Every other summer, the American Council for the an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) releases its International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. This year’s report is now on the street, and we think there is a lot to learn from its smart analysis and insight.
For many of us, this report provides an insightful and neutral assessment of our progress over the last year. By reviewing these rankings, we can learn a lot about the broad success of each country’s attempts to build paths to a sustainable future.
In our analysis of the 2014 ACEEE scorecard, published here, we bemoaned the fact that the U.S. and Canada had fallen far behind most countries in the developed world when it came to progress toward sustainable energy policies (coming in scarcely ahead of Mexico, India, and South Korea). And though there are a few bright spots in this year’s reports, the news this year is still sobering.
Last August, in an essay in Fortune, Jigar Shah and Raj Pannu laid bare the basic problem of the green energy movement: its image has never wholly recovered from its association with hippies. The piece wastes no time dissecting this folly:
“Clean, renewable, or alternative: take your pick. Clean energy in the United States has been defined by earnest environmentalists who, to their credit, embraced it wholeheartedly, but, to our collective detriment, spun an ideological, naïve story divorced from the reality of the energy economy transformation actually taking shape around us.”
It’s a jolting pronouncement. But if it hurt feelings, it also helped clean a wound that’s been festering since the seventies. Almost overnight, clean energy has become a legitimate economic engine presaging smarter, more resilient infrastructure, yet the mainstream narrative remains defined by events that predate the cell phone.
In 2009, desperate for economic relief, governors of all 50 U.S. states pledged to increase energy efficiency in buildings in exchange for a combined $3.1 billion in state energy program funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
While a larger share of Recovery Act funds was poured into other longstanding programs, such as weatherization, a provision of the bill, Section 410, linked state energy program funding to tougher energy codes for new construction and major renovations.
About 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption provides heat, cooling and power to buildings. Building energy codes are widely seen as cost-effective policy tools to combat emissions, lower homeowner utility costs, and increase home comfort and value.
Section 410 required states not only to implement codes that met or exceeded the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code and the 2007 ASHRAE 90.1 standard for houses and commercial facilities, respectively, but also to develop a plan to achieve compliance “within 8 years…in at least 90 percent of new and renovated residential and commercial building space.”
Reaching that target now appears unlikely. Predictably, the strings attached to the Recovery Act funding stirred controversy among a few governors at the time — most notably Alaska’s Sarah Palin, whose veto prompted a rare threat of legislative override. All states eventually accepted the money, but now, seven years later, 16 still either lack a statewide energy code altogether or have old codes that fall short of the ARRA requirements.
We live in the most extraordinary of times, with unprecedented access to ideas, stuff, and people. This new flood of resources, as I see it, springs from a convergence of several factors: new communication tools, widespread wealth, and a mixing of social strata, among others. And though we could discuss this opening on several levels, this article addresses the sharing of information on the business and technology of high performance construction as it’s being developed on both sides of the Atlantic.
In early 2009, in the wake of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the President and Congress scrambled to find ways to stabilize and to begin to grow the economy again. Out of this turmoil came the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), a bill designed to preserve and create jobs during a deep recession, and to provide investment in infrastructure, energy, and science. Among its many policy objectives, one provision of the Act committed to a dramatic reduction of energy consumption in residential buildings by 2017. Progress in advancing energy codes has been slow, but still the clock keeps ticking.
If you were among the nearly fifty professionals that joined us from across the country for the recent Habitat X webinar, Programs and Codes That Work, you likely confirmed your suspicions – compliance with energy codes in most jurisdictions is far, far below what it should be.
You may have also learned how The Compliance Project will help address the problem. Beginning in February, we will engage homeowners on the issue through select social media outlets. With scandals in the transportation sector in recent focus, we plan to provoke similar inquiry into how new homes often “cheat” their occupants when it comes to energy codes – and subject them to greater energy, health, and environmental costs than they bargained for. Our outreach will direct readers to resources that help them understand how code compliance fits into the purchase and maintenance of their homes.
— Chris Dorsi
Habitat X Fellow Griffin Hagle shows us the surprising difficulty associated with home performance — and home performance contractors — in a mild climate. This article is the first in a series as we follow this project to completion.
“Sunshine, beaches, and sparkling pools: few cities can compete with San Diego’s lifestyle. Housing costs are high, but natural gas is cheap, and solar electricity gets cheaper by the day. Considering that you could probably live comfortably year-round in a treehouse, why should anyone fuss with building performance in the first place?
Ben Bunker analyzes industry price points, and consumer beliefs, to show why photovoltaics and home performance can best be regarded as side-by-side home upgrades.
“Public awareness of the residential photovoltaic industry has skyrocketed in recent years due to impressive
marketing campaigns, technological advances, and third-party financing models that are making solar more obtainable than ever to the average homeowner. The energy-efficiency industry on the other hand, while also enjoying high public awareness, is relatively mature and driven by comparatively incremental innovation.
In a race for the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of the American consumer, we have to ask if energy efficiency is in danger of losing its historical position in the residential market.”
Rick Blumenthal outlines a case for better quality control in the construction industry, and illustrates why it makes financial sense for everyone involved in the construction process.
“We’ve all made purchasing decisions in our lives based solely on the (initial) cost of goods or services, and without considering their long-term cost. The housing industry is a full of such short-sighted examples. I believe that to continue down such a path—to put greater significance on front-end costs than on opportunities for long-term gain and sustainability is a mistake. It’s an approach that’s in direct conflict with both ecological and economic systems that individuals and businesses must respect in order to remain successful and survive.”
Corbett Lunsford outlines a case for moving the home performance industry closer to widespread acceptance by offering simple (and understandable) proof of performance to consumers.
“If you work in the business of home performance, or what I’ll call performance-based contracting, I’ll bet $100 that you came in through the Energy Efficiency door. I did, too. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except that, once through the door, many of us now think that we’ve arrived in energy efficiency land, and we have nothing more to learn. When the reality is that our door was just one of many entry points to performance-based contracting. And if you look back at the door through which we entered, you’ll see that’s its gilded with tons of outdated assumptions.
For example, common industry knowledge says that we need an army of energy auditors. Really? I don’t think so, because I don’t think we need to do as much analysis as we often have. Then, consider the very word “audit”. It definitely does not connote warmth and joy, but what does it connote?”
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