Building Efficiency Curbs Energy Consumption

by | Apr 8, 2016

With a rising standard of living, energy in the U.S. is consumed at a faster and faster rate. This puts an intensifying strain on the nation’s aging grid and forces pollution-producing power plants to be activated to meet demand. Something has to give, and boosting building efficiency can be an easy and effective way to provide relief – especially when it comes to curbing energy consumption.

Per-Capita Energy Use is Growing

Per-capita energy use in the U.S is robust and growing. According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Americans used 2.3 quadrillion thermal units more in 2013 than the previous year.

And this expansion mirrors global trends since world energy consumption is projected to grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040, as determined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

What’s producing this climb in energy consumption? A root cause is the nation’s rising standard of living, as well as its growing population, which means a greater number of Americans need a larger amount of electricity. For example, devices requiring round-the-clock charging are widespread and more people are using air conditioners – especially as summers get hotter. Not to mention the clean-energy paradox that causes energy use to surge if the source is known to be renewable.

The bottom line is we’re living in a world of power-hungry items, resulting in electricity demand swelling by 10 percent over the last decade in the U.S., as stated in the International Business Times.

And the problem isn’t getting any better as The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine indicated that experts predict a 35 percent rise in demand for electricity by 2030 in the U.S.

The Nation’s Aging Grid is Maxed Out

This soaring demand for energy places a constant strain on the nation’s aging and maxed-out power grid, which dates back to World War II and primarily consists of outdated technology from the 1960s and 1970s.

This scenario has led to more blackouts in the U.S. than any other developed nation, costing U.S. businesses as much as $150 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Amplifying the problem of an aging and maxed-out grid is the fact that modernization and updating is incredibly difficult, especially in older industrial cities, since long-standing infrastructures aren’t going anywhere soon. This means that we’re locked into the framework that we have, and the best approach for providing relief to the grid is by helping it to become more efficient.

Building Efficiency to the Rescue

How can building efficiency help curb energy consumption? Improving the efficiency of how commercial buildings use energy, water and other resources enables the grid to transfer the energy previously consumed by wasteful building operations to areas of the economy that need it most. For example, if a building’s energy use is decreased by 40 percent, that energy can be used instead to offset the increase in energy consumption resulting from a rising living standard.

One of the reasons building efficiency can be so effective is that instead of looking upstream at energy production, it focuses downstream on how energy can be expended more efficiently. Enabling end points of consumption – buildings, for example – to operate more efficiently addresses the consumption challenge, which is the general wasteful use of energy across the grid.

Curbing energy use and increasing the flexibility of grid energy allocation results in the U.S. becoming more energy-efficient, which is needed in a nation that wastes about 61 percent of its energy input, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

And boosting building efficiency can be quite impactful since the DOE found that buildings consume about 40 percent of energy and 70 percent of electricity used in the U.S. each year.

Decreasing energy consumption through building efficiency also supports renewable energy. The reduction in energy needed from the grid can be applied to offset energy generation from older, fossil-fuel-powered plants, which are the worst polluters. Renewables can then step in and assume a larger piece of the energy-production pie, thus positioning them better in the overall mix.

In Sum

Per-capita energy consumption is growing, thus placing a mounting strain on the nation’s aging power grid. Increasing the efficiency of an extremely inefficient building stock will curb energy use, relieve the grid and enhance the effectiveness of the energy-production infrastructure. What’s more, renewables will be supported, which is a topic that will be examined in a subsequent article looking at why building efficiency matters.

Richard Gerbe is Co-Founder of HIGHMARK, a pioneer in building efficiency. For more information, visit:

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