Study: Efficiency programs return results — but not in all buildings

Dive Brief:

  • A study by researchers at the University of California examined three popular efficiency programs run by the federal government and found they consistently cut energy use in large buildings in Los Angeles, though results in small and mid-sized structures was less successful.
  • Despite their efficacy, The Washington Post reports they would all lose funding under a budget proposal floated by the White House.
  • Depending on the efficiency program, researchers found energy savings ranging from 18% to 30%, representing a reduction of 210 million kWh, or 145,000 tons of CO2.

Dive Insight:

President Trump has proposed cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget by more than 30%, and would trim the Department of Energy's by 6%. Among the programs losing funding are energy efficiency programs researchers say are successful at saving energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design are all very effective when rolled out in large buildings.

However, researchers said the conclusions were uneven. "We also find that these programs do not substantially reduce emissions in small and medium sized buildings, which represent about two-thirds of commercial sector building emissions," they wrote.

The study, done through the University of California Los Angeles’s Institute of the Environment, looked at monthly electricity consumption data for almost 179,000 commercial buildings in Los Angeles.

Researchers concluded that due to the long lifespan of buildings and retrofits, the savings "are likely to persist, particularly in larger, more energy-intensive buildings." Eligibility rules and participant self-selection, however, keep the programs from drawing in smaller buildings—particularly in the 75th percentile and below by consumption. Those buildings make up about 66% of commercial sector building emissions, "and the long tail for greenhouse gas mitigation efforts from building efficiency improvements."

Earlier this month, reports emerged that the Trump Administration would end  the popular Energy Star program, a voluntary labeling initiative for manufacturers of efficient appliances. It is a far cry from last year, when President Obama announced new initiatives aimed at building efficiency and targeted a 20% improvement. 

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Filed Under: Efficiency & Demand Response
Top image credit: Flickr user eflon