Efficiency: The Core of a Clean Energy Future

NEEA staff join national conversation on intersections of health, efficiency and the economy at 2020 ACEEE Summer Study

This year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) hosted its biennial 2020 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings as a virtual event. The theme was “Efficiency: The Core of a Clean Energy Future,” in recognition of the rapidly evolving ecosystem of the energy industry.

The conference opened with a plenary session featuring Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator. McCarthy led a discussion around the critical contributions that energy efficiency can make to both climate change and to the environmental justice movement. She spoke to the disproportionate impacts of climate change, poor indoor air quality and other health issues in low-income and under-invested communities and urged the energy efficiency community to work together to make America’s cars, homes and workplaces even more efficient.

family teaching to bike

Using efficiency in HVAC systems and emerging technologies to address these systemic issues was a recurring theme of the conference. Mark Rehley, Sr. Manager of Emerging Technology at NEEA lead an Innovation in Market Transformation panel that included David Goldstein, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Carolyn Szum, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Molly Graham, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA); and Smita Chandra Thomas of Energy Shrink.

Graham spoke to the process and lessons learned with the Midwest Market Transformation Collaborative, an effort with Midwest utilities and MEEA that NEEA has helped support. This collaborative is working to bring a Market Transformation approach to Illinois that aligns with the successful Market Transformation framework established in the Northwest.

Later in the session, Goldstein focused on the benefits of strategic energy management to achieve net zero buildings, citing the growing interest in “zero” around the world to address climate goals.

Finally, Thomas talked about the strong need for green buildings in emerging economies and the multi-trillion-dollar potential for investment in green buildings to decarbonize and transform the global market for energy efficiency - provided that building rating systems are affordable, accessible and locally relevant.

Continuing the topic of decarbonizing the built environment, NEEA’s Bing Liu, Sr. Manager of Codes, Standards and New Construction, participated in a panel titled “Net Zero Buildings: Revolutionize and Decarbonize.” Liu presented along with Paul Torcellini of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Ellen Franconi of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The panel explored how innovative and aggressive new construction codes, policy, utility programs and technology each play an integral role in shaping the building stock of the future and changing the paradigm towards reducing carbon impacts.

modern home

Torcellini of NREL kicked off the session with an update on the net zero landscape, discussing the previous state of the industry in terms of net zero buildings compared with where it is now. He offered that better alignment with renewable resources, the ability to use storage (including export to electric vehicles) and allowing for offsite renewables are three things that are missing in the current net zero framework in order for buildings to reach the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent of the time.

Liu shared an inventive new metric for encouraging low emissions HVAC systems that was recently adopted into Washington State’s energy code called the Total System Performance Ratio (TSPR). TSPR evaluates the HVAC system as a whole and can help to incentivize integrated and efficient system design. Bing and her team worked with the U.S. Department of Energy to create a free and easy to use TSPR calculation tool that allows comparisons between proposed and baseline systems to demonstrate code compliance.

Finally, Franconi of PNNL discussed grid interactive buildings and their role in achieving efficiency and demand flexibility goals. She emphasized that communication and control requirements will be critical to include in code change proposals as more demand flexible buildings are designed and developed.

The resounding message from many of the ACEEE panels was that energy efficiency is the bedrock of achieving a healthier, more sustainable future: All hands on deck!