Energy efficiency in building

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118055108717830.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of RMI Web site’, ‘RMI headquarters showing solar-electric panels, solar hot-water panels and double-thick, insulating stone walls.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118055110716145.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of RMI Web site’, ‘South-facing windows at RMI Headquarters, Snowmass, Colo., showing passive solar heating.‘);

Cities are a big target for efficient energy use. Occupying less than 1 percent of the world’s land surface, they release 80 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, which contributes to global warming.

Appropriately designed government energy efficiency standards are essential in overcoming flaws in the marketplace that fail to implement energy-efficient practices.

The U.S.’s most serious effort to curb excessive energy consumption since WWII was implemented during the Jimmy Carter administration in the late 1970s. It encouraged energy efficiency and renewable energy. If it had survived, we would now obtain more than 28 percent of our energy from renewable sources rather than 2.7 percent. The program was scuttled when President Ronald Reagan asked Saudi Arabia to pump massive amounts of oil, bringing its price down to $10 per barrel.

Unfortunately, we have spent nearly 30 years building an economy around cheap energy, and, to our dismay, we find ourselves facing skyrocketing energy prices. Our current energy price squeeze is likely to encourage us to accept short-term energy supply solutions, which fail to address the basic issue of our wasteful, unsustainable energy practices.

Let us step back from our preoccupation with high energy prices and revisit some of the efficiency and renewable energy building strategies implemented under the influence of the Carter energy programs.

About an hour west of Madison is the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wis. For nearly 30 years, an IGA food store there has never turned on the gas furnace, required by law. The building is extremely well insulated with2 feet of insulation in the ceiling and 1 foot in the walls. It captures the heat of the sun through a south-facing triangular space known as a solar attic. Waste heat from refrigerator compressors supplements that heat. Practices implemented there can be applied elsewhere.

Osage, Iowa, passed an ordinance that required new buildings and major renovations be insulated to an R25 value in the walls and R40 in the ceilings. Once a building is completed, the municipal power authority does an energy audit using an infrared camera to document its energy efficiency. If insulation was not properly installed, the builder must correct his work before it is approved by the building inspector and he receives his pay.

Prior to the recent dramatic rise in energy prices, the community of more than 4,200 saved $1.2 million on energy annually for 30 years. Their energy efficiency plan is an exceedingly effective community economic development plan. They need not make costly competitive concessions to lure new business to town. Their low energy prices are the major attraction. Citizens also benefit from lower energy costs.

The late Richard Williams built an energy-efficient home in Cherry Valley on the principles espoused by The Rocky Mountain Institute after visiting it. Located in Snowmass, Colo., the home and office of Amory Lovins has no furnace, yet is warm enough for the banana tree thriving in it.

A neighbor’s home near Oregon uses about 90 percent less energy than a conventionally-built home based on the principles of the PassiveHaus movement of Germany. More than 7,000 passive buildings have been built in Germany and Austria. Leading PassiveHaus advocates acknowledge the efficiency concepts applied in their homes originated with the pioneering work on energy-efficient homes done in the United States

As was our intent in co-founding the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, we are witnessing the growth of a network of people interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy. More designers, builders and installers of systems are available to meet growing public interest. At two recent meetings in Rockford, professionals in efficiency and renewable energy made presentations and addressed questions posed by a captivated audience.

With buildings lasting 50 to 100 years or more and being responsible for up to 40 percent of our energy consumption and nearly half of our carbon emissions, it is important to make energy efficiency a top priority.

Efficient use of energy is also a patriotic act. We are at war in the Middle East in part to ensure Mideast oil keeps flowing to us and our allies. The outcome is uncertain as many Iraqis are not eager to have their oil once again controlled by British and U.S. oil companies. Our leaders hope to stabilize Afghanistan so some of the gas and oil from the Caspian Basin will flow through pipelines not controlled by Russia.

Turkmenistan recently undermined the economic viability of U.S.-controlled natural gas pipelines when it agreed to ship its natural gas via a pipeline through Kazakhstan and Russia to southern Europe. The United States and England distrust Europe’s substantial dependence on natural gas from Russia as it strengthens their ties to Russia and weakens their ties to us.

Intense international competition for control of oil and natural gas has dramatic impacts on lives in this country because our economy has been designed to consume copious amounts of energy from around the globe. Conservation, efficiency and renewable energy can dramatically lessen our dependence on imported energy.

Edward Mazria, a famous solar architect, has designed the 2030 challenge in which he is asking architects of the world to work toward a carbon reduction plan for buildings that would lead to no fossil fuel use by 2030. Both new and renovated buildings would be included.

Many buildings in the Rockford area could benefit from an energy-efficiency upgrade and a subsequent replacement of an inefficient heating and cooling system.

Two Rockford Park District projects, the Burpee Museum and the Nicholas Conservatory, include energy efficiency and renewable energy components in their construction.

We need more model buildings, both new and renovated, with verified performance studies to convince all involved in the building industry the worth of energy-efficient buildings to individuals and the community.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the May 30-June 5, 2007, issue

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