Editor's note: If you're interested in this topic or want to learn more, check out the program for our upcoming VERGE Boston event on May 13-14.
Building energy efficiency is improving, but the sector still falls disappointingly short of meeting its full potential.
Even when a building owner or manager goes through the process of an audit and retrofit, results can be inaccurate and inconsistent, especially when compared across an entire portfolio. There are many reasons for this shortfall, but it essentially comes down to two factors: people and tools.
The people factor is real because the audit team's diligence and the retrofit installers' skills drastically can change energy retrofit results. But the reality of the tools component is that an energy auditor's toolkit largely consists of technologies that have been around for decades. A new effort by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) aimes to create tablet-based software that can build energy models as auditors go through a building.
Although effective in the right hands, blower doors, thermographic cameras and the like only provide a snapshot of a building's efficiency. The problem is that these tools don't help auditors anticipate exactly what effect different energy conservation measures will have on overall consumption. Instead, through experience and training, auditors give an estimate of how much a retrofit will improve the building efficiency, and then take another snapshot after the measures are installed.
The hallmark of clean energy growth has been the relentless improvement of technology. Can the same be said for energy efficiency?
While a revolution in blower doors is unlikely anytime soon, energy modeling technology has made great strides in recent years. Even the concept of "remote" energy audits have taken hold as a way to provide energy consumption information without the cost and time involved in a walk-through energy audit. By using geographical information, utility data and basic building characteristics, these reports evaluate the energy efficiency of a building and make recommendations without ever setting foot inside.
Next page: Middle ground emerging