The Three Factors Behind a 'Moon Shot' for Building Energy Efficiency


"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." - Albert Einstein


There's nothing like an audacious challenge to inspire innovation -- and one is certainly being set out by asking building owners, facility managers, designers and contractors to drastically reduce the energy consumption in their buildings.

We're not talking about 15 percent or even a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption; something we may be able to attain and be satisfied with in the here and now. The coming mandates and regulations, as well as the softer policies and initiatives, could require 60 percent or 70 percent energy consumption reduction and eventually net-zero buildings with the significant use of renewable energy.

The teeth in this challenge will bite down hard, primarily in new construction codes that are already in the pipeline, not to mention the series of new government initiatives and imperatives that have been set forth by industry groups. What follows is a recap and assessment of some the upcoming mandates and initiatives and how they may affect the marketplace.

1. The International Code Council

The ICC is the most serious of the efforts. They develop building codes for a variety of building types, addressing fire, plumbing, energy conservation, mechanical systems, zoning, etc. While the codes are "models," they are widely adopted and used as mandates and regulations for governmental authorities. In the U.S., almost every city, county and state uses some ICC codes as the basis of their construction codes. In addition, ICC codes are used by the U.S. federal government and are a reference for other countries around the world. Therefore ICC activity translates into building codes and regulations adopted around the world.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is an example of their reach. In 1998, the ICC produced the IECC which set requirements for the "effective use of energy" in residential and commercial buildings. Almost 40 U.S. states have adopted the IECC as their mandatory state code. (Some states don't have mandatory codes, some modified the IECC and some developed their own code.) While an important initiative, many of the adopted energy codes establish legal minimums for some but not all energy-related features, and have been criticized for "gaps" in the general approach.

For the last two years ICC has been developing a new code, the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), focusing on new and existing commercial buildings to address green building design and performance much more comprehensively. The idea as stated by ICC is to move from voluntary green building programs and rating systems to a mandatory basis: "The IGCC is poised to produce environmental benefits on a massive scale: a scale impossible to attain with purely voluntary green building programs and rating systems."

This effort by ICC has been sponsored by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the American Institute of Architects, with coordination by the U.S. Green Building Council, ASHRAE, IES and the Green Building Initiative (The Green Globe rating system). The First Edition of the IGCC is scheduled to be published in March 2012. The IGCC draft allow jurisdictions the latitude to identify specific requirements for energy, water, natural resources and material conservation, but at the same time reduce the choices for building designers, owners and contractors.

Central to the enforcement of the Green Construction Code is a metric referred to as Total Annual Net Energy Use (TANEU). TANEU is basically a ratio of the energy performance of the proposed design (minus energy savings from renewable energy on site and any waste energy recovered on site from the chiller plant or cogeneration) to the energy performance of a standard reference design. If you use the year 2009 for a baseline of 100, the code may require a TANEU of 77 percent or 65 percent or whatever the jurisdiction decides.

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