With support from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) through a Senior Undergraduate Project Grant, my students are creating an economical building energy audit kit for their Capstone Senior Project. The project, entitled “Harvesting Built Environments for Global and Accessible Modular Energy Audit Training,” will result in an affordable and accessible audit kit along with Web-based videos to train aspiring building auditors anywhere in the world to use this equipment perform effective energy audits.
Generating ample energy from renewable sources will only get us half way to a sustainable civilization. The other half of the sustainability march is reducing energy consumption. As people are not easily going to give up high standards of living, realistic consumption reductions necessitate increased energy efficiency. Innovations in efficiency must begin in the built environment.
According to ASHRAE, energy consumption in U.S buildings accounts for 40 percent of total domestic energy use (see: “ASHRAE’s Living Lab“), or approximately 38.8 x 10^15 BTU per year. Thirty percent of operating costs in typical American office buildings arise from energy use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), representing this building type’s largest category of controllable costs. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that in commercial buildings Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) accounts for 40 to 60 percent of energy used. Thus, reducing HVAC-related energy consumption in commercial buildings by just 1% would yield an annual domestic energy savings of about 8.7 x 10^13 BTU, the energy consumed by roughly 5.5 million New York City households in a year.
While energy-conscious design can easily be incorporated into new construction, existing legacy buildings, completed when less attention was placed on efficiency, represent the bulk of buildings in the United States and abroad. Enormous energy and cost savings are attainable by providing building owners with high-quality data allowing them to make informed choices about retrofitting to improve energy efficiency. To promote energy savings from retrofitting legacy buildings the U.S. Green Building Council launched LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) in April 2009.
Given the energy savings possible from legacy building auditing and retrofits in the U.S., I was curious about the potential to audit older buildings abroad for two reasons. First, the U.S. is a relatively young nation as countries go, and I expect legacy buildings in more venerable nations to be, on average, older and less efficiently designed. Second, a booming U.S. Energy Service Companies (ESCO’s) industry exists that performs building efficiency improvement and then creatively splits the resulting cost savings with clients. Engineers in emerging economies could run similar businesses, and as a secondary effect, substantial energy conservation would be achieved. A group of my students and I contacted a faculty colleague in Egypt to inquire about their building energy audit industry. His surprising response was: “basically, there is no job like that in Egypt.”
Wow! What an opportunity for my ASHRAE-sponsored students to make a substantial impact on improving global energy efficiency and reducing power consumption.
Schean Lombard contributed to this post.