New Year’s resolutions for the energy efficiency community

With 2015 just around the corner, I have reflected on milestones achieved in energy efficiency in the last few years. As a community we have created and adopted more stringent energy codes. We have designed, built and operated more net-zero buildings than ever before. We still have some challenges, however, so I would like to propose some New Year’s resolutions for our industry.

Optimize the energy use of every building
We can’t guess our way to low-energy buildings; we need to analyze different scenarios and chose the optimal one for each project. This means that energy modeling needs to be integrated into the design process, rather than just recognizing our accomplishments at the end of the design. Architects and engineers need to engage with energy modelers earlier. To do this, we need tools that are more nimble but still produce reliable results.

Get serious about code compliance
Writing and adopting a code is not enough. We need to make sure buildings are complying with that code if we want to actually save energy. States that accepted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding need to show they have 90 percent code compliance to 90.1-2007 by 2017. States completing initial surveys indicate we have a long way to go. We need to streamline energy code compliance and check all buildings to achieve our goals.

Address all existing buildings
We build on average 1,400 million square feet per year, but we have 87,500 million square feet of existing building stock. If we want to have a meaningful impact, we need to address those existing buildings. Cities and states have started to address them through benchmarking and disclosure laws, but we need to do more. We need programs and market mechanisms to encourage investment in the buildings with the highest potential savings.

Close the loop
Designing low energy buildings is not enough – we need to make sure they are built and operated to achieve those savings. We need to routinely go back and compare the predicted energy consumption of buildings against how they are actually performing, identify areas for additional savings, and inform the design process with what we’ve learned.

With continued hard work, we can make 2015 the year that energy efficiency goes from cutting edge to business as usual that benefits everyone constructing, using and inhabiting buildings.

Chris Baker, a Principal at The Weidt Group, provides comparative energy and daylighting analysis to design teams and building owners to assist them in achieving high performance building outcomes. He also provides energy modeling expertise for software development of the WeidtSimSM energy modeling platform and WeidtSim based applications. Since joining the firm in 2006, Baker has consulted on more than 100 projects totaling over 13 million square feet.