Navigant Research Blog

A Conversation with Sharon Alton, Executive Director of USGBC Colorado

— September 1, 2014

On August 13, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Colorado chapter held a commercial real estate forum to highlight green building projects in the state, particularly Denver’s recently reopened Union Station, which is pursuing LEED Gold certification. 

Following the event, I sat down with USGBC Colorado’s executive director, Sharon Alton, to discuss the state of green building and LEED in Colorado.

Madeline Bergner: Are any particular commercial building types adopting LEED more than others?

Sharon Alton: Colorado actually mirrors the rest of the country.  Office is by far the highest building sector percentage of LEED-certified buildings, and I think the reason for that is that it’s the most common one.  LEED for homes, either single-family or multi-family, comes in second behind office, and LEED for schools is third.  We have a big conference every November, the Green Schools Summit, which highlights green building in schools.

MB: What are some of the drivers of energy efficiency in new construction and retrofits in Colorado?

SA: A lot of investors are demanding LEED certification for buildings in their portfolio, so that’s definitely a factor.  Technology is the other key one.  As technology is improving really quickly, it’s just going to make the whole green building process that much easier and more economical.  Ten or 12 years ago, certain aspects of green building technology were more expensive, and they’re not now because they are more efficient and new technologies have started to drive down the cost.

MB: On the other side, what are some barriers to green building and LEED certification?

SA: If decision makers don’t adopt LEED early in the planning process, costs can increase.  A green building doesn’t need to cost more than a non-green building.  However, many times, because people think about pursuing LEED too late in the process, then it does end up costing more, and that’s what gives green building a negative reputation.  As a result, part of what we need to do is educate people and explain to them that they need to adopt this early on in the process, and therefore costs won’t need to increase.

MB: Is green building activity in Colorado mainly concentrated in Denver? What other kinds of projects are going on around the state?

SA: Since Denver is the most dense, populated area of the state (as well as other areas along the Front Range), that’s where you’ll see the most green building.  However, there are great projects going on throughout the state.  We have a group in Aspen that promotes green building there, and there are some interesting projects in the area.  USGBC Colorado gives green building awards, and we received some great award applications from Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, and other parts of the state.  You’ll find green building all over, but along the Front Range is where most the green building is, purely because it’s where most of the buildings are.

MB: At the forum, one panelist said that the ultimate goal of USGBC and similar organizations was to no longer exist.  Is this how you see the future of green building?

SA: If we get to a point where everyone is doing sustainable things and utilizing green building, that’s going to become the status quo.  As we try to push the envelope and make things greener and greener, and get to net zero, LEED Platinum may end up someday just being the code that all buildings have to build to.  So then you wouldn’t call it a LEED building, it would just be a building.

 

 

United States, China Collaborate on Carbon Capture

— August 5, 2014

In a previous blog, I outlined some of the recent efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the United States and China.  Following that trend, earlier this month the United States and China signed eight partnership agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Of the eight agreements, four promote collaboration in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  As China alone consumes nearly half of the world’s coal and the United States consumes 11%, these agreements mark an important step in promoting international cooperation to combat climate change.

As Richard Martin noted in a previous blog post, the Chinese government has been looking at options to combat air pollution by curbing coal consumption for quite some time.  Despite the need to reduce coal consumption overall, throwing the combined weight of the United States and China at developing CCS technology to mitigate the effects of coal combustion is a move in the right direction.

Strengthening Ties

The majority of the CCS agreements are focused on regional projects that involve collaboration between research institutions in the United States and China.  One agreement, between the University of Kentucky and China’s Sinopec Corporation, features a demonstration project that will capture, utilize, and store 1 million tons of CO2 annually from a coal-fired plant in Shandong, China.  The project is projected to continue through 2017, and researchers hope to develop CCS technologies that can be used on a broader scale.  The University of Kentucky, along with the Shanxi Coal International Energy Group and Air Products & Chemicals Inc., is also working on a coal-fired power plant able to capture 2 million tons of CO2 per year.  Another of the efforts is an undertaking between the Huaneng Clean Energy Research Institute and Summit Power Group LLC to develop clean coal power generation technology. In the Shaanxi province, West Virginia University along with Yanchang Petroleum and Air Products and Chemicals will pursue an oxy-combustion coal technology project.

