Navigant Research Blog

Low and Zero Energy Buildings Driven by Policy Measures

— October 7, 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an ambitious plan to tackle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by retrofitting public and private buildings throughout the state.  De Blasio’s plan strives for 80% reduction of GHGs by 2050, a target that, as The New York Times put it, “would be a truly impressive feat if he were actually able to make good on that promise.”

With this plan, New York is continuing its efforts to become a leader in energy efficiency and GHG emissions reductions efforts across the United States.  Other states with similar GHG reduction targets include Massachusetts and California.  One emerging strategy employed by states with emissions reduction targets is the zero energy building.  Zero energy buildings (ZEBs) produce enough energy to offset their annual consumption, typically through the use of renewable installations.  ZEBs are built using highly efficient building materials and technologies and often rely on methods such as daylighting to reduce energy consumption.

Policy-Driven Change

According to the recent Navigant Research report Zero Energy Buildings, growth in the market for energy efficiency in buildings is expected to be driven by regional and local policies.  This is true both in the United States and internationally, where the European Union leads the way with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).  The EPBD requires new public construction to be zero energy after 2018 and all new construction to be zero energy by 2020.  In addition, the EPBD requires individual member states to develop national plans for increasing the number of ZEBs.

California’s Title 24 building code aims to achieve all new residential construction as zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020, with all new commercial buildings achieving ZNE by 2030.  In Massachusetts, utility- and state-funded pilots have helped to drive building energy efficiency.  The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources launched the Pathways to Zero Net Energy Program in 2014, designed to support ZNE building construction and facilitate market development.

Federal Legislation

With technology improvements and the growing availability of energy efficient building materials, policy has become the most important driver in prompting energy efficient retrofits and new construction.  Although several states have adopted targets for building energy efficiency, the most relevant federal legislation is Executive Order 13541.  The Order mandated that by 2015, 15% of existing federal buildings conform to energy efficiency standards and by 2030, 100% of all new federal buildings achieve zero net energy.  Although sweeping national legislation requiring ZEBs for commercial or residential construction seems unlikely in the immediate future, federal incentives could prompt builders to pursue more efficient building and strive to make zero energy more common in the United States.

 

From Commonplace Materials, Shigeru Ban Creates Uncommon Shelters

— September 8, 2014

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s first museum in the United States opened last month in Aspen, Colorado.  An internationally renowned architect and the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Prize, which is often referred to as architecture’s Nobel Prize, Ban is distinguished from his peers by his commitment to humanitarian work and sustainability.

Since 1994, Ban and a team of volunteers have responded to a number of disasters worldwide with innovative architectural solutions.  They constructed relief housing in response to the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Ban uses inexpensive, often recycled materials to construct innovative shelters in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.  These structures dispel preconceived notions of the aesthetics of disaster relief shelters with their simple, clean designs.

In Onagawa, Japan, Ban converted old shipping containers into housing for people who lost their homes in the 2011 disaster.  The earthquake and flooding left little flat land, which Ban addressed by stacking the shipping containers to make three level multi-family units.   One of Ban’s earliest projects was in response to the 1994 civil war in Rwanda that left millions homeless.  Ban worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop refugee shelters, using low-cost paper tubes as an alternative to wood in an area that had suffered rapid deforestation.

Minimalism in a Time of Excess

What makes Ban’s work particularly interesting from an energy standpoint is his dedication to using locally and sustainably sourced materials.  The new Aspen Art Museum is constructed from materials ranging from paper tubes to beer crates, and all the wood involved in the project was sustainably sourced.  Fellow architects have called Ban a “socially responsible” or “socially conscious” architect who prizes sustainability above all.  But despite Ban’s focus on reusing materials and minimizing waste, he rejects labels such as green and eco-friendly.

Although Ban is the best-known philanthropic architect, lesser-known builders and organizations are working in a similar capacity, creating a small but growing movement.  For example, the U.K. charity Architecture Sans Frontières, emulating the model pioneered by Doctors without Borders, is spreading sustainable architecture and responsibly built environments to marginalized or impoverished communities around the world.  In the United States, the organization Make it Right, created after Hurricane Katrina, enlists architects who donate their time to create cradle to cradle homes that produce more energy than they consume.  Natural disasters, political turmoil, and war will continue to displace people from their homes, and the innovative architectural designs by Ban and others can help keep them from crowded and unsanitary refugee camps.

 

A Conversation with Sharon Alton, Executive Director of USGBC Colorado

— September 3, 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.

 

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