Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have long understood that using energy more efficiently can be just as beneficial as finding new ways to produce energy more efficiently. On Feb. 7, NREL Director Dan Arvizu and a blue-ribbon panel of 20 energy experts drove that message home, declaring that the United States can double its energy productivity by 2030 — and do so in ways that bolster the nation’s economy.
Unveiling their recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Arvizu and other members of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy said that doubling energy productivity could create a million new jobs, while saving the average household $1,000 a year and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by one-third.
“Perhaps the most compelling evidence that energy efficiency measures can have dramatic effects in the future is the often-overlooked fact that they already have produced so many benefits for our nation,” Arvizu noted in his testimony. To the same point, a report by the commission showed that the nation would be using fully 50% more energy than we currently use today had we not taken advantage of all the energy efficiency opportunities we have developed and deployed over the past three decades.
More Efficient Buildings
Forty percent of the nation’s energy is used in buildings — from hospitals to factories, restaurants to office complexes.
NREL is helping the nation’s architects and engineers find ways to reduce by 50% the energy intensity of large hospitals, schools, and retail buildings. NREL created the modeling and optimized the software for the Advanced Energy Design Guidelines (AEDGs) that spearhead the effort.
U.S. hospitals spend more than $5 billion annually on energy, equaling about 2% of a typical hospital’s operating budget. NREL Senior Research Engineer and AEDG Project Chairman Shanti Pless said: “Our job is to develop those best practices, along with the professionals in the industry, and put them together in an easy-to-implement guide.”
Schools Finding Big Energy Savings
NREL researchers helped New Orleans build 40 new schools and renovate 38 others in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation — demonstrating an average energy savings of 30%. Among cost-saving measures, the blueprints called for pretreatment of humid air rather than overcooling the entire airflow; aligning the new schools on an east-west axis, with large, efficient, south-facing windows; and smart monitors to assure that only the lights that are needed are turned on.
The potential savings are monumental, amounting to some $75,000 per year, per school. In the United States there are about 100,000 public schools. This year, $14 billion will be spent constructing about 750 new schools and renovating others, according to School Planning & Management magazine. If all the new and renovated schools followed green-school designs, the savings would be more than $50 million the first year, compounded each succeeding year. And the average school is built to endure 50 to 100 years.