Authored by: Ryan Miller of NCBPA
This is part two of a two-part series on how investing in building energy efficiency first would enable North Carolina to meet its clean energy, renewable energy, and carbon emission goals more quickly and cheaply.
As solar energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles all become more popular across our state, North Carolina is directing its clean energy efforts toward generating more energy when we should be focusing on using less in the first place.
We at NCBPA fully support clean and renewable energy, but it doesn’t make sense to ignore the mechanism – energy efficiency – that can help us meet our energy and carbon goals faster and more cheaply. North Carolina buildings account for about 50% of our state’s energy usage with 20% coming from HVAC. The clean energy industry is failing to address the energy usage of HVAC systems either through code updates or other means
“Every day in North Carolina, we’re wasting more energy in homes and buildings than we currently generate from clean and renewable sources.”Ryan Miller, NCBPA
Energy efficiency is the largest sector of North Carolina’s clean energy economy by revenue, number of companies, and number of jobs. So why are clean energy advocates ignoring it? It may be that they don’t understand that energy efficiency is a critical component of any clean energy system. Think about it like this: instead of continually filling the leaky bucket with more water, first fix the leak! That way, the next pour of water (clean and renewable energy) fills the bucket (meeting energy goals) faster and more cheaply.
Improving building performance and increasing energy efficiency lay the groundowrk for sustainable use of the clean energy we all want to produce. For example, let’s say you decide to reduce your carbon footprint by switching to an electric vehicle. While electric vehicles themselves have no carbon emissions, the source of the electricity they’re using may. Is the electricity being used to power your clean vehicle coming from a coal-fired power plant or a wind farm? A natural gas plant or a solar farm?
By reducing your personal gasoline consumption and carbon emissions with an EV, you inadvertantly may be increasing demand for power generation via fossil fuels. By improving your home’s energy efficiency, you can offset the increased demand and possibly even save more energy than your EV requires to charge.
Scale that up, and it’s easy to see why energy efficient buildings ought to be the foundation for increasing North Carolina’s adoption of solar generation, wind generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles. Still not convinced? Let’s take a look at three reasons:
First, buildings use a lot of energy. Heating and cooling buildings accounts for about 20% of North Carolina’s energy usage. Other building energy demands like lighting and equipment add an additional 30%, with buildings accounting for about 50% of all electricity consumption statewide. Energy efficient buildings operate with high performance heating and cooling systems, controls and lighting connected to occupancy sensors, a tight building envelope and fenestration treatments (for non building scientists, that’s windows and doors that keep conditioned air in and non-conditioned air out), amongst other features.
In Part 1 of this series, we compared installing solar panels on an inefficienct building with putting a brand new engine in a car with flat tires. Unlike that car, an energy efficient building has a good set of tires on it and is ready for a clean energy engine.
“Bottom line: the less energy a building uses, the more easily it can reach clean and renewable energy goals from solar, wind, and energy storage.”Ryan Miller, NCBPA
Second, many non-energy benefits start with energy efficiency. Energy efficient and high performance buildings offer increased durability and value with reduced maintenance. In short, they work better, last longer, and are worth more! They offer occupants healthy and safe spaces, whether for children, shoppers, or workers. Because energy efficient buildings offer more than just energy savings (which we like to measure in “negawatts”), the total return on investment for starting with energy efficiency, as opposed to solar generation or electric vehicles, is much greater. When efficiency measures are adopted before solar energy generation or electric vehicles, the positive impact of those improvements is increased.
Put simply, there’s more bang for the buck with energy efficiency versus renewable energy.
Third, renewable energy sources and electric vehicles are more effective when there’s less demand on the energy grid. With counties, states, and municipalities looking to achieve 100% renewable energy goals and significant carbon reductions, the first step in the process – maximizing energy efficiency– is often overlooked in the planning and never mentioned in the press releases! Say you want to get your city to 100% renewable energy. That’s great! But be strategic about where you begin! If you first start by lowering your city’s energy usage by 10-15% through energy efficiency, you will enable other technologies, like solar generation and electric vehicle charging stations, to help you meet your goals faster and more cost-effectively.
“Energy efficiency is easy to understand: the best source of clean energy is the energy you never have to use.”Ryan Miller, NCBPA
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