Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

Green Buildings Get Capital Vote

— July 2, 2014

While Congress drags its heels on climate change legislation, the District of Columbia has become a leader in green building requirements.  The D.C. Green Building Act of 2006 requires that all new private development projects 50,000 SF or larger qualify for the LEED-certified designation.  As a result, Washington not only has more LEED-certified buildings than many states, but also has the second-largest number of ENERGY STAR-certified buildings of any city in the United States (Los Angeles is first).  As the number of green buildings in the nation’s capital increases, attention is being focused on the actual energy efficiency performance of these buildings.

The Washington Examiner, a local tabloid, provided a shockingly poor analysis of the impact that LEED certification has on buildings in D.C.  The report looks at data provided by the district government on energy intensity based on actual utility bills to determine if buildings constructed to LEED standards are more efficient than buildings that are not.   The analysis examines the performance of buildings over a set period of time and compares a group of LEED buildings to non-LEED buildings.  But buildings are considered to be LEED buildings if construction to meet LEED standards has been completed, is ongoing, or is even just planned as future work.  Examining projects such as Ballou High School (estimated completion date: June 2015), Stuart-Hobson Middle School (December 2015), and Lafayette Elementary School (August 2016), the report overlooks the fact that the performance benefits of building to LEED standards are not realized until after construction.  Rather than conclude that the buildings with the poor energy performance were chosen to be renovated to meet LEED standards, it concludes, bizarrely, that LEED standards are meaningless.

Commissioning Key

Though it may be easy to dismiss this analysis outright, it raises an important question about how to ensure that a building’s performance is aligned with its design.  During operation, buildings drift toward inefficiency.  Periodic commissioning of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems can optimize the building’s performance.  (This process is described in Navigant Research’s report, Building Optimization and Commissioning Services, from 2012).  Indeed, the LEED standard for new construction requires fundamental commissioning of buildings and provides an additional credit for enhanced commissioning.  However, commissioning is rarely repeated more than once every 3 to 5 years.  The drift in building performance is an opportunity for new approaches to energy savings.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is attempting to capitalize on this opportunity through the launch of its dynamic plaque, which provides an ongoing LEED rating to measure and display a building’s rating in close to real time.  But a dynamic plaque still needs an operator to diagnose and address changes in performance.  The future of well-tuned buildings lies in ongoing commissioning, which automates the process.  Solutions available from several building energy management system vendors not only monitor performance, but also detect anomalies and recalibrate the control system to meet ideal parameters.  By applying fault detection and diagnostics-based algorithms that track individual control and equipment performance on an ongoing basis, continuous commissioning provides the best opportunity to guarantee that green buildings are energy efficient buildings.

 

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