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What Will Energy and Sustainability Mean Now?

Rob McAtee, Director of Energy and Sustainability Services at Mason & Hanger.

In the face of a new administration following the U.S. Presidential election, I’ve seen letters and posts from many organizations lamenting the end of sustainability and renewable energy. I can’t say I’m not concerned, but it’s worth pointing out a few facts and trends that will hold true regardless of who is in the White House.

1. Building Codes have become significantly more stringent in recent decades. Most regions of the country have now adopted codes that reference ASHRAE 90.1-2013, or at least 2010. In California, Title 24 applies, which exceeds the requirements of the ASHRAE standard in many categories. All of these standards result in buildings that perform much better than those built even a decade earlier. It will be difficult to relax or replace these codes for state and federal projects.

2. Costs for renewable energy, particularly wind and solar PV, continue to fall even without significant subsidies. The price of power for utility-scale PV is now competitive with fossil-fuel plants. Even areas with no renewable portfolio standards are building large PV plants. 

3. The maturation of a number of technologies has led to a significant reduction in our daily energy needs. The most dramatic case might be LED lighting which continues to fall in price as it improves in efficiency. When I started in this business, lighting energy was typically estimated at 1.5-2.0 Watts per square-foot for buildings. A 100,000 SF facility might have more than 200kW of lighting load requiring an additional 60 tons of air conditioning to remove the associated heat. Today, it’s not uncommon to see lighting power levels below 0.6 Watts/SF, which would save more than $40,000 and 370 tons of CO2e emissions annually based on lighting energy alone(b).

4. Wind, natural gas, and solar made up nearly all new sources of electricity production in 2015(a). The benefits of renewable energy are clear, and natural gas-fired plants release nearly half the greenhouse gas emissions than other fossil-fuel based sources(c).

5. According to polls from The Pew Research Center(d) and Gallup(e), a majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, support the development of alternative energy sources and energy conservation.

To be sure, a mountain of work is still ahead of us if we’re to address the effects of climate change. We must continue to search for new ways to use and protect our water and energy resources. But I remain optimistic the years of hard work undertaken by so many dedicated people will continue to bear fruit. I’m convinced the momentum of our energy-efficiency economy will continue to move forward. Regardless of election outcomes, we will continue to make huge strides in sustainability and further advance efficient and renewable energy technologies for future generations.

(a) https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=25492
(b) Based on $0.10/kWh blended rate, 0.82 kg CO2e/kWh emissions factor, and 3,000 hrs/yr occupancy.
(c) https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=73&t=11
(d) http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/environment-energy-2/
(e) http://www.gallup.com/poll/168176/americans-favor-energy-conservation-production.aspx


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