For several years, I have been talking about the importance of sustainability in our buildings, as we all need low carbon, energy efficient, and resilient buildings and communities. How much progress are we making? Are we seeing new advanced design practices and innovative technologies emerge to reduce those emissions in the built environment? How much more work do we still need to do for progress to be made?
As we all know by now, buildings account for roughly 70% of U.S. electricity consumption and are primary drivers of about 80% of peak demand on the grid. New innovations such as solar and appliances with smart controls can help reduce this load. Other initiatives can also make a big difference in our buildings.
My curiosity is one of the reasons I dug deep into the NBI (New Buildings Institute) annual report to see how public policies and programs are changing to improve energy efficiency in our buildings. Let’s take a closer look.
To set the stage, in 2022, NBI celebrated 25 years of working collaboratively with industry market actors and its annual report is for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. Its work has sparked broad coalitions that are advancing technologies such as heat pump water heaters, metrics for grid-interactive buildings, climate-aligned building codes, carbon neutral, resilient school buildings, low-carbon financing specifications, and more.
Here is a deep look at some of the specific areas:
Codes and policy: NBI has released a series of resources including the Building Decarbonization Code, Cost Study of the Building Decarbonization Code, and Existing Buildings Decarbonization Code. Measures from these standards are being proposed for national model codes such as ASHRAE 90.1 and the IECC (Intl. Energy Conservation Code), which is currently in the final stages of the 2024 development cycle.
Building innovation: NBI continues to partner with other organizations to define practices that will improve how buildings interact with the electricity grid. For example, it is seeking to transform the water heater market with a wide coalition in the Advanced Water Heating Initiative. It is also partnering with cultural institutions and industry advocates to help improve building energy use and reduce carbon emissions at museums, zoos, and other educational centers.
Leadership and market development: NBI has a program that works to prepare building professionals and target markets for the advanced efficiency and building decarbonization policies that will be adopted in the coming decades. Architects, engineers, installers, owners, building operators, developers, and others need to be prepared for what comes next. This is something I discussed with Kim Cheslak, director of codes, New Buildings Institute, on The Peggy Smedley Show last year.
Looking to the future, NBI is focused on ensuring buildings play a key role in keeping global temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030. To avert the worst effects of climate change, our total emissions must be cut in half by 2030—which requires a shift in all industries using energy to operate their buildings and manufacture and transport goods.
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