March 15 , 2002
It's not just for enviros any more.
Green building. It's a trend that means newly constructed buildings consume 10 to 50 percent less energy than traditionally constructed buildings, yet cost only a small percentage more than standard construction. And it's a trend that is rapidly gaining a foothold with large residential and commercial builders. No wonder utilities of all sizes across the country are paying attention.
Green building doesn't require expensive metering, complicated new technology, constant load monitoring, or indeed much post-construction effort by customers to achieve significant energy savings. Instead, the work is up front, in the design phase of new construction. Energy savings come from integrated building design, putting together an energy-efficient combination of windows, building siting, lighting, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, among other elements.
Green buildings can cost more than traditional construction, but according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), that's not always the case. The price for a Johnson Controls green building in Milwaukee was equivalent to that of a similar standard building, though it possessed high-tech features like personal temperature controls. In fact, due to increased energy efficiency, expensive elements like mechanical and electrical systems sometimes can be downsized, leading to a lower overall building cost.
When green buildings cost more, it's usually not by a large amount. Russell W. Duncan, energy efficiency supervisor at Progress Energy Carolinas, pegs the average cost of residential green buildings at around 1 percent more than traditional homes in his area. Green building isn't just for more expensive commercial and residential buildings, either. Habitat for Humanity uses green building techniques in many of its projects throughout the country.
There's no doubt that interest in green building is up sharply. Membership in the USGBC has jumped from around 200 in 1999 to more than 2,500 in 2003, according to a spokeswoman for the council. And certification under the council's LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is expected to jump from the current level of 44 buildings to nearly 700, as LEED-registered buildings become certified upon their completion.
While LEED certification encompasses all aspects of green building-site sustainability, water consumption, materials selection, and indoor air quality-much of the focus is on energy efficiency. That aspect, of course, is the most interesting to utilities.
What's in It for Utilities?
The sharp rise in air conditioning use in Ft. Collins, Colo.-from around 5 percent of homes in the area 20 years ago, to nearly half of all new homes there today-made Ft. Collins Utilities (FCU) keenly interested in finding ways to cut the need for so much peak kilowatt consumption, since it was causing large losses for the utility (see Figure 1). After some investigation, Doug Swartz, energy services engineer at FCU, says the utility found that much of the cooling load increase was due to the poor energy design of new residences.
Swartz is careful not to blame builders for most homes' lack of energy efficiency. Builders, he says, are going to spend money on areas where buyers pay attention-and it's not on energy efficiency. In part,