Issues Remain

Developing CCS technology in a world where the two largest emitters of CO2 also have massive natural coal reserves seems like a good way to mitigate emissions problems.  However, problems remain with the technology, including water intensity, high cost, and slow deployment rates.  Although coal companies and other fossil fuel advocates charge that President Obama is waging a “war on coal,” the administration has made it clear that coal and natural gas will remain a prominent part of America’s energy future for years to come. The same remains true in China, where the 12th Five-Year Plan emphasizes clean technologies and energy efficiency, but realistically acknowledges that China’s vast coal reserves will continue to be tapped to facilitate growth and economic development.

 

California Calculates the Value of Time in Energy Efficiency

— July 22, 2014

The 2013 update to California’s Title 24 building energy efficiency standards went into effect on July 1, 2014.  In addition to increasing overall building efficiency requirements over the 2008 standards, this update sets out more stringent lighting requirements for both residential and non-residential buildings.

The 2013 update also includes changes to California’s time dependent valuation (TDV) calculation.   Used only in California, TDV is a tool to gauge the value of energy efficiency measures.  Unlike other metrics, such as site or source energy (measured in kBtu), TDV includes the cost to provide energy based on time of use, as well as other variations in cost due to climate, geography, and fuel type.

TDV was developed in 2005 and was updated in both 2008 and 2013 to help California meet the energy efficiency goals established in Title 24.  In the 2013 update, the California Energy Commission (CEC) changed the TDV calculation to account for climate sensitivity by separating California into 16 different climate zones.  This alteration helps reflect differences in energy costs driven by climate conditions, which vary considerably throughout California.

Finer-Grained

One of the key barriers to wider TDV adoption is developing values for each climate zone.  As stated above, California alone has 16 climate zone values.  Another limitation is that many state officials are unaware of it. California is the only state that uses TDV, whereas metrics such as site and source energy are much more commonly employed both nationally and internationally.  Furthermore, TDV does not account for the potential grid modernization costs necessary to export excess electricity back to the grid.

But since TDV accounts for differing energy costs based on a range of factors, it more accurately captures the societal cost of energy consumption that’s missed in assessments based only on source or site energy parameters.

In the coming years, as California tries to build more zero energy buildings (ZEBs), TDV will play an important role in determining whether a building meets the required energy use intensity to qualify as zero net energy.  The forthcoming Navigant Research report, Zero Energy Buildings, will provide an update to the 2012 iteration and look further into the benefits and challenges associated with TDV as a metric.

 

Emissions Reduction Efforts Gather Steam

— July 2, 2014

Over the past month, worldwide efforts to reduce global carbon emissions have intensified.  On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal to cut emissions using state-by-state targets (read more on the proposed rule and its implications in previous blogs by my colleagues Brett Feldman and Ryan Citron).  As states begin to explore different compliance options, regional cap-and-trade programs, such as the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), have gained traction.  Outside of the United States, The World Bank recently reported that more than 60 carbon pricing systems are either operational or in development worldwide.

Cap-and-Trade Considerations

Despite opposition to the EPA’s proposed rule, some states have already begun to embrace the change by exploring a variety of compliance options.   Washington state and Pennsylvania, among others, see cap-and-trade as a possibility to achieve their state’s target for emissions cuts.  John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Obama, told the Financial Times that a market-based solution to achieve emissions cuts would be “the most cost-effective way that states might come together to get the reductions that will be required.”  Many Democratic governors have already indicated that they will draw on the success of the RGGI and California’s statewide market to achieve compliance with the new targets.

Not to be outdone, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China laid out plans to establish a national carbon market starting in 2018.  If it comes to fruition, the national model will take into account outcomes from seven regional pilot programs that launched in 2014 (the last of which was scheduled to launch in June).  The pilot schemes, scheduled for evaluation in 2016, cover around one-third of China’s gross domestic product and one-fifth of its energy use.  If successful, these programs will not only shape the development of a national carbon market, but also help meet the national goal to reduce carbon intensity by 40% to 45% by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Is a U.S. Carbon Market Realistic?

Realistically, such legislation would be extremely unlikely in the immediate future.  National cap-and-trade legislation has failed on several occasions since President Obama took office, with opponents citing economic harm as the primary concern.  However, if China implements a national carbon market that achieves economical emissions cuts, it could provide the impetus to spur federal legislation in the United States.  Additionally, with the United Nations Climate Summit approaching in September, progress from United States and China may help further global efforts to curb emissions.

 

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