Pam Lacey White House Missed the Boat on Energy Efficiency

Last week the White House released a new Executive Order that is intended to reduce the government’s carbon footprint and energy consumption. Great Goal!

In the early years of the plan, they got the carbon part right, which is fantastic. Federal agencies will set goals to reduce greenhouse gases emitted directly from federal buildings and activities PLUS emissions attributable to the electricity the government purchases from electric power plants.  That makes sense – if you want to reduce global warming, look at the big picture and figure out the real impact of your actions.

But in later years, they missed the boat entirely. After 2020, federal agencies will be required to design and operate “zero net energy buildings” – measuring energy efficiency only at the building site – using the same old “site energy” approach that has institutionalized energy inefficiency for decades.    It is time to look outside the box – literally!  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and EPA Energy STAR have all rejected the old site energy approach and instead recommend using “source energy” to measure real energy efficiency and carbon output.

“Source energy represents the total amount of raw fuel that is required to operate the building. It incorporates all transmission, delivery and production losses, thereby enabling a complete assessment of energy efficiency in a building.”

The alternative method for evaluating building energy efficiency – known as “site energy” – looks only at the energy consumed on site, ignoring the energy wasted or lost in producing, generating and transporting that energy supply to the building. Based on a detailed analysis, EPA concludes that “source energy comparisons generally reflect energy costs and carbon emissions more accurately than site energy.

President Obama has made it a priority to move our country toward a new green economy in which we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using cleaner energy more efficiently.   And we agree wholeheartedly.  We will not achieve that goal, however, if the government continues to measure “energy efficiency” within the four corners of a building or appliance – ignoring the energy lost when coal or natural gas is converted to electricity at a power plant.

Today, on a national average basis, up to 70 percent of the available energy is lost in electricity, and only 30 percent is delivered to the end user. In contrast, less than 10 percent of available energy is lost during natural gas transmission and distribution; 90 percent of the energy in natural gas is delivered to the customer. Now that’s real energy efficiency.

Ignoring the energy inefficiency of purchased electricity makes no sense – especially in the context of solving global climate change. It does not matter if you reduce carbon emissions at a building site if the net effect is to increase overall carbon emissions somewhere else!   It’s not too late for the White House to catch that boat, but they need to get moving.

Want to know more?  See my article in the upcoming Dec./Jan. issue of American Gas magazine – available in November.

In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below.

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