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July 22, 2009 @ 9:13 am
Mindboggling Statistics, Unprecedented Opportunity

Yesterday I came across a couple articles written by Global Strategic Management Institute (GSMI) that detailed and elaborated on the results of a comprehensive study of American building practices and energy usage done by PennEnvironment. The study was obviously done to promote Pennsylvania state government policy proposals on green building codes, etc. but the math is accurate and the numbers are staggering. As I touched on in my Norway post a couple days ago and I will continue to emphasize, buildings are intensive energy consumers – accounting for almost half of America’s energy usage and 40% of its carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, for the mindboggling stats courtesy of GSMI’s July 11th post – these assume energy usage status quo related to U.S. buildings:

  •  From 2010-2030, energy use would grow by 6.61 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs), enough to power 86 million homes for 2 years (note: quadrillion is 15 zeros)
  • Emissions of carbon dioxide would increase by 323.95 million metric tons; essentially equivalent to building 80 coal-fired power plants in our collective backyard.

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Here in lies the opportunity. Our technology is such that the low hanging fruit of building retrofits, renovations and future building practices is relatively easy to grasp given willing investment and proper incentives. Taking a long term view, the PennEnvironment report suggested the potential for over $500 billion in savings over the next 20 years. To do so would require phased in efficiency requirements (or better yet, voluntary adoption) for all new and renovated buildings. They suggested 30% greater efficiency by 2012 which is easily doable today and 50% greater efficiency by 2018 which is also attainable today. Along the way, incentives would encourage all existing buildings to be retrofit by 2030. Finally, codes would require all new buildings to be “zero energy” by 2030 with on-site renewable energy supplying all the building’s needs. Ambitious yes, but the results could be miraculous. According to PennEnvironment, the efforts described would:

  1. Save 144 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy – enough to power all of America’s homes, businesses, cars, and power plants for a year and a half;
  2. Prevent 11.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, nearly equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S. and China combined; and
  3. Pay back upfront costs and net more than $542 billion in energy savings from renovating existing buildings by 2031.

With approximately 75 percent of our buildings scheduled to be new or renovated by the year 2040, we have an enormous opportunity to save energy and reap profits in the process.

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