The October print edition of Oregon Business (OB) raises the all-important question: “Are green buildings really saving energy?” It draws upon the experience of Portland, Oregon to evaluate whether or not incentives for energy-efficient buildings translate into buildings that meet expectations once they are occupied. In the article, the city’s green building manager, Alisa Kane (whose office is a part of the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability), points to this troubling statistic:Over the past 15 years, while the energy codes for buildings have become more stringent, the actual energy use has not gone down. The culprit, she says, is operations and behavior of the occupants.
Ms. Kane’s point is well taken, and speaks to a broader concern in the green buildings regulatory community. While regulators are able to monitor and effectively assess if a LEED-rated structure meets pre-construction expectations during design and early post-occupancy evaluations, the process falters when occupants bring in “plug loads” that increase energy use beyond the building’s design expectation. This problem is magnified with the proliferation of plug-and-play devices (e.g. mobile phones, music players, mini-refrigerators, computers, space-heaters, etc.) that are ubiquitous in most offices and commercial spaces today. This disconnect prevents regulators and tenants from getting an accurate idea of the building’s true energy performance.
In the short term, the solution is two-pronged: First, the U.S. should follow the model established by the European Commission through its Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings (2010/31/EU, 19 May 2010). This directive states that all building owners must show energy performance certificates to prospective buyers or tenants when constructing, selling, or leasing property. Although overall, the U.S. lags Europe on this front, individual cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, and Washington, D.C. have enacted similar laws over the past few years. Such policies impose a true market value on building efficiency, and provide a benchmark for improvements. However, predicting energy requirements is easier said than done. As the Oregon example shows, building owners and managers are loathe to accept such legislation since they see it imposing a penalty on them for the truancy of their tenants.
Second, when commissioning a building, set more realistic design parameters that account for the true expected in-use profile of today’s tenants. However, this approach has its own issues. Not only does it not dissuade ballooning energy consumption, it also risks over-compensation in design affecting the cost-optimality/profitability of the project.
Both of these measures are only a short- to mid-term fix. The longer-term solution is fundamental behavior change on the part of building owners and the corporate managers and employees on the tenant side, leading to an integrated decision on managing energy use. In short, as one respondent in the OB article pointed out, we need “a synergy between the boiler room, boardroom, and break room.”
This issue, and its likely solutions, augurs a few trends for clients operating in the green buildings space. Demand for energy audits will increase and, depending on region, they could be either voluntary or mandatory. Expect enhanced prospects for companies like CADmeleon*, kWhours*, and FirstFuel*. Also, there is a clear need in the marketplace for companies offering a BEMS-integrated services package.Players active in the domain like IBM*, Cisco*, Echelon*, and Lucid Design Group* provide parts of the whole, but often lack in the understanding/management of the fundamental human element of this puzzle. Expect increasing incorporation of new ideas (e.g. OPower*), and more acquisitions by larger players looking to obtain this missing piece.
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