October has been a good month for energy efficiency. During the International Code Council’s (ICC) final action hearings for the 2015 I-codes, which took place earlier this month in Atlantic City, code officials claimed the high ground for energy efficiency by voting against a proposal that would have enabled builders to tradeoff building envelope performance with mechanical systems. If this proposal had passed, it would have effectively rolled back energy codes and allowed builders in Minnesota to construct the same type of building envelope as their counterparts in Florida, essentially ignoring all of the knowledge that building science experts have worked so hard to disseminate over the past two decades.
Also at the ICC meetings, code officials voted to approve a proposal that will incorporate an Energy Rating Index (ERI), such as RESNET’s HERS score (equivalent to a miles per gallon rating), into 2015 codes so that builders can have the flexibility to utilize a performance path as opposed to prescriptive one.
“A prescriptive approach, in which specs are dictated to builders, kills creativity, research, and development,” says Jim Petersen, Director of R&D and Quality for PulteGroup. “If builders are going to contribute to the development of advanced building systems and improved home performance, we need the flexibility to create our own solutions that fit into our systems, processes, and budgets.”
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who helped draft the proposal, if builders follow the performance method using the approved HERS equivalency numbers, they will achieve a 10-15% energy savings in every climate zone throughout the country over 2012 code levels.
Of course, the challenge now is twofold—first, to get widespread adoption of 2015 codes (many municipalities are still using 2006 or 2009 energy codes) and second, to establish a level of accuracy and transparency in energy performance ratings.
Challenges aside, improved energy performance in buildings, in conjunction with efficiencies in other sectors, have indisputably contributed to a substantial reduction in our country’s overall energy use, as documented in a report that was released earlier this month by the NRDC. The report cites a “remarkable turnaround” in the state of the U.S. energy economy, mostly due to energy efficiency.
According to the report, “Americans have found so many innovative ways to save energy that we have more than doubled the economic productivity of the oil that runs our vehicles and the natural gas and electricity that runs everything else. As a result, across the United States, total energy used per dollar of goods produced is down; gasoline per mile driven is down; and the cost of energy services (from lighting to refrigeration) is down. Because increasing energy efficiency is far less costly than adding other energy resources like fossil fuels, this is saving the nation hundreds of billions of dollars annually, helping U.S. workers and companies compete worldwide, and making our country more energy-secure.”
For the first time in modern history, “the national growth rate for electricity consumption has dropped below that of the population” over the past decade, primarily due to energy efficiency measures.
The use of oil and coal used in vehicles, homes, and businesses in the U.S. continues to decline, down 14% and 25% respectively in 2012 from peak usage rates in 2005, with further reductions expected due to fuel economy, clean car standards, and the desire to get away from “dirty and obsolete power generation.”
Based on a comprehensive analysis of energy trends, the Bipartisan Policy Center recently concluded that “over the past four decades, energy savings achieved through improvements in energy productivity have exceeded the contribution from all new supply resources in meeting America’s growing energy needs.”
While it’s important to celebrate the increase in energy efficiency, it’s also necessary to recognize that this is just a tiny step in long marathon of adequately tacking climate change. In order to ensure an environmentally stable and sustainable future, we must employ a layered strategy that incentivizes greater adoption of energy efficiency, renewables, pollution reduction, carbon pricing, and clean technology.
In an era when our elected officials are either paralyzed or puppets of the oil and gas industry, energy efficiency is an excellent example of how the power really does reside with the people. When it comes to this issue, the Federal government’s actions range from anemic to flaccid. It’s ordinary people who are displaying profiles of courage, disregarding convention and developing innovative ways to bring about positive change.
What’s your profile of courage? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.
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