Buildings Buzz

The Time is Right for Building Energy Efficiency

Making our buildings more efficient is vital to battling climate change, plus it’s just good business. Energy efficiency bridges the economy and the environment by saving money, producing jobs, reducing carbon pollution and creating much-needed economic activity.


President Obama said as much in his recent State of the Union speech while issuing a challenge to Americans to take control of their own energy future and improve the environment through increased use of clean energy.


“I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years,” said the President. “The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”


The President’s call for increased energy efficiency and the new jobs that go with them represents the most direct path toward sustainability. As nearly all levels of government contend with budget shortfalls, efficiency efforts are the most financially responsible way to address climate change and to save money on volatile energy costs. That holds true for the private sector as well.


Major sustainability efforts are focusing on buildings, which consume 40 percent of the country’s energy. In major metropolitan areas, they can consume up to 75 percent of local energy use. Of course, we can – and will -- construct new facilities with modern efficiency goals in mind. But look around you. Almost every building you see is inefficient. It’s not about new buildings. It’s about taking care of those that already exist.


The bulk of savings from energy efficiency projects will come from retrofitting our existing building stock. There are 72 billion square feet of commercial real estate in this country and most of it is not energy efficient. The potential to improve is significant. We also need to green tenant spaces. Over half of the energy used in commercial buildings is in tenant spaces.


According to U.S. Department of Energy researchers, if U.S. businesses and institutions conducted cost-effective upgrades, they could reduce their average energy use by 25 percent.  When measures are taken to save energy, those savings are sustained over time.


That means replacing outdated boilers and chillers, installing high-efficiency lighting, fixing leaking windows and doors, updating building automation systems and installing renewable energy systems. Many of these measures have short payback periods and typically pay for themselves in energy and operational savings.

Meanwhile, new financing models have emerged that can make retrofit projects easier to capitalize, less risky for building owners and lenders and mutually beneficial for owners and tenants.


As President Obama said in his speech, energy efficiency equals jobs.

The jobs created to make buildings more efficient are mostly construction jobs that can’t be outsourced. And added building efficiency helps move us closer to being an energy independent nation, a big step in ensuring energy security for both the public and private sectors.


Put it all together and it's clear that the potential is there.  The timing is right. Every time energy costs increase, the rewards become even greater. A large and lasting opportunity exists and we need to grab it. Energy efficiency becomes an energy source while also reducing carbon emissions, creating jobs and saving money.

Arif Quraishi is vice president, sales and marketing, Energy Solutions – Americas at Johnson Controls

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