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In Energy Efficiency, Less is Always More

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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The construction industry took a huge hit in 2020.  Projects were impacted by lockdowns, new safety requirements, supply chain interruptions, delays in permitting, labor restrictions, shortages and creating a remote workforce for an in-person industry.  Despite the pandemic, 2021 offers several reasons to be cautiously optimistic.  Richard Branch, the chief economist at Dodge Data & Analytics, forecasts a rise of 7% in single family homes, a 5% dollar value increase in commercial construction and a 35% gain for utilities and renewable energy construction this year.  It turns out COVID-19 has accelerated some preexisting commercial construction trends.  Branch anticipates that, “[w]arehouse construction will be the clear winner as e-commerce giants continue to build out their logistics infrastructure.”

New builds may also be required to meet new energy efficiency standards.  While the need to retrofit existing buildings has been acknowledged a new approach regarding policies and regulations for new buildings must also be addressed.  Sepehr Foroushani, building energy specialist at the City of Richmond in British Columbia wrote, ‘A simple cost-of-energy (dollars-per-gigawatt) comparison is often used to demonstrate the “affordability” and “cost-effectiveness” of high-efficiency electric equipment such as heat pumps, even for low-efficiency houses. What that assumption leaves out are thermal comfort and occupant behavior.’  A leaky house equals poor efficiency and conversely, an air-tight building begets efficiency, regardless of the energy source.   

While we’re on the subject of energy sources…the issue of electrification for efficiency versus natural gas has created controversy for Duke Energy for years.  A growing numbers of states and local jurisdictions with ambitious climate pledges are moving to require or promote all-electric buildings.  In the past, the controversy set off weeks of hearings before the North Carolina Utilities Commission. “The matter of the relative efficiency of electricity versus natural gas under various scenarios,” the commission said, “cannot now be resolved.”  They also ruled the evaluation of electricity efficiency programs, “should not include consideration of the impact of an electric program on the sales of natural gas, or vice versa.”  Thirty years later, these battles are still alive and kicking but the majority agree, “We kind of learned a little lesson … back in the ‘90s,” said Bill McAulay, another lawyer for PSNC/Dominion, “We need to get along.”  Fuel source aside, energy efficiency programs, incentives and standards for new buildings should be adopted.  “No matter the source of energy,” said Ryan Miller, director of the North Carolina Building Performance Association, “we support using less of it.” 

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