By Nora Esram
[Ed. note: Dr. Esram is testifying today before the U.S. House’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in a hearing on Building Technologies Research for a Sustainable Future. This ACEEE blog post draws from her testimony.]
To quickly retrofit a large share of our buildings—a critical step for cutting greenhouse gas emissions—we need federal research and development. The Biden administration and Congress can expand this R&D to develop integrated technologies, create ways to incorporate them in buildings, and support the workforce in an increasingly high-tech field.
Building efficiency technologies have proven a win-win strategy for reducing energy costs and creating local jobs. But the biggest opportunities are still ahead: Our research reveals that improving the efficiency of buildings has the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by nearly 20%. That would be a transformative pillar for meeting our ambitious carbon reductions goals.
These technologies can deliver more than the sum of their parts
Replacing lights, water heaters, or HVAC systems, or adding insulation, can each reduce a building’s GHG emission by a few percent, which seems small and incremental. But these components can add up to even more than the sum of their parts. For instance, when a building is well insulated, its lights are efficient, and its room temperatures well controlled, it needs a much smaller HVAC system to provide heating and cooling. And a building owner who decides to take the next step and go net-zero energy can invest in a much smaller photovoltaic system and less-expensive battery storage.
Retrofits can mitigate public health threats
Building retrofits not only save energy and reduce carbon emissions, but they also improve occupants’ health, comfort, and productivity, as well as community resilience. And we need that because today, many of our buildings aren’t serving us well. For instance, when COVID-19 hit, public health experts suggested increasing indoor ventilation and filtration to reduce virus transmission risk. But many legacy building systems can’t handle that. When offices were sitting empty during the lockdown, they still consumed 40-100% of their usual energy…
To read more from Dr. Esram’s testimony on the need for federal research and development, continue reading the blog post on the ACEEE website.
Nora Wang Esram oversees ACEEE’s research agenda in a range of topic areas including buildings, industry, transportation, and behavior. She leads, supports, and coordinates the work of all research programs and contributions to policy activities.