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To reach ambitious energy targets, firms must dig deeper

The number of firms involved in AIA’s voluntary pact to slash energy consumption in buildings grew to more than 400 in July.

September 15, 2017 |

In light of the positive news from AIA concerning progress toward its 2030 Commitment targets, it’s nice to see the AEC community showing resolve in this highly charged, post-Paris Climate Accord pullout political environment.

The number of firms involved in AIA’s voluntary pact to slash energy consumption in buildings grew to more than 400 in July. A select number of design practices have already exceeded the initiative’s ambitious target of a portfolio-average predicted energy savings of 70% or greater. To date, more than 330 individual projects designed by 2030 Commitment signatories met or exceeded this target.

If AIA’s estimates are accurate, the environmental and economic impacts of 2030 Commitment projects are significant. The collective potential energy savings from 2016 projects represents 16.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of operating five coal-fired power plants in a given year. The projects also represent more than $1.4 billion in annual energy cost savings.

Impressive, right? But is it enough?

Perhaps not when you consider the types of projects AIA members (and most other AEC firms) work on: primarily new construction, mid- to large-size in scale.

The sleeping giant in the race to slash total energy consumption in the U.S. buildings market is the existing building stock—especially small to mid-sized commercial buildings (50,000 sf or smaller). Retail stores, gas stations, banks, office buildings, schools, auto sales centers—these structures make up 94% of the commercial property stock and represent half of the total square footage. Collectively, they consume 44% of the energy used in all buildings in the U.S., according to DOE.

There is an enormous opportunity to effect change on a wide scale through the deep energy retrofitting of existing commercial buildings. Yet to date, very little progress has been made, according to Jennifer Thorne Amann, Buildings Program Director with Washington, D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. In a new white paper, Thorne Amann breaks down the numbers: Of the 332 zero-energy and ultra-low-energy buildings tallied by the New Buildings Institute, only 35 are retrofit projects. Of these, nine were verified as ZEB.

An estimated two billion sf of commercial floor space—2.2% of the total square footage—is retrofit each year, with an average energy-use reduction of 11%. “While this retrofit rate would cover roughly one-third of the existing commercial building stock by 2030, unless the resulting energy savings substantially improve, these retrofits will fall far short of the energy savings goals adopted by states and cities,” says Thorne Amann.

Read her white paper: http://tinyurl.com/ACEEEwp

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