Senators Get Closer Look at 2030 Zero-Carbon Building Target

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Architecture 2030 founder Ed Mazria is the originator of an idea that over the last three years has taken the building sector by storm: to systematically increase the energy efficiency of buildings over the coming two decades so that by 2030, all new construction would be completely carbon neutral.

The idea, called The 2030 Challenge, has been officially adopted by countless building firms in the United States and abroad, as well and by governments and industry associations.

Last month, the U.S. Senate got to kick the tires for itself. They summoned Mazria to testify before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and co-chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). A long line of people waiting to get in formed outside the hearing room, which when proceedings got underway, was jam packed.

Two days earlier, a study highly critical of building efficiency was released by the Commerical Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP) in anticipation of the hearing, a study that claimed energy efficiciency upgrades wouldn’t come cheap and would take decades to pay off. Mazria, who later called the study a "building sector disinformation campaign launched by vested interests," set the record straight for the Senate in separate written testimony. He didn’t mince words:

It is my professional opinion that the study is of no value and is intentionally misleading. 

And he provided seven cogent reasons to prove his assertion.

But that wasn’t the primary reason the Senate had summoned him, and he obliged his hosts’ invitation to speak about building sector energy reductions by handing them a packet of charts and graphs (attached as a pdf below) which he had them flip through as he gave his six minutes of testimony.

The real kicker came in the pointed follow-up questions from Sen. Murkowski. She wanted to know if and how the federal government ought to participate in the private building sector.

Mazria’s response was not only "yes." He also said, essentially, the public and private sectors need to work in tandem, especially in times of crisis. 

What are some examples where the market has moved energy efficieny in the right diection regardless of government mandates? (Question from Sen. Murkowski)

Mazria: Unfortunately, without government mandates, the market moves the building sector towards increased energy efficiency slowly, escalating development only when the country enters a recession and/or the price of energy increases dramatically.

This can be seen clearly in the graph on Page #2 of my testimony. The drop in building sector energy consumption is most apparent with the spike in oil prices that began with the 1973 Arab oil embargo and continued through the short recession that followed, and during the early 1980’s recession when oil reached the equivalent of $103.76 barrel (today’s dollars) following the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

After the crisis ended, lighting and energy management technologies that were initiated during this period continued to develop, albeit slowly, due in part to state initiatives and mandates. For example, lighting technology continued to improve with the introduction of higher efficiency lamps (T-8, T-5, and compact fluorescent bulbs) and electronic ballasts.

Several states (California, for example) adopted stricter energy codes for commercial buildings that were partly responsible for the development of markets for these more-efficient lighting products. Over time, these advances in energy-efficient technology were adopted more widely by the building sector. But government programs were instrumental in promoting the early use of these advances and creating markets so the costs for these products could be reduced.

He also underscored a timeline of milestones, essential for hitting the 2030 zero-carbon target the industry is aiming for:

I would ask that the committee be mindful of the dates for the Model Energy Code updates specified on Page 12 of my testimony. The dates correspond with the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act’s initiative for the development and establishment of zero net energy commercial buildings in the United States by 2030 as well as 50% of the commercial building stock of the United States by 2040.

They also coincide with the code standard update cycles set by IECC and ASHRAE. For example, the 2016 date for the 50% standard is critical and is set to coincide with the 2018 IECC code release date of April 2017. The next IECC code cycle is not until 2024. The dates specified on Page 12 – 2016, 2022 and 2028, giving the states two years to adopt the code standards – meets both the 2030 Congressional target date and code cycle upgrade timelines.

Mazria’s full written testimony is available here.