A Plan for Energy Efficient Buildings by 2030

Edward Mazria, a well known architect and founder of Architecture 2030, an organization focused on increasing energy efficiency in buildings while confronting climate change and stimulating the domestic housing market, gave a presentation yesterday at the National Building Museum. Mazria and John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress, both took part in the NBM’s “For the Greener Good” lecture series.

Mazria gave a powerful Inconvenient Truth-like presentation outlining the dangers of climate change and the impact of a three-feet rise in sea levels on the coastal U.S., which would result in a submersion of parts of New York City, Miami, San Francisco, and much of the state of Louisiana and destruction of over a trillion dollars of infrastructure and real estate. The building sector, according to Mazria accounts for close to 50 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions – 42 percent from the energy use in buildings, and 8 percent from the energy used to construct buildings, so increasing U.S. buildings’ energy efficiency is imperative to bringing down U.S. carbon emissions. 

While the energy use of the transportation and industrial sectors has increased at a relatively slight pace, buildings continue to suck up enormous amounts of energy at a rapid and expanding rate. In one graph, the amount of total energy used by the building sector can be seen as sharply curving upwards, while the energy consumed by the transportation and industrial sectors rose below at a nearly flat rate.  Mazria then described how his 2030 stimulus plan can address the inter-connections between the U.S. housing crisis and environment — the U.S. can re-design and retro-fit its buildings, making them more energy efficient, while significantly reducing carbon emissions, increasing renewable energy use and reducing U.S. dependence on coal and oil.

Mazria’s 2030 Challenge Stimulus Plan calls for almost USD 200 billion in investment in the private building sector to provide a ‘housing mortgage interest rate buy-down’ and a ‘commercial building accelerated depreciation program’ for buildings that meet energy reduction targets of the widely-adopted 2030 Challenge. Marzia contends that this stimulus will create 9 million new jobs, and USD 1 trillion in direct, non-federal investment and spending while opening up a USD 236 billion renovation market. Mazia re-iterated that the plan would pay for itself through the new tax base it would generate, and can be implemented through existing federal programs.  Also, Mazria says the U.S. public sector building sector, which account for 7 percent of total U.S. building stock, and includes schools, government buildings, court houses, etc, could provide an impetus for making all U.S. buildings compliant with the 2030 challenge. In 2007, President George Bush signed into a law a rule mandating zero-emission U.S. federal buildings by 2030.

According to the Architecture 2030 website, the 2030 challenge targets include:

“All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.

At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.

Fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations need to be increased to:

  • 60% in 2010
  • 70% in 2015
  • 80% in 2020
  • 90% in 2025
  • Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power and/or purchasing (20% maximum) renewable energy and/or certified renewable energy credits.”

John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress, took another approach and discussed the global impact of climate change. While Podesta and Mazria converged on many issues, Podesta highlighted the need for the U.S. to prepare for the national security threats climate change may bring. Podesta said India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa and Nigeria would be hit particularly hard by climate change. Podesta said Bangladesh could be releasing millions of eco-refugees with rising sea waters, while India is preparing a massive fence on its border with Bangladesh. Nigeria faces the double challenge of rising sea levels, which would submerge much of Lagos and other coastal cities, and increased desertification, with the loss of fertile land in the North. Global warming could lead to less drinking water, and spark wars in already tense parts of the world. Podestra agreed that working closely with China on climate change and getting Chinese buy-in on clear targets was crucial, if not difficult to achieve.

Even with every U.S. building  made energy efficient, it’s not clear whether developing countries can get their building stock in the same place by 2030. Both Podesta and Mazria said not all knowledge resides in the U.S., and solutions will be local, and come in all forms.

Interestingly, both Podesta and Mazria focused solely on policy and regulatory fixes for increasing energy efficiency and didn’t mention collaborative, community-driven, bottom-up approaches like LEED, or the Sustainable Sites Initiative, perhaps concluding that voluntary, collaborative programs will not be enough.

Go to the 2030 Architecture web site to see Mazria’s stimulus plan in greater detail

Go to the Center for American Progress’s work on Energy & Environment

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