Navigant Research Blog

Retrofits Are Key to an Energy Efficient Building Stock

— April 12, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersEven if all new buildings from today on were built to be net zero energy, it would take several decades for the change to have an appreciable effect on overall building energy consumption. Indeed, 50% of commercial buildings in the United States were built before 1980. Moreover, older buildings adhere to outdated standards—if they adhere to any standards at all—and often have higher energy intensities than new construction. Retrofitting these older buildings is the only path toward substantially reducing the energy footprint of the existing building stock.

Efficiency through Retrofits

In the world of retrofits, installing energy efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; LED lighting; and building controls can help building managers lower the levels of energy consumption of building systems. For example, the 85-year-old Liberty Tower in Dayton, Ohio is using each of these strategies to improve energy efficiency. All interior and exterior lights in the 114,000-square-foot facility are being replaced with LEDs, the building’s existing steam boiler is being replaced with two vertical fire tube boilers, and the building controls are being replaced and upgraded to provide advanced programming measures.

Switching to LED lighting provides a substantial savings opportunity in existing buildings. In the case of Liberty Tower, the new lighting system is expected to use 60% less energy than the system it’s replacing. However, more savings are possible in LED retrofits through the addition of controls. Because LEDs provide better dimmability than fluorescent lights, they are better suited to controls. Even though the reduced energy consumption of LEDs reduces the amount of energy available to be saved, controls can allow an additional way of fine-tuning the amount of energy being used, thus providing more savings.

Lights can be dimmed when natural light is present or when a space is unoccupied to provide more savings. However, the level of light output during normal operation can also be adjusted based on feedback of occupants so that energy is not wasted providing more lighting than is needed. Additionally, LED lamps fail differently than incandescent or fluorescent lamps—they gradually grow dimmer at the end of their lifespan. As a result, using lighting controls to initially provide less than the entire output of the LED and steadily increasing output as the lamp fails could decrease the frequency at which lamps need to be replaced. This provides operational savings in addition to energy savings.

Upfront Costs

Though savings from retrofits can be substantial, so too can the costs. For the Liberty Tower retrofit project, the total cost is estimated to be $870,000 and provide annual utility cost savings of $99,000, generating a payback period of 8 years. The payback period, for better or for worse, is considered by many in the industry as an easy shorthand for determining whether or not a given energy efficiency retrofit project or technology will be viable for a particular installation. Most building owners require a payback of 3 years or less, though this depends on the ownership and use of the building.

Liberty Savings Bank owns the Liberty Tower and occupies about 10% of the total floorspace, with the remainder leased to tenants. Because the company is family-owned and occupies part of the building, it can accept a larger payback. However, only about 60% of commercial floorspace in the United States is occupied by its owner. Consequently, larger ticket upgrades, such as deep building envelope or HVAC system upgrades, remain difficult to sell within the retrofit market.

Moreover, because retrofits are prioritized by their payback period and generally have a long lifespan, opportunities with unattractive longer payback periods are the ones that remain. Without either a change in technology or an outside force, the energy savings potential of these opportunities may go unrealized. In the case of Liberty Tower, the project is expected to generate more than $70,000 in utility rebates, making the economic case more practical. With commercial buildings accounting for more than a third of total U.S. energy consumption, regulations and incentives will be the key to reducing the energy footprint of the existing building stock.

Join Benjamin Freas at the Navigant Research’s Retrofits for Commercial Buildings: Moving the Needle on Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings webinar on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 2:00 pm EDT to learn more about energy efficiency in buildings.

 

Will COP21 Help Keep a Spotlight on Buildings?

— December 11, 2015

Buildings have been given a place in the spotlight, or at least they were for a day on December 3 at the world’s convention on climate change, COP21, in Paris. The emissions estimates make a statement: one-third of the global carbon footprint stems from energy use in buildings. If left unfettered, these emissions could triple by 2050. It is evident this reality has sunk in, for buildings are a necessary target for emissions reductions and the actions required for these reductions can make good business sense.

Registering Commitment

Inspired by the efforts of COP21, the U.K. Green Building Council (GBC) is leading the buildings industry in targeting emissions reductions. In a recent article highlighting the goals, CEO Julie Hirigoyen explained, “The eyes of the world are on Paris, but it is not just down to the politicians to make it a success. There is a clear business case for the construction and real estate sector to cut carbon emissions from buildings. The climate pledge commitments from our members demonstrate the widespread industry support for urgent action, and point to a market that is transforming itself.” The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) made similar commitments to support the aims of COP21, as well. In all, 25 GBCs worldwide joined the effort with goals for climate change mitigation.

In advance of the conference, USGBC and Ceres launched the Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration. These companies (125 and counting) have made a call for national climate policies and support of the Clean Power Plan. The voluntary registration of green buildings is an important step in bringing transparency and accountability to corporate climate commitments for commercial buildings.

