I was enthused by the 2011 State of the Union Address where President Barack Obama challenged the United States to have 80% of America’s energy to come from clean energy sources by 2035. At first I thought to myself, “Finally we are doing something about clean energy and climate change.” However, what I did not hear is what we are going to do with the Clean Air Act right NOW. Climate change is currently happening and we are all experiencing it, especially those who live in the Northeast and have to put up with this year’s seemingly never-ending snow. From listening to the experts’ view on this recent weather pattern, the polar ice caps have melted more than normal this past summer and that has injected colder water into the oceans causing extreme weather patterns. There has been a trend of increased rain and snow storms, as they have become the norm over the past few years.
I think 80% is a great goal (knowing that much of the changing climate is attributed to what we put in the air). However, I am skeptical that we can meet this goal if we don’t have a clear plan of action. In addition, our energy needs are rising and the development of clean fuel technologies is lagging. One way to bridge this gap is for everyone to start being a little bit more energy efficient in our lives. We all need to take responsibility of how we are contributing to this problem. We should all examine how we, as individuals, are using energy in our homes and offices and try to conserve more. We can help bridge this gap. It will take effort on all of our parts to start becoming more energy efficient in our everyday lives. For example, I often see buildings using more electricity than is necessary due to inefficient chilled water production or poor lighting design that can easily be remedied. I am also a realist, as these types of reductions will not get us to the 80% but every little bit can help.
Watching some of the news shows such as those on the FOX network who hold the opinion that “Now is not the time to push for the Clean Air Act” just reaffirms my opinion: most people in this country are more concerned with dollars than with saving our planet. I get it – we are losing the race for global financial supremacy to China and India. Frankly, I’m not as concerned about global supremacy as much as I care about what we are doing to this planet. Does it really matter if the Gross National Product (GNP) of other countries is higher than ours? A majority of what they produce goes to the USA for consumption anyway. I understand the idea that if we don’t stay ahead, they will have a better standard of living than us. But, I am not so sure that this is as important as the air we breathe. What is of greater concern is making sure we can leave a planet behind that our kids and grandkids don’t have to clean up just because we were in a race with China over GNP. Enough of the ranting. I need to go shovel my driveway again.
In a recent NY Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/science/earth/26climate.html), it was noted that the idea of ‘Cap and Trade’ has all but fizzled out as a potential energy policy for the current administration. President Obama, who supported the program in his initial budget, no longer supports it. The reason for this loss of momentum is the combination of opposition from the oil industry, several conservative groups and the recent Wall Street collapse. So, now what? We have no climate change policy.
‘Cap and Trade’ created a structure to gradually decrease, or cap, the amount of carbon emissions allowed by major emitters of pollutants (such as power plants). These companies would need to report the amount of carbon emissions they put into the atmosphere. Each company is given an allowance (i.e.: credit) of emissions they are permitted to release. Those who released less carbon emissions would keep their credits. However, those who exceed their cap must purchase carbon credits from those who have spare ones; in effect, paying for the right to pollute.
Our lawmakers have now decided to put together a program that is more economically diverse. Once again, Washington has done their job of creating more bureaucracy to yet another item this country so desperately needs. Global climate change needs to begin with the United States. Our success is key to getting other countries to buy-in on the idea.
Letting ‘Cap and Trade’ fall apart is wrong. Yes, the program was not perfect and was one more way of taxing our businesses. But, it was something and right now we have nothing. Now we get to wait until lawmakers determine which special interest groups they can serve, instead of doing the right thing and curbing emissions.
Recently, I’ve been working with the BCA to create new certification guidelines and I wonder how we can make the process easier without sacrificing integrity. I presented the question on my LinkedIn account and received this post from Nathan Gauthier, Assistant Director at Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability:
“As someone who has worked with a lot of bad commissioning authorities, I think the certification requirements are great. How many projects have a commissioning authority sign off despite never having an OPR or BOD? How many CxA’s use the nominal group technique to facilitate development of the OPR? How many CxA’s use Guideline 4 to prepare the systems manual? CxA’s that confirm As-Builts are As-Built? CxA’s that suggest envelope commissioning in a complex building? I think the BCA and U of Wisconsin certifications give educated owners a level of confidence in their consultants and help give the industry a better image. I’ve worked on lots of clients who feel (after paying for bad commissioning) that it was a worthless investment though I’m convinced and the data supports that good commissioning is the smartest investment an owner can make.”
Well, to Nathan and others who share this experience, I’m sorry you’ve been the recipient of poor Cx services. The fact that this occurs is one of the reasons we started certifying CxA’s with the BCA. But currently, some members of the BCA feel pressured to lower standards as other organizations tend to give out certifications without having the applicants prove they deserve it. I feel that most owners do not value a good Cx provider and are either chasing points or getting their buildings commissioned because it’s the cool thing to do. Unfortunately, this waters down the quality of the building and doesn’t help our cause. My question to all you building owners: how do we get you to value the service of a good Cx provider?
Is the current Obama administration’s approach to eliminating greenhouse gases (GHG) balanced? It seems the in vogue thing to do is build a wind farm, set-up solar PV panels and put more and more money toward clean energy. I agree that all these measures have a tremendously positive impact on our environment. However, it appears the lost child in this whole green initiative is improvements on how existing buildings actually consume energy.
The amount of private commercial real estate that exists is in the billions. According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report, there are over 4.8 million commercial buildings in the United States covering over 71.6 billion square feet. These buildings consume over $82 billion in electricity and spew out GHG. The cost of improving these buildings’ energy efficiency would be a fraction of the cost to build a wind farm or install an array of solar panels. Marc Gunther of Reuters recently covered Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sunil Paul’s “Gigaton Throwdown” report that details how top clean energy technologies can have a significant impact by 2020. Gunther writes, “building efficiency is a much, much cheaper way to reduce greenhouse gas emission than solar thermal power or nuclear” noting that it’s the least expensive option.
It’s plain and simple: today’s buildings don’t run efficiently and it’s the worst kept secret in America. There are many buildings that are either too cold or too hot and are wasting energy by allowing those kilowatts to literally escape out the window. I have been involved in commissioning millions of square feet of all types of buildings and can tell you that finding savings is easy and relatively inexpensive.
So why aren’t more building owners doing it? Reasons abound – building operators are too busy keeping their buildings from falling apart and dealing with tenant complaints. In addition, tenants are often kept in the dark with building costs and problem areas, but still have to foot the bill because of how leases are structured. This waste is quickly written off as the “cost of doing business” and not investigated further.
What incentives will encourage building owners and tenants to look at actively decreasing energy consumption as a bottom-line saver? The highest expense our businesses face today (other than payroll, benefits and rent) is energy. Improving energy consumption by just 10% will undoubtedly increase profits and save jobs by improving the bottom-line.
ROI should be proof enough to support energy efficiency of buildings. An upcoming study by ACEEE found that for every kilowatt-hour saved by installing solar panels we spend 20¢ or more. But for every kilowatt-hour saved by improving an existing building’s systems we only spend 3.5¢. Why does the current administration not see this and invest more toward building efficiency instead of focusing so heavily on clean energy? This too creates jobs, saves money and reduces GHG. President Obama recently said changing light bulbs is not that sexy, but he’s doing it. Though I give him credit, more still needs to be done. For now, building owners can follow suit and launch initiatives to capitalize on these low/no cost energy saving measures.