If you're wondering how America will ever meet President Obama's goal of making commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020, Jeff Boldt says the technical part is easy - all a local government has to do is download and adopt the recently updated ASHRAE energy codes already developed by government and industry researchers.
The politics of making those changes might be a bit trickier, he acknowledged.
Boldt, principal and director of engineering at KJWW Engineering, is a voting member of the committee that developed the 2010 version ASHRAE 90.1 - the North American energy standard that guides the design of energy and water systems inside newly constructed commercial buildings. He recently addressed a group of municipal and business leaders at the annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa.
In February 2011, President Obama, building upon the investments of the Recovery Act, announced the Better Buildings Initiative to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 and accelerate private sector investment in energy efficiency. Boldt said the new ASHRAE standards developed the year before made meeting the President's goal a sure bet.
"I think those of us who had worked on the energy code development at the time felt like we had already done that last year," Boldt said. "So, we said, ‘don't worry about it, just adopt the new code.'" He said the new minimum standards should easily improve building efficiency by 20 percent or more.
Boldt, who has worked with three of the nation's four National Labs on energy efficiency research, said work is now focusing on going beyond the minimum standards to save even more energy and money. He said several municipalities and states, including Oregon, have already implemented the so-called "Reach Codes" that go over and above the current minimum standards. The DOE's energy code web site contains model policies that give examples of actual building codes implemented by local governments throughout the country, and Boldt encourages anyone considering changes to their energy codes to use the online resource.
"If I were trying to talk the city council into changing the energy code, I better have talked to someone who actually did it and find out if it worked or if they got killed in the next election," Boldt said. He said standards like LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and Energy Star also provide a good basis for policies and practices in green building programs.
ASHRAE, an acronym for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, updates is recommended energy codes about every three months. But, every three years it publishes its current standards and presents them to the Department of Energy.
With each new published edition of Standard 90.1, DOE issues an official determination about whether the new edition of the standard will improve energy efficiency in U.S. commercial buildings, Boldt said. The determination is based on analysis by the Building Energy Codes Program and is required by Section 304 of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), as modified by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct 1992).
DOE has one year to publish the determination after the newest edition of the code is approved. If it finds the newest version of Standard 90.1 is more energy efficient than the previous version, states are required by the Energy Policy Act to certify that their building energy codes meet the requirements of the new standard within two years.
So, enforcement of a new standard theoretically lags three years behind its original publish date, but Boldt said the reality rarely resembles the theoretical when it comes to enforcement of energy policy.
"We just got the determination on 2007, and that's the quickest they've ever done it," Boldt said.
Most states do eventually comply with ASHRAE 90.1, although rarely meeting the deadlines for compliance. For instance, only 12 states are currently in compliance with the 2007 standard, which became enforceable in 2011. Thirty-nine states have adopted previous versions of the code, and nine states have never mandated any statewide energy code at all, Boldt said.
While EPAct does allow the federal government to withhold unspecified funding for non-compliance, Boldt said "the politics of energy policy" is complicated and so far no funding has been withheld. More states are complying in recent years, though, because of intensifying public pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve resources.
Compliance with the code is also required for LEED certification and for all federal buildings, Boldt said.
The DOE estimates that residential and commercial buildings currently use about 40 percent of the energy in the U.S. economy, Boldt said. Most of the rest is consumed by industrial processes and transportation.
The agency provides a number of tools and online resources for municipal governments, manufacturers and commercial developers. Its Building Technologies Program (BTP) is charged with developing technologies, techniques and tools for making buildings more energy efficient, productive and affordable. BTP focuses on improving commercial and residential building components, energy modeling tools, building energy codes and appliance standards.
One of the tools available from the DOE is the EnergyPlus Program, whole building energy simulation software that engineers, architects, and researchers use to model energy and water use in buildings. Modeling the performance of a building with EnergyPlus enables building professionals to optimize the building design to use less energy and water, according to the DOE.
"It's not one of the easiest of programs to use, but it's probably the most accurate one out there, if you can use it," Boldt said.
The DOE also publishes research on the energy efficiency of various technologies like LED lights and home appliances. The agency establishes minimum appliance standards that many states require manufacturers to meet, as well as Energy Star optimum standards that some municipalities now require in all government appliance purchases.
"LED technology is going to change the way lighting is done in a lot of buildings," Boldt said. "It's still a little bit expensive today, but I expect to see them penetrate the commercial market in cost-effective ways, especially with directional light."
He said LEDs use about the same amount of energy per watt as high-efficiency florescent lights, but because an LED fixture can focus its light in a single direction, it doesn't waste as much light as its conventional cousins, so they effectively deliver more light per watt of electricity. They are especially efficient in colored applications like traffic lights, he said. Also, LED lights don't contain mercury, so they don't present the same disposal issues that fluorescent lights do.
Boldt said ASHRAE 90.1 is the world's most adopted building energy code and was the basis for the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) that has propagated worldwide. The 2010 version was developed after the DOE challenged ASHRAE to create a code that would cut the energy consumption of buildings by 30 percent over 2006 standards.
ASHRAE 90.1 covers the building envelope, HVAC, water heating, power, lighting and other energy components of all buildings except low-rise residential housing. The code has 17 variations based on the average temperature and relative humidity in nine different climate zones and three humidity sectors across all of North America.
"It's not the same for everyone," Boldt explained. "Different measures work in Phoenix than work in Dubuque."
ASHRAE 90.1-2010 expanded the scope of the energy code by including the regulation of certain industrial or manufacturing processes inside new commercial buildings, an area previous versions of the code did not cover, Boldt said. One of the most striking examples is computer rooms.
"Computer rooms today are using up about 3 percent of the U.S. energy grid for electricity," Boldt said. "The new code makes a 5 to 1 difference in the efficiency of data centers."