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Change was the Word for EE Global

"Energy efficiency has to be that path," said former Senator Timothy Wirth during his luncheon speech on reducing carbon emissions around the world.

Changing building designs, changing legislation and changing the world were the goals of the array of speakers at the Energy Efficiency Global Forum & Exposition (EE Global), November 11-4 in Washington, D.C. More than 800 delegates, exhibitors and media from 32 countries attended the Alliance to Save Energy’s inaugural event focused on energy efficiency. Attendees represented governments from several countries, businesses, nonprofits and trade associations.

RK Stewart, president of the American Institute of Architects, spoke to changing building design during a session focused on “Energy Efficiency: The Cornerstone for Creating Carbon Neutral Buildings.” Stewart’s presentation, “What Kind of Ancestors Will We Be?” asked how future generations will look at the buildings we leave behind. As he noted, building design, construction and materials leave a far larger carbon footprint than cars and trucks, despite popular opinion.

According to Stewart, architects can right now begin to reduce consumption at no cost by using the systems available smartly. “It’s how we use daylighting,” he noted, for example. Reconsidering window size and orientation and making the most of those systems are one way architects can begin to design more efficiently.

Stewart also noted that government mandates and incentive programs may need to play a stronger role on making buildings more energy-efficient. A graph he showed his audience comparing California energy efficiency to that of the United States as a whole showed that the state’s total energy use “has basically flat-lined” since the government has taken a strong stand in requiring energy efficiency.

Stewart also mentioned that the various green rating systems available can play a part in bringing buildings in the United States close to the net-zero energy requirement proposed by House Bill 3221, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007. According to Stewart, AIA is currently in the process of evaluating the various rating systems in use.

“They all work,” Stewart said. “All the systems out there have their virtues and they all have areas where they could be stronger.”
Stewart said the goal of the evaluation is to help the rating systems learn where they could strengthen their programs, and to guide the design community when it comes to choosing a rating system.

Scot Horst, chairperson of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Steering Committee, examined what efficiency really means. Efficiency, Horst explained, means “doing more with less.” More, for Horst, means, in part, looking at buildings holistically. Optimizing just one part of the building isn’t enough, since every component impacts the whole.

Horst looked at a school in New Jersey in particular. His graphs demonstrated that investments in daylighting and wood triple-pane windows, among other factors, each resulted in long-term savings and rapid paybacks. However, when he showed how these investments impacted other systems—specifically, fewer heat pumps were needed once these insulating accommodations were made—the savings grew dramatically.

“Until you look at how the whole system is working together, you really don’t understand how it is working,” he said.

People also play an important—although occasionally overlooked—role in this discussion, Horst said. He mentioned one company that renovated its buildings-and found that the 2-percent drop in absenteeism, resulting from the fact that people wanted to be in the building longer, was enough to cover the cost of the renovation.

Dr. Wolfgang Feist, director of the Passive House Institute, spoke on “Improving Energy Efficiency by a Factor 10 - The Passive House Standard.” According to Feist, a few simple changes to existing systems can go a long way. One example he focused on was adding “Super Windows” to homes.

“I have seen a lot of single-pane windows in Washington,” the German joked, “and it’s very cold here.”

Feist stressed that adding just one additional lite helps improve energy efficiency and thermal comfort dramatically. While this may seem like an obvious fact for the glazing community, the policymakers, designers and even building owners in the room listened carefully.

But are these changes cost-effective? Many of the speakers stressed the message that energy efficiency doesn’t have to be at odds with cost effectiveness.

Brenna Walraven, chair of the Building Owners and Managers Association said that, at least with regards to commercial buildings, it is a much-believed myth that the only way to become green is with a major capital investment. Colin Dyer, president and chief executive officer of Jones Lang LaSalle, noted that 50 percent of people surveyed by his company perceived green buildings as more than 5 percent more expensive than conventional buildings. “More clarity is needed on the economics,” Dyer said.

In many cases, the speaker said, small adjustments could be made with little or no cost. The discussion drove home the point that cost must play a part in the discussion of energy efficiency.

To actually create this change, the building codes must come into discussion. Chris Mathis, president of MC Squared and a founding member of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC), focused on efforts for energy efficiency beyond those required by current building codes during a presentation on “Best Building Energy Efficiency Performance: Moving Beyond Codes.” He began by offering a loose definition of building codes: “The least safe, least strong, least energy-efficient building allowed by law.”

As with other speakers at the event, Mathis advocated a change toward more energy-efficient buildings through the codes as well as through incentive programs.

“The primary ‘friction’ in the system is resistance to change,” Mathis said of the code process.

Often, change comes as the result of a disaster, Mathis said. He pointed out examples running from the burning of Rome during Nero’s time, which he noted led to early sanitation and fire codes, to Hurricane Katrina, which has provoked Louisiana to look at building codes. Mathis then asked his audience what might constitute an energy disaster. What type of energy disaster might provoke the United States to write energy efficiency into the building codes?

Mathis looked, as one example, at windows in existing homes. Of 110 million existing homes, Mathis said, 64 percent have single-lite windows. Fifty-six percent of residential windows now feature low-E, while 37 percent of commercial buildings feature low-E coatings. According to Mathis, replacing windows with the current minimum energy codes would save one ton of air conditioning per house, or 12,000 btu/hr.

“Are we doing enough?” Mathis asked. “If we embrace the idea of sustainability, what can we do to get there?”

He encouraged his audience to look at the building codes as the minimum required, and strive for attaining higher certifications in new construction and renovations. “What minimum are we willing to embrace?” he asked.

Bill Nesmith, the assistant director for conservation with the Oregon Department of Energy, noted that some states have worked to make sure their codes offer something more stringent than at the federal level. Oregon has worked for several years to create stringent codes for improving energy efficiency.

One listener noted that no matter how well-designed the code, it won’t work without enforcement.

Nesmith agreed. “You can have the greatest code in the world on paper; if it’s not enforced it can’t get you where you want to go.” He added, “People have to want it, and want the green features.”

However, federal mandates are in the works. During a session on “New Approaches to Environmentally Conscious Building Envelope Design and Technologies,” David Rodgers, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), addressed the energy bills in Congress. He explained that net-zero energy buildings—the goal for commercial buildings by 2050, as outlined by House Bill 3221—use 70 percent less energy than conventional buildings and are able to produce enough electricity on-site or through storage to power the building through the rest of the day. According to Rodgers, integrating systems and looking at buildings as wholes is critical in reaching this net-zero energy goal. He pointed out that changes to windows are among provisions being examined by architects.

“Windows annually are responsible for 3.8 quads of energy in the U.S. in the form of heating and air conditioning loads at a cost of more than $30 million,” Rodgers said.

He told his audience that electrochromic windows and “highly insulating” units will play a role in making more energy-efficient buildings.

Becoming more energy-efficient will be the key to reducing carbon emissions around the world, according to Senator Timothy Wirth from Colorado, president of the United Nations Foundation. “Energy efficiency has to be the path,” Wirth said during the plenary luncheon on this topic. “There is no other.”

Like earlier speakers, Wirth noted that finding solutions for becoming a more energy-efficient country is challenging, but instigating change is far more difficult. “How do you get these large government [bodies] designed for a previous world to change?” he asked.

The next EE Global Forum will be held December 2008 in Brussels, Belgium.

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