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Lane Burt’s Blog

Efficiency in Waxman-Markey: Part 1 - Buildings

Lane Burt

Posted April 7, 2009

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It has been a very busy couple of weeks here in Washington. It seems that folks in Congress have gotten the message that building efficiency is a great idea, no matter what the context. This is illustrated by the Waxman-Markey discussion draft, which is full of policies designed to help us stop wasting energy.

Title II of the draft is all about energy efficiency. Many of us have been working very hard to get policies into the draft that will be effective and are technically sound.  The efficiency section - Subtitle A and B of the draft - are impressively comprehensive. So comprehensive that the Wall Street Journal used it to dust off that great Eddie Murphy as James Brown hot tub video.  All kidding aside, the bottom line is that to reach our climate change goals we have to take advantage of all the efficiency opportunities available, and this draft is a great starting point for improving our buildings and appliances.

I am going to address the building sections in this post, with another post on appliances to follow shortly. For my colleagues' thoughts on their areas of expertise, go here. For more information on general efficiency and utility issues in the draft, take a look at Brandi Colander's blog.

Subtitle A - Building Energy Efficiency Programs

Sec 201: Greater Energy Efficiency in Building Codes - This provision sets goals for the next version of building energy codes to be 30% more efficient than their previous editions circa 2004/2006 and 50% more efficient by 2016. If the organizations that set the codes (IECC and ASHRAE for residential and commercial buildings, respectively) fail to meet these goals, then the Secretary of Energy may modify the code so that it complies.

Since states adopt and enforce building energy codes (some well, some not so well, check the BCAP maps), the states will be required to document to DOE that they meet or exceed the codes. After 2 years, states will also be required to show that new buildings are meeting the codes or that the state is progressing towards compliance. States will be funded to adopt, implement, and comply with the building codes. DOE is also instructed support the development of "stretch codes" that are even more efficient than the national model, so that states that want to go beyond can do so.

This codes section sets ambitious target for the efficiency of all new buildings. Similar provisions have passed the House of Representatives before.  We have to make sure our building energy codes are as stringent as possible, because every building that is not built efficiently the first time will commit us to possibly a century of wasted energy and money.  It is much cheaper to get it right the first time and than to go back and fix it later.

Sec 202: Building Retrofit Program - The building codes provision will help prevent our future emissions from escalating, but building retrofits are where we really reduce our current emissions. Existing buildings are where the majority of cost effective energy efficiency opportunities are, and this policy provides incentives for both residential and commercial buildings to reduce energy consumption through whole building retrofits.

The program provides funding to states to implement retrofit programs according to nationally consistent rules. The novel idea here is that the size of the incentive is tied to amount of energy you save, so performance is the basis for getting a larger incentive. This approach is much more effective than just giving consumers a percent of the cost of improvements, as that only encourages them to spend money, not save energy. With the performance based structure, any way to save energy is valid and consumers will naturally take advantage of the most cost effective improvements first.

There are also additional incentives for water efficiency and other environmental improvements available if you meet the minimum requirement for energy savings, and a building that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places can receive 120% of the efficiency incentive for energy savings (take a look at this Op-ed in the NY Times on how making historic homes more energy efficient is important).

This program combined with the Weatherization program for low income households will also spur growth of the efficiency industry. It is going to take a lot of hands to retrofit 100 million homes and 70 billion square feet of commercial space.

Sec 203: Energy Efficient Manufactured Homes - This program would take the "cash for clunkers" concept to manufactured homes. States would be able to give rebates of $7,500 to folks under 200% of the poverty line who live in manufactured homes produced prior to 1976. If the old home is destroyed and replaced with an Energy Star home, the rebate would be granted.

Efficiency in manufactured homes is often given little attention. The folks who live in manufactured homes tend to be those who can least afford to waste money on energy, yet manufactured homes are often extremely leaky, poorly insulated, or worse. From a national policy perspective, it makes no sense to allow inefficient manufactured homes to be occupied by low income residents who qualify for assistance on their energy bills, especially when the costs to make these units more efficient is so low because they are mass produced in a factory.

It also bothers me as an engineer that we are not taking advantage of the potential of manufactured homes to be even more efficient than traditional homes. The opportunities to make a more efficient home in a factory are tremendous when compared to all the different people and products that have to come together in a traditional site-built home to make it efficient.

Sec 204: Building Energy Performance Labeling Program - The draft also includes a building energy labeling program, which is another topic close to my own heart. The average person knows more about how efficient their refrigerator or car is than their home, but they will spend much more on the home than anything else they own. This lack of information is what allows building owners to keep wasting energy despite the best intentions and keeps other interested parties, like prospective owners, tenants, or financiers, from having any idea what kind of energy costs they are committing to.

This program directs EPA to develop a national model label that the states would implement in buildings in their area. The label would cover both residential and commercial buildings. The label would be built around "designed performance" and "achieved performance." The designed performance would be the efficiency potential of the building, based on the types of systems and materials used in the building and standardized assumptions about building operations, while achieved performance would be based on the actual energy consumption of the building. Comparison between the two would make clear any discrepancies, so building owners or occupants could quickly determine if the building is realizing its efficiency potential. States would be funded to run labeling programs using the national model label.

Coming soon will be details on Subtitle B - Lighting and Appliance Energy Efficiency Programs.


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Cliff MajersikApr 10 2009 10:18 AM

Excellent summary and analysis!

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