As I chatted with Kenny Seeton for the September issue of SBT, he shared that he was looking into a manufacturer that integrates photovoltaics into siding to clad a building at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he is director of central plant operations and strategic energy projects. Why did the expensive retrofit even cross his mind? The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). “If it weren’t for the IRA,” he said, “I wouldn’t even think about it. It’s not cheap. But it can get me 30 kWh [of renewable energy]. Why wouldn’t you do one of these projects?”
The IRA is also on my mind, not because I oversee a campus full of buildings, but because I own a 70-year-old house with 70-year-old roof insulation. With nearly $370 million dedicated to climate change and efficiency initiatives, including rebates and tax credits to building owners investing in energy improvements, the IRA has made my forgone conclusion to install new roof insulation more palatable. Solar panels, an electric vehicle, and a heat pump are also inching up the to-do list.
Though not insignificant, my household’s carbon footprint is but one crumb in the oversized slice of pie representing the building sector’s share of global energy consumption. Commercial and residential buildings account for 40% of total U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Globally, building operations account for 30% of energy consumption and 26% of energy-related emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
If these numbers do not make you a bit nauseous, consider this: Human beings are on track to warm the planet by 2.1 to 2.9 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100, according to U.N. Climate Change. This matters because an increase in global temperature above 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) will lead to the nearly irreversible destruction of the ecosystems on which we rely, not to mention significant increases in extreme weather events and sea-level rise.
Who can ignore the news of the wildfire that decimated lives and communities on Lahaina, Hawaii? Or the Canada wildfires that have burned nearly 60,000 square miles of land to date, setting off a string of air quality alerts across North America? Or news that the state of California has replenished its water reserves after years of drought thanks to … record rainfall, snowfall, and a hurricane.
I don’t consider myself a risk-taker, but with climate change bursting through our doors, we all live in risk now.
The good news is that the United States is investing in action, through the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, among other initiatives. In the September issue feature "Greenlit: How the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are driving energy investment," contributor Jim Schneider reviews smart technology projects set in motion across the country because of the IRA and BIL.
Reading the news can be devastating. But we owe it to our fellow humans and our planet to do what we can to shrink the overall size of the energy consumption pie.