bronwyn’s presentation there, but there are several others, including one from Tim Eian, a German-born architect now working in Minnesota, and several others:
I find these presentations to be very helpful in understanding the Passive House concept better. Each time I review one of them I get additional nuggets of information to use as I work to get Californians to build passive houses and super-efficient houses instead of conventional ones.