Efficiency in buildings: what's not to love?

20. April 2011 15:07

Buildings consume 38% of all energy, but there are many opportunities to improve their efficiency

Buildings represent 38% of all energy consumption worldwide. Half of that is in developed (OECD) countries. Commercial buildings in particular account for 9% of global energy demand with 72% of that total in developed countries.

Clearly there is an opportunity for improvement, and there are many governments—national and local--taking action to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. And there is abundant low-hanging fruit. Heating, cooling and lighting together account for more than two thirds of the energy consumed in commercial buildings, and the equipment and control systems that manage these offer some of the greatest opportunities for savings. Two success stories:

London Heathrow Airport – HVAC energy use in the waiting area cut by 77-89% by a control system that varies output based on occupancy, air quality and ambient temperature.

University of Texas, Austin – a boiler retrofit with drives to replace dampers for airflow control saves 746,000 kWh of electricity every year. Translation: half a million dollars per year.

So what’s not to love about efficiency? Barriers to wider implementation include:

  • Access to and competition for capital – efficiency measures must beat out other capex projects for limited budget dollars
  • Split incentives – the building owner won’t see the benefit of efficiency if they don’t pay the electricity bill
  • Low awareness – procurement processes look at first cost and budgets work on a one-year cycle; efficiency only makes sense in the context of total cost of ownership


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