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Discuss: State of the World 2013 > Chapter 16 Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment.

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message 1: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
For Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment.

message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
A short chapter, which does contain some important information, though some readers will be familiar with much of it. The focus is on the demand side of the energy equation, rather than on the supply side; using less energy, regardless of where it’s coming from.

In the U.S., buildings, in one way or another (heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and activities of the building’s users (the last of which is not mentioned)), are responsible for about half the country’s energy usage. Worldwide, the figure is nearly 16 per cent. And since most buildings from year to year are the same buildings (2% - 10% new buildings being built depending on the country), there is much to be saved by increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings. (184)

A 2009 study found that if “off the shelf” energy efficient measures were put into place across the building sector (quite a stretch, admittedly) total U.S. energy consumption would decline by 23 per cent, with $1.2 trillion savings for a $520 billion investment.

2009 report

This and another 2010 report confirmed that “energy efficiency strategies routinely yield better emission reduction results than supply-side solutions like (renewable energy) because (those strategies) offer larger carbon savings at lower costs.” (185) (This leaves aside the question of whether the so-called Jevon’s paradox, or the Rebound effect, of this initial energy savings would lead to increased energy use in some other manner. See )

The chapter also discusses both the Energy Star program of the U.S. EPA, and the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program of the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council). (186) The latter program is mainly applicable to new building construction, since redoing or upgrading an existing building to LEED standards is in most cases difficult is not impossible to do economically.

On p. 187 an effort by the Appraisal Foundation is discussed, in which it is urged that building appraisals “begin to account for the increased value imparted to a building by its energy efficiency and sustainability features.” This seems like an important advance in appraisal standards. (The Memorandum of understand between the AF and the US Department of Energy is here .

Traditional evaluation methods for assessing potential building improvements have used ROI (Return on Investment) calculations. Most commercial buildings are not owned by the same owner for long. This fact implies that ROI calculations for energy improvements will often be deemed “uneconomical” by each successive owner. A new evaluation tool, NPV (net present value) is starting to be used by building owners, which remedies this situation by properly showing that the building will also be worth more when it is sold by the current owner, making up for the fact that actual cost savings from the more efficient building may not have yet recouped the upgrade cost. (188)

The green building codes and standards of several other countries (Australia, Canada, China, Britain) are mentioned, as is the fact that in the last 10 years, “almost every nation had begun requiring some level of sustainable building be incorporated into the built environment.” (189)

A couple things occurred to me as I read the chapter. First, on p. 185 the author talks about “asymmetrical growth” of energy consumption and population. That is, in two examples (the U.S. and India) the annual rate of growth in energy usage is greater than the annual increase in population. The lesson he apparently wants the reader to take from this (he doesn’t say) is that it highlights the importance of energy efficiency (as if anyone doubted that). But the real lesson is that, certainly in these two countries, and probably also almost everywhere else, everyone wants a higher standard of living, and in reaching for what passes for that in today’s world, a greater consumption of energy inevitably occurs. Unfortunately.

The other minor criticism I have is that, somewhat out of tune with the overall subject of the book, the word “sustainable” is used several times, and where it is used, it is quite apparent that the meaning of that word as worked out in the early chapters (2-4) of the book is not at all what he is referring to.

Anyway. I did like the quote near the end of the chapter that was given.

The problems of life are insoluble on the surface and can only be solved in depth.
Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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