|by Bruce Wilson
Climate Change can lead to a feeling of helplessness, but we have all the tools we need to make a difference; we just need to use them! Last year four environmental leaders, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Bill Mckibben of 350.org, Steve Nadal of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, were asked about what we were missing in combatting climate change, and their answers were all essentially the same, Energy Efficiency! Last year, as our government’s attack on climate sanity continued, we improved our efficiency less than we have since 2010, and we must reverse that downward trend! Improving the efficiency of how we use energy is the fastest way to reduce our carbon footprint. The energy we save has zero emissions and eases the transition to renewable energy!
We all owe a debt to Jimmy Carter, who started us on the path towards energy efficiency (under the tutelage of Amory Lovins and others) with the first fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and the first renewable energy and energy efficiency tax incentives. Last year GreenBiz calculated that without the work he started, we would be at 650PPM of CO2 instead of the 410 PPM we stand at today. Under his leadership we reduced our energy use almost 15% in three years, which led to twenty years of lower energy prices and ten years of economic prosperity. “Energy efficiency is an urgently needed climate solution,” says ACEEE executive director Steven Nadel in the ACEEE report, “Halfway There: Energy Efficiency Can Cut Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Half by 2050.” Kathleen Gaffney, co-author of the IEA’s Energy Efficiency 2018 report says “Energy efficiency is indispensable to climate change mitigation…. It’s already made an immense difference. Without efficiency measures implemented since 2000, global emissions in 2017 would have been 12% higher.” Vignesh Gowrishankar, co-author of a related 2017 NRDC report, says energy efficiency is among the least expensive and most effective ways to reduce much of our emissions. “It also improves the cost and effectiveness of other critical solutions such as renewables, electric vehicles, and electric heat pumps,” he adds.
The biggest energy resource in the world, the one that’s bigger than oil, is efficient use — but it gets no respect and almost no attention.
In a 2019 article in GreenBiz, Amory Lovins said, “Since ’75, the cumulative energy saved by reduced intensity is 30 times the cumulative extra supply from doubling renewable output. But renewables get all the headlines because they’re visible. Energy is invisible, and the energy you don’t use is almost unimaginable. The biggest energy resource in the world, the one that’s bigger than oil, is eﬃcient use — but it gets no respect and almost no attention. It’s quite astonishing to me that most of the conversations about decarbonization, especially in this country, are 99 percent on the supply side, and almost all with electricity, whereas something like two-thirds or more of the action is on the demand side.”
The biggest energy resource in the world, the one that’s bigger than oil, is efficient use — but it gets no respect and almost no attention. It’s quite astonishing to me that most of the conversations about decarbonization, especially in this country, are 99 percent on the supply side, and almost all with electricity, whereas something like two-thirds or more of the action is on the demand side. At the behest of the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle, and Rocky Mountain Institute worked to design and model energy improvements to the Empire State Building. As a result of improvements done in 2009, the building saves 38% of its energy and the savings, plus Federal Tax Incentives, paid for the improvements in less than three years!
Three years later, RMI helped bring about an even deeper retrofit of Denver’s Byron Rogers Federal Center, cost-effectively saving 70% of the buildings energy use through improvements to lighting and reducing the heating and cooling load using integrated design to right size the HVAC equipment. The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center in the extreme mountain climate of Basalt, CO, is a great example of a Zero Energy building that is certified by the Living Building Challenge and Passive House Institute (PHIUS) 2015+, and earned a LEED Platinum designation.
The National Renewable Energy Lab states that “There is mounting evidence that zero energy can, in many cases, be achieved within typical construction budgets.” The extra cost of more insulation and better windows is offset by savings on the heating and air-conditioning systems.
My contracting company did an addition on an uninsulated house with old leaky windows. We added 15% to the floor space, installed high performance windows, high levels of insulation, and a high-efficiency boiler and lowered the building’s energy use for heating by 80%. What the client likes most is the comfort. The house was cold in winter and hot in summer; now it only uses one tank of heating oil a year and needs barely any air conditioning.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint at home get an energy audit done and do all the items listed in the audit. The energy savings pay for the improvements over time — and the improved comfort and air quality are an added reward. Your local electric supplier may have rebates for an audit and energy improvement. Steven Nadal, the Executive Director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, wrote last year that “for existing homes, energy efficiency often has a better return on investment than solar.” Tax incentives have been a great tool for promoting energy savings, and as part of the budget deal passed in December, Congress renewed the tax deductions for commercial buildings.
Make your voice heard on addressing energy-saving incentives!
Bruce Wilson LEED AP, is an educator on green building and climate change since 2004 and the Valley’s oldest Green Builder celebrating 43 years in business.