Green Building:

ASHRAE's Peterson discusses effects of sustainable design on emissions reduction

With buildings in the United States accounting for nearly 40 percent of our country's energy use, the green building sector is calling for increased congressional action on sustainable design to help reduce emissions. During today's OnPoint, Kent Peterson, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), discusses the direct correlation between building greener and reducing overall emissions. He explains which mandates and incentives he believes the federal government should implement to help spur green development in both the public and private sectors. Peterson also discusses the next generation of net-zero buildings.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Kent Peterson, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, better known as ASHRAE. Kent, thanks coming on the show.

Kent Peterson: It's my pleasure, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Kent, I'd like to start off by having you address why green building could be so significant in helping reduce our country's overall emissions.

Kent Peterson: Well, when we only talk about emissions the big issue today is with respect to climate change and there's global concern right now regarding reducing carbon emissions on a global scale. Buildings are the largest emitter of carbon emissions within the United States. Green buildings really are providing that opportunity for us to design and construct and operate buildings that are much more energy efficient than the buildings that we built in the past. This results in an overall reduction in the carbon emissions within the United States and around the world. So, it's an issue that's not only being addressed here in the United States, but in many other countries today.

Monica Trauzzi: How much can we reduce emissions by just making our buildings screener?

Kent Peterson: Well, we might want to couch some of this with some statistics and, certainly, buildings in the United States account for 40 percent of the primary energy here used in the United States. Forty percent is larger than any other sector. If we look at the transportation sector or the industrial sector, they're even smaller than the building sector with respect to energy consumption. Most of our carbon emissions come from the generation of electricity, 70 percent of electricity is done in the building sector, is used by the building sector. And we have to be very concerned about what those emissions are doing as we start to look at ways that we can reduce overall carbon emissions. We have the ability today to actually design buildings that are substantially more energy efficient than the buildings that we have in our current building stock. Today there are buildings being built that are approximately 30 to 50 percent less energy consumption on an annual basis than most of the buildings in the current building stock.

Monica Trauzzi: So it really seems like the cities and states are taking the lead on implementing certain mandates and standards for green building. Would that be a fair assessment?

Kent Peterson: That is a very fair assessment. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, for instance, we have 600 cities in the United States where mayors have pledged to actually try and reduce their carbon emissions to meet the Kyoto Protocol original carbon reduction targets within those cities. We have several states that actually have climate change legislation that has already passed with looming reductions in carbon emissions in these states on either some type of a cap and trade for carbon that will impact the building industry and the amount of industry that we need to reduce in the building industry. Many of these state initiatives have actually turned into regional initiatives. The Western Climate Initiative is one such example. We have another initiative in the Midwest. We have one in the Northeast. We now have almost half of the U.S. citizens covered by one of these regional initiatives that are working at a regional level where states have actually agreed to reduce their carbon emissions and improve their energy efficiency in buildings.

Monica Trauzzi: And you're from California you mentioned to me before the show. A lot has been done there in terms of efficiency. What do you think has worked best?

Kent Peterson: You know, I think it's important to point out that there was much done in the United States back when we only had the original energy crisis in the 1970s. I think in many areas of the United States, when we got to the 80s and we were beyond that crisis, we kind of lost focus with respect to what we can do with respect to energy efficiency. California has had an ongoing program since the mid-1970s that really has focused on energy efficiency as an energy resource, an energy resource for the people that live in the state, an energy resource for the utilities that are in the state also. And they figured out a business model by which the utility companies within the state actually make more money by saving energy than they make by actually selling more energy. And this is a model that needs to be adopted in many other places in the United States. We've also learned that there's an investment that goes into that. As a utility company within the state, or the state, if I'm growing on my utility demands, the amount of electricity that's going to be required, I either have to build new power plants and build new infrastructure or I have to save enough energy from the existing customer base to be able to supply the new customers if the population is expanding. What we found is we can invest more money into energy efficiency that ends up being a smaller investment than me actually going out and building a new power plant. And that's the business model that really seems to be working, to incentivize consumers like you and I or building owners to actually go above and beyond what the minimum energy code requirements are for buildings, to embrace some of the technologies that are out there to design and operate and construct more efficient buildings.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're in favor of creating some form of incentives. Would that be on the federal level as well?

