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Green Infrastructure Lowers Building Energy Demand

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Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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  • Oct 8, 2021 10:09 am GMT
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When you hear the word “infrastructure,” what do you think of? Perhaps buildings, roads, bridges, and other built things — as well as the services, like energy, that make them work. But infrastructure can also include living organisms — that is, plants, which can be used as part of the urban landscape to “reduce local temperatures and shade building surfaces,” according to the EPA. Cooler indoor environments lead to lower energy demand and utilities should be aware of these strategies when collaborating with customers on energy efficiency options.  

How It Works

When used as part of building infrastructure, trees can provide shading, windbreak, and evapotranspiration, all of which lower ambient air temperatures, reducing the demand for energy. Experts recommend that deciduous trees be planted along the south and east sides of a building to provide shade and reduce the cooling load in the summer, and allow sun into the building to reduce the heating load in the winter. Evergreen trees should be planted along the west and north sides of the building to create a wind block in the winter and contribute to shading in the summer.

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Green rooftops can also “reduce the amount of energy needed to keep the temperature of a building comfortable year-round,” states the EPA. Green roofs also help reduce heat islands, which are urban areas where built structures are concentrated. These areas become focused pockets of higher temperatures compared to surrounding areas. Heat islands can lead to a number of negative impacts, including an increase in energy consumption, higher pollution and GHG emissions, reduced water quality, and compromised human health.

A green roof consists of a layer of plants grown on a rooftop. According to the EPA, “Green roof temperatures can be 30-40°F lower than those of conventional roofs and can reduce city-wide ambient temperatures by up to 5°F.” As a result, “green roofs can reduce building energy use by 0.7% compared to conventional roofs, reducing peak electricity demand….” Green roofs can be grown on a wide variety of building types, including homes and businesses. They can be simple, such as a shallow layer of plants, or more extensive, even mimicking parks that would normally be installed on the ground.

Resources

Anyone interested in learning more about green infrastructure may want to check out the following resources:

  • i-Tree is a cooperative effort between the USDA Forest Service and other businesses and organizations. It provides free tools to assess conditions and threats, and estimate tree canopy benefits. The website includes a section to help users determine which tool to use.
  • Operated by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the Green Roof Energy Calculator enables users to compare the energy performance of a building with a green roof to the same building with a traditional roof.
  • The EPA’s collection of energy resources for state, local, and tribal governments features numerous publications, newsletters, webinars, and other tools to help these entities plan for a more energy-efficient future.

As utilities continue to look for innovative ways to help reduce energy load and help customers contribute to energy efficiency, green infrastructure advice or design could be a useful service to consider.

Does your utility help customers implement green design plans? Please share in the comments.

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