Energy & Atmosphere

The built environment accounts for about 41% of primary energy consumption in the United States, 44% more than the transportation sector and 36% more than the industrial sector.

Indeed, buildings contribute a tremendous amount to climate change through their energy use. It is important to reduce environmental impacts and climate change through energy conservation, renewable energy, and refrigerant management. Some technologies and strategies for reducing building energy use include Fuel Cells, Geothermal Heating, Renewable Energy Suppliers, Solar Attic Fans, Solar Photovoltaics, Solar Pool Heater, Solar Thermal, Small Wind, Commissioning, Demand Response, Energy Management Systems, HVAC, High Efficiency Furnaces, High Efficiency Water Heaters, Home Energy Audits, Insulation, Smart Thermostat Installation, LED Lights, Lighting Retrofits.

Optimize Energy Performance

Building energy comes from a number of different sources including process energy from office equipment, computers, laundry washing and drying, kitchen cooking, and refrigeration, as well as non-process energy like lighting, HVAC, service water heating, chillers, and boilers. In order to optimize a building’s energy performance, green building professionals must compare a building’s energy performance to a baseline and improve upon energy use from that information. Buildings must cut energy demand from building user behavior first, and then improve energy efficiency second.

To achieve energy use reduction, green buildings may use technologies and techniques to conserve energy. Some tactics include motion sensor lighting, energy efficiency lighting, use of power strips, smart metering, and effective insulation.

Onsite Renewable Energy

Optimizing energy use in buildings is an important first step to reduce demand, but the truth of the mater is that whatever energy is still being used is probably coming from a fossil fuel source which is particularly harmful to the atmosphere and environment. Once energy consumption is as low as feasibly possible through conservation efforts, the next step is to implement on-site renewable energy. Some of the least carbon intensive forms of onsite renewable energy include photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind energy, wave/tidal energy, low impact hydro-electric, geothermal heating and electric, and biofuels.

Of course, picking a source is dependant on location feasibility. For instance, wave or tidal energy would not be a good source unless the building is on the coast. Wind energy might only be reliable in some areas like on hilltops. And relying on photovotaics in the dead of winter in Alaska might be a bad idea. Although producing renewable energy on the building site eliminates greenhouse gas emissions, it is often one of the tactics that is hardest to achieve. Implementing renewable energy has a high startup cost and a lot of maintenance costs, but can sometimes be balanced out by the use of net metering. If a building can produce enough excess energy, it can be sold back to utility companies through net metering, recouping costs.

Enhanced Commissioning

A commissioning authority is someone who has commissioning experience but is unrelated to the projects, that verifies that energy related systems are installed, calibrated, and performing according to the project requirements. The commissioning process improves the building’s energy use, operational costs, and occupant comfort. Essentially the commissioning agent validates that the predicted energy models come to fruition. The earlier commissioning takes place in the project process the greater the chance there is for the commissioning authority to influence corrections without increased costs later.

Enhanced Refrigerant Management

Traditional refrigerant management contributes to global ozone depletion. Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) are two of the most harmful refrigerants. During the 1980’s, ozone depletion became such an important issue because of its detrimental effects to human health, that on September 16, 1987, 197 countries ratified the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol required the phase out of CFCs by 2010 and the phase out of HCFCs by 2030. It is important for green buildings to be leaders in refrigerant management by eliminating the use of CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs. Instead green buildings should use natural refrigerants like water, CO2, Ammonia, propane, butane, and isopentane or using natural ventilation tactics.

Measurement and Verification

Feedback on energy use is always very important for accountability of building energy consumption over time. Also, when building users are more cognizant of their energy use, they are more likely to take more sustainable measures. In fact, according to a behavior science experiment that was conducted by graduate students in San Marcos, California, home owners were not driven to save energy by messages related to financial savings, messages that appealed to their consciousness, or messages that asked them to be a good citizen. Instead, the most people were driven to conserve energy through direct feedback about how they were performing in terms of energy savings compared to others. Measurement and verification, although it might seem like an afterthought, can catalyze further energy savings in the future.

Green Power

When energy demand is reduced to its lowest possible level, and onsite renewable energy is not a feasible possibility, green-building owners can engage in a renewable energy contract to provide some of the building’s energy use. Voluntary programs like Green-e Certificates allow building owners offset their energy use by purchasing renewable energy certificates. The certificate indicates that the money used to purchase the energy is going to 100% renewable, is from a new source, that the purchaser is the only one that can claim the benefits of the renewable energy bought, in other words there is no double selling, and helps to expand the production of renewable energy in the United States.

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