How To Scale Energy-Saving Commercial Building Retrofits

Commercial building retrofits can reduce energy use by up to 40%, but are not happening at the scale needed to meet climate goals, according to a new ACEEE report.

By Rohini Srivastava

Comprehensive retrofits of commercial buildings can reduce their energy use by up to 40% but are not happening anywhere near the scale needed to meet climate goals, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). With new federal funds available for such energy-saving upgrades, the report offers a roadmap for how utilities and policymakers can start or expand robust retrofit programs that include more than just lighting.

Energy-Saving Commercial Building Retrofits

The research finds that more utility programs have emerged in recent years to offer “deep” or “comprehensive” commercial retrofits. These retrofits include multiple energy efficiency measures that often upgrade heating, cooling, lighting, and other systems. Yet there are still far too few of these programs, which deliver energy savings 2.5 to 7 times greater than approaches involving single measures such as lighting—often the easiest step.

Deep retrofits are critical for climate action. More than half of U.S. commercial buildings were built before 2000. They do not meet today’s more efficient codes and often lack products and technologies that can save the most energy. Even many newer buildings that comply with more-recent codes do not perform as intended, either due to faulty installation, lack of maintenance, or normal wear and tear.

Energy-Saving Commercial Building Retrofits
(Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE))

In today’s report, which updates earlier research, ACEEE analyzes 50 utility programs in the United States to identify and recommend approaches for retrofitting commercial buildings. Many of these programs offer limited data because they are still in early stages or the COVID-19 pandemic slowed their progress. As a result, most program data are from 2018 or 2019. Because many programs are still new, determining their success will require additional time and data.

Overall, we see that utilities have made progress and use a variety of strategies to improve their programs. Several good practices highlighted in ACEEE’s 2014 analysis, such as offering low-cost energy assessments and collecting energy-use data, are now the basis for identifying and assessing program savings. ACEEE also explored the issue in a 2005 report…

To learn more about scaling energy-saving commercial building retrofits, continue reading Srivastava’s blog post on the ACEEE website.

Rohini Srivastava ACEEERohini Srivastava is Senior Researcher, Buildings Program, for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. Rohini conducts research on new technologies, practices, and programs to increase energy efficiency in buildings. Specific research areas include innovative program approaches, the multiple benefits of efficiency retrofits, and workforce skills needed to advance high-performance building technologies and zero-energy buildings. Prior to joining ACEEE in 2018, Rohini was a contributing researcher for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Consortium for Building Energy Innovation and the U.S.-India Centre for Building Energy Research and Development. Rohini is a registered architect in India and is a LEED Accredited Professional. She received her PhD in building performance and diagnostics from Carnegie Mellon University and a master of architecture from Kent State University.

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