ClimateWire had a fascinating story on Monday about federal
efforts to increase the energy efficiency of
buildings, which are estimated to consume about 40% of our
nation's energy. The story concerns the less than
inspiringly-named Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for
Energy-Efficient Buildings, which is seeking to substantially alter
how building owners think about energy efficiency and the use of
The problem facing GPIC, as it is known, is one with which I
confess I was not familiar. According to the statistics from
the Energy Information Administration:
Over the past 20 to 30 years, every important building component
has improved in energy performance. From air conditioners to
lighting to windows, construction crews today have an array of
green technologies at their disposal.
Once they're put together, though, the
finished building performs no better than its predecessors of two
or three decades ago. The parts have gotten better, but not the
It's not clear why this happens, but the theory is a
combination of lack of coordination among different members of
design teams, and a set of incentives that almost inevitably lead
each individual component to be substantially overdesigned and thus
incapable of taking advantage of the efficiencies provided by new
I have to say that this conclusion is sufficiently startling
that I am skeptical. The EIA reports that, from 1986 to 1999,
energy use per square foot of building did not
change. Apparently, 1999 is the last year for which EIA has
data. (Which of course is also troubling, in its own
way.) It would be interesting to know if energy efficiency has
increased at all since 1999.
Even if the situation is better than the EIA data suggest,
it would not be surprising if the problem does exist, at
least to some extent. If so, it raises some very interesting
issues regarding government regulation of building
efficiency. States such as California and Massachusetts are
likely to start regulating building efficiency at some point as
part of their broader plans to attain GHG emissions
targets. Will they be able to do so in a way that actually
leads to decreased energy use per square foot? Based on this
article, simply requiring use of more efficient components may not
lead to the outcomes the states want. On the other hand,
regulations that actually affect the design process will be
considered by building owners to be unreasonably
This is definitely one to continue to watch.
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