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Forum Post: Ready, Fire, Aim! Upgrading America's Building Stock for Energy Efficiency

Posted 8 months ago on Aug. 6, 2013, 12:03 a.m. EST by juritchejones (0)
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Source: http://www.energybiz.com/article/13/08/ready-fire-aim-upgrading-americas-building-stock-energy-efficiency

Where we are - Over decades, a widely accepted mythology has blossomed in the large building energy efficiency community. This mythology says that if we just build new buildings to be efficient, and replace or retrofit existing buildings, we can drastically reduce building energy use. It's comforting to energy policy-makers, and commercially advantageous for consultants, contractors, energy suppliers, and purveyors of energy efficiency equipment and services. Everybody knows what to do, and especially how to make money from goods and services. For building owners and operators, energy management is entirely too simple; just spend money - if you have it.

The myth is all the more seductive, because it embodies elements of truth. But the myth overlooks unsavory truths, and seriously impairs and slows our efforts toward efficiency. The myth has flourished partly from lack of practical metrics and diagnostics that quickly show near-real-time details of how energy is used, and mis-used, in buildings. Without such tools, truly effective commissioning, and capturing low-cost operating and maintenance ("O&M") savings, has remained frustratingly elusive to most consultants, policymakers, and especially to building owners and operators. Partly from bafflement and frustration, many are overlooking the bonanza of quick savings available from solving these problems.

Trouble Appears - Recent "universal benchmarking" of CO2 footprints of buildings in some cities has given us a broad sample of energy use data for large buildings. Benchmarks of this type (see http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=evaluate_performance.bus_portfoliomanager#tools ) don't show how energy is used, but they do show annual usage. The samples are broad enough that we can finally see there are large unexplained variations between buildings of similar vintage and occupancy, and that newer buildings tend to use more energy than older ones (see http://www.nyc.gov/html/gbee/downloads/pdf/nyc_ll84_benchmarking_report_2012.pdf ).

Analysis of this early data attributes the variations at least partly to different operating and maintenance practices between buildings. We should have changed course long ago, but as the fog begins to clear, we see the tip of a large iceberg, and we're dead in the water, listing to starboard.

Buildings use 40% of the energy consumed in the US, nearly $500 billion/yr. The need for enhanced economic competitiveness, improved balance of payments, and reduced global warming all imply the need for rapid, large energy use reductions. Policy-makers recognize this imperative. But they have an incomplete grasp of the situation, demonstrated by their focus. It's almost solely on efficient designs for new construction, deep retrofits of existing buildings, and a pre-occupation with encouraging and somehow securing funding of these expensive projects. Realities not adequately addressed by policy-makers include the need to pursue inherently verifiable commissioning of new buildings, lack of effective planning and management before and during retrofits, and especially lack of on-going management throughout building life cycles. Addressing these problems to ensure initial and continuing efficiency requires objective, low-cost, energy-data-driven metrics and diagnostics applicable throughout the building's life. New and retrofitted buildings are being brought on-line with naïve expectations they will automatically operate as intended, and continue to function efficiently. "Deep retrofits", advocated by some as the only viable long-term solution for inefficient existing buildings, will sometimes address non-existent problems, and miss real ones, without use of effective diagnostics prior to retrofits. Deep retrofits will also be plagued by substantial under-performance, unless properly commissioned and managed with on-going diagnostics.

The data from "universal benchmarking" are especially troubling. Existing buildings include many that were never properly commissioned, but should be. Commissioned or not, existing buildings need on-going data-driven tracking and management to ensure that, once fixed, they continue to operate efficiently, despite inevitable (and otherwise undetected) equipment and human failures. We must improve our understanding of the scope of these problems, and our planning and efforts must address them with appropriate tools. Until we adopt better metrics and diagnostics for building characterization and on-going life-cycle management of buildings, we'll continue to charge down the wrong path, using an over-simplified problem definition to achieve flawed decisions.

Read related Article here: http://thehaneygroup.org/blog/a-room-for-alternative-energy-source-solar-energy-collecting-as-an-alternative-energy-source/ http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1015603?ref=feeds/latest

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