Cooling the Planet for Free

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“Why do we tune up our cars but not our far more complex buildings?” asks Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  He’s talking about “commissioning,” a basket of techniques for increasing the energy efficiency of buildings:

Energy-wasting deficiencies are almost always invisible to the casual observer, and unfortunately also to building designers, operators, and owners. Commissioning is not a widgit or “retrofit”; it is an integrated quality-assurance practice.

….Back in 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy asked my team at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to build a national database of commissioning experience….The results are compelling. The median normalized cost to deliver commissioning was $0.30/ft2 for existing buildings and $1.16/ft2 for new construction….Correcting these problems resulted in 16% median whole-building energy savings in existing buildings and 13% in new construction, with payback times of 1.1 years and 4.2 years, respectively.

….Applying our median whole-building energy-savings value (certainly far short of best practices) to the U.S. non-residential building stock corresponds to an annual energy-savings potential of $30 billion by the year 2030, which in turn yields greenhouse gas emissions reductions of about 340 megatons of CO2 each year.

In other words, this is a way of reducing greenhouse emissions significantly — and it’s not just free, it saves money.  It’s a no-brainer, and it’s the kind of thing that will become more widespread if the Waxman-Markey climate bill passes.

It’s also why the cost of Waxman-Markey, despite the pronouncements of the doomsayers, is likely to be close to zero.  The CO2 goals in W-M are actually fairly modest (a 17% decrease from 2005 levels by 2020), and commissioning could provide upwards of a thirds of that at no cost.  Other technologies have similar paybacks, and the net result is that we can almost certainly achieve a 17% reduction at a net cost that’s very, very small.  Things gets tougher after 2020, but that’s also the point at which W-M has provided several years of incentives to develop green technologies that will make further cutbacks considerably less painful than they would be today.  Warts and all, that’s why Waxman-Markey needs to pass.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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