The Business Impact

Tackling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is good for sustainability reporting, and it also delivers economic and business value. Navigant Research suggests intelligent building solutions are effective tools for supporting these corporate commitments to emissions reductions. Beyond reducing a building’s carbon impact, the benefits of investing in intelligent building solutions include reduced energy and operational costs.

Intelligent lighting and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning controls, for example, can coordinate system performance to reduce energy consumption while improving the occupant experience. A building energy management system can direct automated system improvements through automation and controls or manual improvements, and the benefits are wide reaching. The operational improvements can not only deliver energy savings for GHG emissions reductions, but can also generate the business intelligence that brings benefits to the bottom line.

In the end, even if national policy continues to wane in the political winds of the Capitol, there is hope for targeting buildings in the fight against climate change. The demands of business leaders—like those signing onto programs at the COP21 Buildings Day—are being heard at the local level. More momentum in city policy can lead the way. As explained in the newest C40 report, “Globally, the greatest opportunity for mayors to reduce GHG emissions is in urban building energy use.”

 

The Future of Buildings: Connected and Comfortable

— November 6, 2015

During October 26-29, I attended VERGE in San Jose, a conference on “accelerating sustainability solutions in an interconnected world.” This annual GreenBiz event covers the gamut of technology and sustainability—from agriculture and water to my own area of interest: next-generation buildings. At VERGE, the keynotes and panel discussions made it clear that technology is changing our experience in buildings and that the future is not just smart or sustainable, but also connected and comfortable.

Sensors, IoT, and Automation for Comfort

As explained in the Future of Building Management panel, “landlords will be caught flat footed if they don’t follow suit with the consumerization of technology.” This discussion between technology providers and commercial and corporate real estate representatives AtSite, Building Robotics, WeWork, and Under Armour made it clear that the future of the work space is undergoing fundamental change. The growth of co-working space and the commonality of personal technology is changing the definition of best-in-class office space. According to WeWork, the future looks to be dominated by independent workers, with up to 40% of the workforce being defined as entrepreneurs or independent contractors. Furthermore, office workers want to be in control. According to Building Robotics, companies deploying apps for HVAC optimization on individual employee cell phones are seeing 75% engagement.

So, the new workspace is fundamentally about technology and comfort. There is a shift in the marketplace where the business case for intelligent building solutions is expanding from green, to energy efficient, to networked, fine-tuned, and comfortable.

There are also alterations in the way data is gathered. As Enlighted explained, the business case for sensing is changing. The idea of the intelligent building as a platform brings a whole new set of opportunities. According to Enlighted, the applications can now pay for the hardware. The company explained with an example from healthcare: networked lighting with embedded sensing could now be a tool for asset tracking, and this kind of capability dramatically changes the return on sensor investment when the high cost, the movement of assets within a hospital, and the value of loss prevention are considered.

IoT and Defining the Intelligent Building 

At Navigant Research, we are tracking the evolution of the intelligent buildings market. It is clear that the Internet of Things (IoT) is gaining traction in the facilities industry as cost-effective devices make advanced sensing widespread. These applications pay for hardware upgrades and enable unprecedented occupant engagement, delivering energy savings alongside comfort.

Watch for further details on the future of intelligent buildings and the evolution of advanced sensors in Navigant Research’s upcoming report in its Building Innovations service.

 

Buildings and Climate Change

— November 6, 2015

According to the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme, the buildings sector is estimated to be worth 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly $7.5 trillion. Currently, buildings consume about 40% of global energy, 25% of global water, and 60% of global electricity. Buildings also emit more than 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under the business-as-usual projection accompanied by rapid urbanization, emissions caused by the buildings sector may more than double by 2050.

However, the buildings sector has among some of the most cost-effective and proven solutions for reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions. There are commercially available technologies that can reduce energy demand in buildings by 30% to 80%. Investment in building energy efficiency will lead to significant savings that will help offset incremental costs, providing a quick return on investment. Also, because existing buildings perform far below efficiency potentials in general, there are enormous opportunities for reducing energy consumption. Meanwhile, due to population growth and increasing urbanization, a new construction market is growing in developing countries, where construction activities account for up to 40% of GDP and provide opportunities for adopting energy efficient technologies.

UN Buildings Day

The buildings sector can play a critical role in mitigating climate change by reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions. Consequently, for the first time in the history of climate negotiations, a Buildings Day will be held on December 3, 2015 at the COP21 UN conference on climate change in Paris. This meeting is a mandate from the Lima-Paris Action Agenda of 2014, and it aims to discuss ways to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C to 2°C. The Buildings Day at COP21 will showcase actions already taken by the buildings industry and will serve as an opportunity to encourage communications, collaboration, and implementation among various stakeholders.

In addition, a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction consisting of governments, companies, financial institutions, organizations, academia, associations, professionals, and user networks will officially launch on that day. By putting the buildings and construction sector on the below 2°C path, the alliance commits to helping countries realize their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are essential drivers for achieving the ambitious global climate goal.

 

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