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The Pursuit of Green Buildings

The Energy Times Executive Briefing March 19 in Washington will address the future of energy, efficiency and utilities, including many of the themes addressed in this commentary.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Energy Times Executive Briefing March 19 in Washington will address the future of energy, efficiency and utilities, including many of the themes addressed in this commentary. 

Recently, Google announced that it intended to power its Northern California campus 100 percent with wind power. The day before, Apple announced that is was building a solar farm to power all its buildings throughout the state.

Like all good suitors, there was some self-interest involved in these grand gestures.  Of course the initiatives of these two behemoths of industry will make sizeable contributions to the planet’s wellbeing, reducing emissions that mitigate climate change and leaving some sizable amount of fossil fuels in the ground for another day.

But, as Apple’s Tim Cook told investors, “There’s a fixed price for renewable energy,” and not so much for the brown kind.  And Google’s Sam Arons reminded the San Jose Mercury News,” It makes business sense” to protect Google from higher energy prices in the future.”

These renewables efforts come as America has suddenly become the brown energy leader. Of course, like green, there are various shades of brown – the dense yucky brown and black of coal and tar sands and the greenish-brown of natural gas, certainly a better choice as a bridge fuel as we ramp up the quantity of renewables in our energy mix.

But the availability of cheap and dirty fossil fuels isn’t the bear hug of affection that our first, best fuel is. And that fuel is energy efficiency, the farthest-reaching, fastest-growing energy Valentine of the last 50 years.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has a study that shows that U.S. energy consumption in 2008 was half what it was in 1970, as measured per dollar of economic output. Half.

And one of the biggest contributors to that efficiency has been – you guessed it – buildings, specifically green buildings that are effectively benefitting the planet every day. Micro-controls in big buildings, improved building codes in communities, and good, old-fashioned energy audits and weatherization initiatives for our 120 million homes are contributing to that efficiency by tackling the leaky doors and windows that plague the best of us.

We’re going to need sweeping initiatives in coming years – real and rational energy policy is the biggest of all, of course, but aggregating strategies such as cap and trade, carbon sequestration, incentivizing the savings of energy we don’t use, also come to mind.

And we have to look at strategies that aggregate power to the grid, and at the same time encourage widely distributed strategies where the investment can be made and the reward reaped at a sustainable level. The latter looks like those net zero and carbon neutral buildings that beginning to happen, something we’re really excited about.

Even as the earth sustains us, we need to do our part by being good to it by using our energy resources more efficiently, and seeking primary sources that don’t take such a toll. 

Rick Fedrizzi is CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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