5 Keys to Building Energy Resilience

Posted by Jennifer Chiodo on Dec 14, 2011 5:00:48 AM

Energy resilience will result from energy solutions for buildings that allow communities to improve building energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and increase our energy options. I’ve been struggling with the barriers to increasing energy resilience in our built environment for my 30-year career. I have known since I was a teenager that the way we live is unsustainable and have been dedicated to changing that. Yet while I’ve been part of numerous success stories, they comprise only a small patchwork of policy and programmatic innovations and a few projects with progressive building owners who were willing to move beyond the norm. It is simply not enough.

Detail of a Green Wall in a Retirement home (e... Detail of a Green Wall. Image via Wikipedia

Where We Need To Go

We need to dramatically realign to achieve resiliency in our infrastructure, and reduce the damaging impacts on the planet that sustains us. I am working on laying a path forward that includes five essential elements:

1) Participatory financing

The economic viability of energy efficiency projects is increasing robustly. In fact it would be hard to find a better investment since these projects yield excellent and reliable returns while having a positive environmental impact. There are many savvy investors with money to lend into the industry. But, without the participation of the people who own, operate, and occupy buildings — all of us — only a few people will benefit from efficiency investments and the opportunity to create a more synergistic solution will be missed. We need to create a mechanism so anyone can invest in a fund that will make low cost loans into energy efficiency projects. The projects would pay back the interest and a share of the savings to the fund. If you work or live in a building that is upgrading with money from the fund, and you have invested in the fund — when you turn off your lights, your investment gains value!

2) Technical expertise and tools

Cx Associates has been trying to hire an HVAC engineer for three months, and we have only received a handful of credible resumes. A huge training and experience gap needs to be bridged — we may need to provide more visas for foreign nationals with the engineering credentials that we need, and we must help our young people identify with engineering careers as a means towards environmental responsibility. As we broaden the pool of technical experts to fill the open positions in the energy efficiency field, we also need to restructure our projects so that the technical experts remain involved throughout the projects and report on post occupancy performance so that the engineering industry continuously improves on best best practices and avoids repeating mistakes.

We also need to develop and disseminate software and metering tools for an infrastructure that allows fast and accurate disaggregation of complex building load profiles and accurately characterizes efficiency upgrades.

Sharing savings with the technical professionals who are essential to the projects’ success will help increase interest in the field and will provide incentives to maximize the savings obtained on these projects.

3) Skilled tradespeople and building operators

Energy efficient buildings are inherently more complex to build and operate. Contractors and operators are essential to ensure that buildings operate at peak performance with minimum energy input. We also have a deficit in knowledge and experience in this sector. In order to encourage more skilled workers into these fields and engage them in building optimization, a share of the savings, should be allocated to the individuals responsible for project operation providing them with the incentive to ensure the project's success.

4) Building owners committed to resiliency

Energy efficiency is an increasingly important component of grid reliability. We can and should continue to upgrade the country’s electric grid, but if we can significantly reduce the load on that grid, we delay the investments in infrastructure while ensuring reliability. Keeping the power on, keeping the building warm — these are aspects of building ownership that are taken for granted. However, given the storms and energy price fluctuations we have seen over the last five years, ensuring these necessities requires more diligence from building owners. They need a cadre of trained professionals, contractors and operators and an open, but relatively turn-key process to enable them to invest in the needed changes while focusing on their core business.

5) Shared benefits

Broad distribution of the financial benefits of energy efficiency can change our culture so that we all seek to minimize energy use — not only because we are reducing our energy bills, but because we are participating in an investment pool that provides a very reliable return.

If you see additional elements I missed as essential to bring about the change needed to build energy resiliency, please comment below.

Topics: Sustainability

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