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The push for more efficiency buildings and more accurate efficiency ratings, by looking at Australia.

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Jan 26, 2022
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In the U.S., we have the LEED Certification, a gold standard of building design that strives toward sustainability. In the U.K. there are A-rated buildings among those receiving Energy Performance Certificates. These ratings are meant to provide guidance and signal the bar for how we want buildings to operate. However, a new study from the Better Buildings Partnership in the U.K. found that the top-rated buildings for energy efficiency actually measure out to be using more energy than lower-rated buildings. 

Part of this appears to be poor building management. A structure can be designed with the knobs turned just right to perform at peak energy efficiency, then a collection of disparate tenants move in with different needs, begin toying with knobs (think the age-old battle of office temperature) and suddenly that building is not as efficient as designed. Bloomberg City Lab spoke to a source who likened this phenomenon to "buying a hybrid car and only running it on petrol." 

The energy efficiency of buildings is a critical puzzle piece in reducing carbon emissions, as construction and existing building infrastructure account for about 40% of the global carbon emissions annually. 

The Better Buildings Partnership says this might be a policy issue in how we rate energy efficiency in buildings, and that existing policies and regulations ensure theoretical efficiency, but once put to real-world use, the building’s performance fails. The intent is there, but the performance is lacking. 

Part of this could be a data issue as well, especially for older buildings that lack central monitoring systems. In fact, operational performance data has not become a widespread standard in building efficiency. Since this operational performance is not analyzed and reported it is cloaked from the market. 

However, in Australia, they have a successful and active energy performance rating system called NABERS, and although I cannot find the words behind the acronym, the phonetic "neighbors" should be good enough to understand its intent. The NABERS system rates building performancenot intent, on a scale of six stars. Performance vs. intent is the critical distinction. The rating system reaches almost 90% of the country's commercial office real estate market and the ratings are transparent and accessible. 

NABERS offers more truth and is more in line with what we need, in developed countries—less talk more walk. The current system of rating buildings before they are occupied with humans is causing harm and blinding us from the important work ahead on increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings.

 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2022

"The energy efficiency of buildings is a critical puzzle piece in reducing carbon emissions..."

Christopher, do you have any evidence to support this statement, or is this another tidbit of renewables dogma you believe science-minded folks should blindly accept?

Christopher Neely's picture
Christopher Neely on Jan 29, 2022

Well, Bob, if 40% of carbon emissions come from construction and existing buildings, I would call enhancing building efficiency, both in construction phase and retrofitting existing buildings, a pretty critical puzzle piece in reducing emissions. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 29, 2022

In 2020 the global building efficiency market generated $341.8 billion U.S. dollars in revenue, hiring 2.4 million workers in the U.S. alone (twice as many as the fossil fuel industry). You obviously feel efficiency improvements to buildings will result in a net savings in emissions after those of a $341.8 billion industry - its administration, materials, shipping, and construction - are factored in. Again: do you have any evidence to support that belief?

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