Posted February 5th 2013 at 8:58 am by
in CoLab Philosophy

Saving Energy in Commercial Buildings, a Regional Approach

Want to green your city?

CoLab’s Green Economic Development Initiative (GEDI) is proud to announce an opportunity for city and regional economic development agencies and/or sustainability organizations to create their own Energy Efficiency Market Transformation Strategy for commercial buildings. GEDI will guide a cohort of cities through the planning process, free of charge. Applications are due March 11.

IBM machine, City Hall

IBM machine in Richmond, Virginia’s City Hall. Photo credit: The Library of Virginia on Flickr.

Why is CoLab’s GEDI offering this opportunity?  We believe economic development organizations must re-orient to support environmental sustainability and social justice.  While we often hear that “addressing climate change will cost too much”, energy efficiency in fact creates economic opportunity while reducing pollution.

Consider “retro-commissioning” of commercial office buildings – an energy efficiency strategy focused on making sure that equipment and systems in the building are working properly.  According to the world’s largest database of retro-commissioning projects, office buildings typically save 22 percent of energy use (16 percent for all building types), with an annual return on investment of 91 percent.  When you consider that office buildings spend $20 billion per year on energy, and that commercial buildings account for about 20 percent of the USA’s climate change pollution, you can appreciate the potential to save money and the environment. However, despite these potential gains, industry estimates suggest only a five percent market penetration of these services.

How can we support markets so that the other 95 percent of buildings benefit from services like retro-commissioning? That’s what the staff and students of GEDI set out to answer in our comprehensive Operational Energy Savings and Economic Development market transformation strategy for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, developed in partnership with the City of Minneapolis. GEDI recommended that Minneapolis convene an Operational Energy Services Taskforce, centered around a tripartite model of industry development:

• Growing demand for efficiency Including efforts to: Promote efficiency to tenants and building owners; aggregate smaller properties together, and provide them financing tools for commissioning studies; and introduce laws that would require efficiency in existing buildings.

Business development Convene the nascent operational energy services industry to help them advocate for their needs, and establish strong quality standards.

Workforce development Improve continuing education and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for both professional service providers and building operators.

So what’s in it for the City of Minneapolis?

Job Growth – Efficiency investments result in jobs in diagnosing problems, design, construction, and manufacturing.  However, the most significant job creation may stem from energy savings ramifying through the local economy. As buildings save energy, owners shift their spending from utilities to other goods and services, which are variously estimated to be 2.2 to 2.8 times more job-intensive than utilities, and more of this employment is local.  This effect equates to substantial net job growth, as evidence in the following graphic.

Job Creation in Northeast USA States from all energy efficiency programs. Source: Economic Development Research Group. 2009.

Health, comfort & employee productivity – Attention to building systems can improve air quality, thermal comfort, and lighting.  We are healthier and perform higher quality work in quality indoor space. One study found that four common commissioning measure could reduce health care costs by $29 billion.

Local business and cluster development – Regions that establish strong policies to grow demand for energy efficiency services typically have a strong pool of local offices to serve these firms.  In Minneapolis, these local energy service firms serve markets across the country, bringing money into the region.  Moreover, many data-driven energy services produce new building science knowledge, leading to innovation in architecture, engineering, and manufacturing.

Now we want other regions to follow suit.  Learn more about CoLab GEDI’s Energy Efficiency Market Transformation Strategy project here, and recommend it to your city’s economic development agency.

Post by Brendan McEwan.

One response to “Saving Energy in Commercial Buildings, a Regional Approach”

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