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A Meeting of the Minds Presents a Different Approach to Energy Efficiency

image credit: ID 58274192 © Denisismagilov |

  • In Newport, RI a 90-year-old building is undergoing a historic restoration project.  The landmark property has a new HVAC system, the water systems have been separated, it is now ADA compliant, and a new LED lighting system was installed.  
  • Bridgeport, CT just upgraded eight of the city’s fire departments and two municipal buildings to show their commitment to energy efficiency. The upgrades will save the city $72,000 in annual energy costs.
  • St. Peter, Minnesota just completed a citywide energy efficiency project with the help of leading energy efficency and renewable energy company, Ameresco.  Energy conservation measures across municipal buildings, parks and public areas will save annual nearly $140,000 annually.  The work included LED lighting upgrades at key facilities, LED street lighting upgrades, ultraviolet disinfection at their Waste Water Treatment Facility, building envelope improvements and building automation improvements.  "Our team implemented energy conservation measures at 12 city buildings and retrofitted almost 1,000 lighting fixtures across six parks and other public spaces," said Louis Maltezos, Executive Vice President of Ameresco.

In the building sector, there are several different ideas about conservation and energy efficiency. To avoid accusation of ‘greenwashing’ more is required than switching to LED’s, updating the HVAC and insulating the windows.  Business and builders are expected to apply efficiency to every aspect of the project.  One approach to efficiency is simply stated, no new buildings.  However, that may be easier said than done.  Architects are eager to create and design new, modern albeit 'green' buildings.  Years ago, American Institute of Architects President, Carl Elefante coined the phrase, “The greenest building is … one that is already built.”  Standing by that statement, he said recently in an interview, “We just can’t throw these buildings out. We’ve got to work with the buildings that we have and continue to make them valuable. If we’re looking for quick reductions in carbon, the place that we have to look first is embodied carbon. If you start with scenarios like renovating existing buildings, then you are instantly saving carbon. This market change is happening very quickly.”

Architectural historian, Kiel Moe, wants us to see ‘the big picture.’  Considering everything from the total expenditure of energy in the material extraction, processing, transport, assembly, installation, demolition, and decomposition associated with the life cycle of any given artifact. For example, he states, “You follow the brick all the way back to the quarry and you figure out what’s going to happen to it in 100 years or 2,000 years.” Not everyone has the ability to apply this concept to every energy efficiency project but perhaps we could change the way we tackle efficiency.  The building sector accounts for about a third of global fuel consumption so renovation, retrofitting and adaptive reuse strategies are vital.  According to Johnson Controls’ 2019 Global Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, 75 percent of organizations in the U.S. planned to increase their investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart building technology.  “This is the largest annual increase in planned investment in over a decade,” said Clay Nesler, vice president of global sustainability and regulatory affairs for Johnson Controls.  Government programs that offer incentives and rebates are also expanding the retrofit market. What collaborative efforts between architects, business owners and lawmakers have you seen?  Will a new approach result in energy savings and efficiency, for buildings old and new?

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