Nearly one third of GHG emissions come from heating, cooling and lighting our homes and places or work – much more than it could be. Why is this the case? For decades local building codes have required minimal levels of energy efficiency features and these requirements are simply what architects and builders use. The result is a mind-boggling infrastructure of 127 million homes and 4.7 million commercial buildings are for the most part, energy wasters.
Improving the efficiency of these structures and preparing them for rooftop solar power is an excellent and relatively straightforward way for the Obama Administration to respond to both global warming and the problem of joblessness. These goals are achievable in the near-term and on a national scale using technologies from domestic sources and a large labor force. Individual programs have already been developed by groups within the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and are ready to be incorporated into a cohesive Domestic Building Energy Management Plan and implemented nationally. There is agreement among many building scientists and energy professionals that a plan of national magnitude would be the most effective element in the country’s response to climate change. It would also invigorate the building and greentech industries and directly employ hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Six Key Points of a Domestic Building Energy Management Plan:
*A National Energy Building Code for new construction and major retrofits.
*A National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Production Based Incentives (PBI).
*The deployment of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) aka, “The Smart Grid.”
*The deployment of Advanced HVAC Controls with the AMI/Smart Grid.
*The creation of a Department of National Energy Projects and the employment of 100,000 Americans.
*Funding to bring Non-toxic Energy Storage Systems into the mainstream.
1. National Energy Building Code
Every state has different minimum building requirements for energy efficiency. A few are good, many are not, and some are nonexistent. A National Energy Building Code has been proposed by EERE’s Building Energy Codes Program that would result in an estimated 30% reduction in energy use of new buildings. It is based on the best energy analysis and code work done by major professional organizations. Implementation of a National Energy Building Code would result in homes and commercial buildings that are far more comfortable and energy efficient at a small increase in cost.
2. National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Production Based Incentives (PBI)
Many states have or are developing their own RPS and PBI programs to support renewable energy, but with over 3200 utilities, cooperatives and municipalities that sell electricity nationally, progress is slow. Also, pressure from traditional power generators results in system capacity restraints that effectively hobble many RPS programs. A National RPS that sets a countrywide goal for renewable energy generation by a specific date combined with a National PBI that takes a small fee from utility bills to subsidize renewable energy systems would streamline the process. It would enable the entire country to see an increase in clean energy generation akin to California which plans to get 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2010. Special consideration should be made to promote rooftop solar power systems to reduce the need for new transmission lines.
3. Deployment of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) or “The Smart Grid”
Advanced Meters would not only lead to a reduction in energy demand when people better understand how and when they’re energy dollars are being spent, they would enable better control of energy and lay the foundation for large-scale distributed generation. AMI devices are small computers with tremendous potential. They are the iPhones of the electrical grid. They can work with Energy Management Systems to do load shifting, the powering off of non-critical loads at peak energy times to reduce demand on power plants. They also provide the IT infrastructure necessary to add rooftop solar power systems now and energy storage devices when they become cost effective. As such, Advanced Meters enable electricity generation to become distributed with homes and buildings, providing power for themselves and their neighbors and reacting to reduce energy consumption as needed. The distributed nature of the Smart Grid will increase the resiliency of the national power system and reduce transmission line expenses. The Pacific Northwest National Lab estimates that energy consumption could be reduced by 10% with a Smart Grid and $70 Billion could be saved over 20 years in reduced construction of transmission lines. A new report from Kema a member of the GridWise Alliance, a consortium of private and public entities backing the Smart Grid, estimates that up to 280,000 jobs could be created via a Smart Grid deployment and the development of associated products.
4. Deployment of Advanced HVAC Controls with AMI/Smart Grid
The EPA/DOE Energy Star Program estimates that 9% of the nation’s energy used in homes is wasted on heating and cooling systems that are running too frequently. Programmable thermostats in homes and commercial building controls are making a dent in this problem, but many of these controls are not working properly. It would be easy to include an Internet based technology with the deployment of Advanced Meters to control HVAC systems more effectively. These controls would work with Energy Management Systems already installed in many commercial buildings. In homes, controls would be built into a next generation of much simpler programmable thermostats that learn when residents are typically home by simply being turned on and off over the course of a few weeks. The controls could be overridden at any time and safeguards would be put in place to ensure homes and businesses never got too cold or hot. In combination with Advanced Meters, advanced HVAC controls would also enable utilities to perform load shifting by turning off cooling systems for periods of time so short that there is virtually no change in inside temperature, a practice that is already done by a handful of major utilities to shave peak power demand.
5. The creation of a Department of National Energy Projects and employment of 100,000 Americans
With over 127 million homes and 4.6 million buildings in the U.S., the deployment of an AMI/Smart Grid is a formidable task. But this, and much needed energy efficiency improvements for a good percentage of homes and small businesses, are superb reasons to employ a giant workforce of people for two years while the economy recovers. A back of the envelope estimation suggests that a group of 100,000 Americans could be employed by a new Department of Energy Projects. This workforce would include journeymen electricians and apprentices doing the work of installing Advanced Meters, but also people of any age or skill set sent out in Energy Brigades to make simple energy efficiency repairs in homes like sealing cracks in windows and doors, insulating water heaters and pipes, and installing compact fluorescent lamps in high use areas. Small energy brigades have been proved effective across the country, and the EERE’s Weatherization Assistance Program has seen that these simple repairs save an average of 32% of heating energy used in homes each year.
6. Non-toxic Energy Storage Systems
A key part of the Smart Grid puzzle conspicuously missing is inexpensive and environmentally friendly energy storage. If we want to reduce transmission costs and reliance on central power plants by using rooftop solar power systems for distributed generation, homes and commercial buildings will need to store energy and then discharge it as needed. Until recently, batteries using toxic scarce metals that have life spans of just a few years have been the only option. Now, a new energy storage technology that uses non-toxic, liquid metal-salts has been developed called “flow batteries.” These batteries have lifetimes four to five times longer than previous batteries and require about the same maintenance as an air conditioner. The problem is that flow batteries are not produced at a large enough scale to be cost effective. Subsidies to create a mass market for flow batteries would increase production volumes, stimulate competition and make this necessary technology affordable. Leading flow battery manufacturers in the U.S. are ZBB and Premium Power. VRB Power was a Canadian flow battery manufacturer whose manufacturing infrastructure was recently purchased by a Chinese energy storage company called Prudent Century.
Jon Previtali is an engineer and product management specialist with experience in the Internet infrastructure and solar power industries. He has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Stanford and an M.S. from the Building Systems Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.