Kent Peterson: Well, incentives are very important in moving the marketplace forward and the most popular incentives are incentives that happen right from the utility companies themselves. Utility companies that are incentivizing the customers to actually do more than what's required, whether it happens to be an existing building and they want to incentivize the customer to reduce their energy consumption by providing an incentive to go back and add insulation to a building, to put in a more efficient air conditioning unit to replace their air-conditioning unit, or to replace the lighting with more efficient lighting in the building. These are all good incentives that actually provide payback to the utility company because they're not forced to go out and build new power plants. We also have tax incentives at a federal level and state level that play an important part. If I'm a building owner and I'm considering building a new building, I certainly want to have the ability if I'm making a decision that I'm going to go and build this building to be more efficient than what the minimum energy code requires, then I want to have some tax break. Can I depreciate that quicker? Is there some way I can depreciate these energy-saving technologies that go into the building? Those things are very effective for most building owners to make decisions.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what's needed on the federal level in terms of mandates?

Kent Peterson: Well, I think at the federal level we do need a lot more research and development. While today we have the technology to design and construct buildings that are much more efficient, I really believe that overall we're going to start moving this building industry towards having net zero carbon footprints. And the target that most organizations have set, including ASHRAE is the year 2030, that we want all new buildings by the time we get to 2030 to be net zero carbon or net zero energy buildings. It's very important that we have a lot of research and development combined with federal government activities, that we can combine the national labs together to start to look at how do we not only get the technology into the marketplace and the renewable energy that's going to be required on the buildings, but what type of market deployment strategies do we need to effectively get this change to occur in such a quick period?

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think there should be efficiency requirements for homes at this point? Is the market at that point yet?

Kent Peterson: Well, we already have efficiency requirements. So, if we're talking about new construction, almost all jurisdictions within the United States have local building energy codes. And whether it's residential or it's commercial, most people have to comply with those codes in those jurisdictions to show that that building meets the minimum energy-efficiency requirements. What we really want to do is we want to start to ratchet those energy efficiency requirements to make them more and more stringent as we move forward. But, at the same time, we don't want that to be a burden on the homeowner. We don't want it to be a burden on the building owner. We want to figure out ways that we can make buildings more efficient, but, at the same time, try and keep the cost to be fairly level or make this very good investments for those people as they start to look at that greater efficiency.

Monica Trauzzi: So, how much of this is about educating consumers? And how do we do that? How do we reach out to the public?

Kent Peterson: There's a tremendous amount of benefit in educating the consumers, whether they're consumers in their own homes, whether they're consumers in the workplace, how people actually are using devices in the workplace, how they use the buildings that they actually are in play a tremendous part in how much energy a building actually consumes. I think we need a better concerted effort in educating the general public on how much energy is consumed by buildings. Most of the general public do not even realize this. A recent poll by the American Institute of Architects late last year indicated that only 7 percent of the U.S. voters realize that the building sector was the largest energy consumer in the United States. Most people thought it was the transportation sector. So we need to begin by at least educating people that buildings really do consume a lot of energy and there's a lot of opportunity to reduce energy consumption in buildings.

Monica Trauzzi: Any concerns about how the current economic climate might impact the way people spend their money and how likely they are to spend their income on more energy-efficient technologies?

Kent Peterson: There's certainly a concern with respect to the building construction industry that the current economic climate may slow down. And we know that we've seen a slowdown in the residential sector. With respect to building energy efficiency, we would like to look at these technologies. There's a lot of things that we can do in existing buildings that will actually save a consumer money in the long run. They're very good investments with very quick initial paybacks. And so if we can educate these consumers on what these paybacks are and the types of things they can do in their homes, that goes a long way to actually allowing the consumer, in an environment today where we have rising energy costs, not only when we fill up our automobile, but when we pay that electric bill or we pay that gas bill or the utility bills for our homes or buildings that we run. Those bills are the ones that we really want to try and reduce also. And there's just good business sense and good investment opportunity in energy efficiency today.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about building green?

Kent Peterson: I think the biggest misconception out there in the marketplace is really understanding what a green building is all about. People think about green and they think about plants, they think green and the color green, but the green buildings really make good sense. They save energy, they conserve water, and they also provide an exceptional indoor environmental quality inside the space for the people that are within the space. Whether they're in a teaching environment, a learning environment, or in an office environment, green buildings just have so much opportunity for us as we move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. We're going to end it right there on that note. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kent Peterson: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]

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