Architecture 2030, a building sector research and advocacy group, issued a report last week asserting that the greening of the U.S. building sector is on track to deliver far more energy savings than government officials predicted only a handful of years ago, with important implications for the country's energy and climate picture.
The report looked at data released without fanfare almost a year ago by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the analysis arm of the Department of Energy, which publishes projections for U.S. energy supply and demand each spring. Architecture 2030 compared EIA's 2005 and 2011 projections and found something that surprised them. The EIA had quietly, but dramatically, lowered long-term projections for energy use and carbon emissions from America's homes, office buildings and other commercial properties.
Energy consumption from buildings will increase by 14 percent from 2005 to 2030, the EIA said, down from the 44 percent spike it predicted seven years ago. Architecture 2030 says it amounts to eliminating the electricity output from 490 500-megawatt coal-fired plants over the same 25-year period.
The new projections mean Americans will save an additional $3.7 trillion on energy bills through 2030.
Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are slated to increase by less than 5 percent, compared to an estimated 53percent rise in 2005, the data also revealed. Currently, buildings account for 40 percent of both U.S. electricity consumption and heat-trapping gas emissions.
Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, which advocates for a carbon- neutral building sector, said his group's analysis of the data is the first to publicize the green building movement's contributions to national energy use so far and into the future. "This is a huge national snapshot of where we've been and where we're heading," he told InsideClimate News.
Mazria says the main driver of the new projections is the hike in building energy standards. "It's policies, it's building codes, it's better building design and more efficient technologies. We're building to a better standard," he said. The group wants the report to provide policymakers and builders a reason to continue on this path.
But EIA says there is more to it than that. Agency analysts told InsideClimate News that Architecture 2030's report downplays factors that have nothing to do with making buildings greener like the huge slowdown in construction from the recession that means fewer buildings have been, and will get, built.
For the most part, though, EIA officials agree with the bottom line of Mazria's report that green improvements are saving energy. "Over the years, our projections for buildings' energy consumption have decreased, and a lot of that is due to increases in efficiency," Erin Boedecker, the lead building analyst at EIA, said.
The Rise of the Green Building
Since 2005, the federal government and most states have adopted various building codes and efficiency tax incentives that have helped spur a green-building boom.
Most notably, a mandate under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requiresall federal buildings to reduce energy use by 30 percent in 2015 compared to 2003 levels. In 2010, California passed the nation's first mandatory statewide green building code, which took effect last year. Meanwhile, more than half of all states have adopted the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, a standard created by the International Code Council, a U.S.-based nonprofit, which requires buildings to meet efficiency standards for heating units and air conditioners, water heaters and lighting.