According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there are three strategies for reducing energy use in buildings that could help slash carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, an amount that scientists say is necessary to prevent the worst effects of a warming planet.
The report, “America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future,” says that emphasis should be placed on “decarbonizing” direct energy use in buildings.
The three main strategies for cutting carbon emissions from energy use in buildings, according the report, are:
- Smarter energy use. Better insulated buildings and more efficient equipment within them are critical to achieving the study’s carbon goals. But these are not sufficient;
- Switching from space and water heating equipment that burn fossil fuels to high-efficiency electric alternatives, such as heat pumps powered by clean electricity generated from renewable sources;
- Cleaning up the remaining fuels still used in buildings by replacing them with renewable fuels, including sustainably produced biogas produced from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, or farms; and synthetic natural gas (aka “power-to-gas”) produced by using renewable electricity to electrolyze water and then converting the resulting hydrogen to methane.
The report acknowledges that these strategies are not the only means of achieving deep cuts in carbon emissions from energy use in buildings. Higher use of renewable fuels could also help reduce pollutions.
Other pollution-reducing opportunities are found in high-efficiency electric equipment in commercial and residential buildings.
According to the NRDC, “We already have seen progress in making buildings and household appliances more efficient in California and elsewhere through building energy codes and efficiency standards. But we also can convert space and water heating systems that currently rely on fossil fuels to electricity generated by clean sources such as solar and wind power.”
The report notes that there are challenges — both market and policy barriers — to rapidly decarbonizing buildings. Included in those challenges are low consumer awareness, limited contractor expertise and higher upfront costs for high-efficiency products as compared with less efficient models.
However, more and more smart buildings are being built by developers; buildings with high-tech energy efficiency systems and network-enabled building management systems in place.
As Forbes.com stated recently, “these technologies, once considered revolutionary, are steadily becoming the norm in today’s premier office buildings.” The site listed five examples of web-enabled smart building features that can make a big impact on an office environment, including:
- Optimized HVAC systems
- Managed electricity reductions
- Maximized building security
- Smart sensors for lighting
- Controlled appliances from remote locations
According to CBRE’s 2017 National Green Building Adoption Index (GBAI), the top 10 cities for adopting energy efficient measures in commercial buildings are:
- San Francisco
- Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Los Angeles
- Washington D.C.