Energy use in buildings could be cut by as much as 60 percent by mid-century, but doing so would take more than just adopting energy-saving technologies. That’s according to the findings of a four-year study looking at residential and commercial building sectors around the world and published Monday by the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a global business association. The report, entitled “Transforming the Market: Energy Efficiency in Buildings,” is being touted as the most rigorous study ever conducted on the subject and includes a sweeping road map for the building industry to achieve this energy-cutting goal. “Energy efficiency is fast becoming one of the defining issues of our times, and buildings are that issue’s elephant in the room,” said Björn Stigson, president of the business council, in a statement.
Besides the adoption of technology, like high-insulating window and walls or energy-efficient lighting, the report makes five principle recommendations. They include: strengthening building codes and energy labeling for more transparency; using subsidies and price signals to incentivize energy-efficient investments; encouraging a more integrated design approach among building professionals; enabling the workforce to save energy; and fostering an energy-aware culture.
The report’s authors said they took a “bottom-up, market-driven approach” to understanding the barriers to lower energy use. Some of the more interesting targets include: for investors, to use energy efficiency analysis to enhance traditional decision-making; for suppliers and manufacturers, to develop marketing campaigns that promote a building’s total energy performance rather than single components; and for architects, to design buildings that can be more easily retrofitted with new technologies as they’re developed in the future.
This isn’t the first study to stress how important changes in the building sector are when it comes to achieving global climate change goals. Buildings consume more energy — and contribute to more greenhouse gasses — than industry or transportation, accounting for about 40 percent of the world’s energy use. The topic has become so uncontroversial that this morning the conservative Wall Street Journal, rarely prone to support eco-causes, published a special section on the “green house of the future,” complete with flowery language that could have been pulled from a 1970s hippie manifesto on eco-living.
According to the study, many energy efficiency projects are economically feasible at today’s energy costs. A $150 billion annual investment in building energy efficiency in the six markets studied (U.S., EU, Japan, China, India and Brazil) would reduce carbon footprints by 40 percent with a five-year discounted payback, the study found. Doubling that investment could achieve a payback within five and 10 years and would reduce the footprint another 12 percent. But achieving a higher reduction target, such as the 77 percent called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, could not be justified on economic grounds at today’s energy prices and would require other steps, such as subsidies.