How to scale energy-efficient commercial building retrofits

VScomprehensive retrofits of commercial buildings can reduce their energy use by up to 40% but come nowhere near the scale needed to meet climate goals, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). With new federal funds available for such energy-efficient upgrades, the report offers a roadmap for how utilities and policymakers can start or expand robust retrofit programs that include more than lighting.

Research finds that more utility programs have sprung up in recent years to offer “deep” or “comprehensive” commercial renovations. These renovations include multiple energy efficiency measures that often improve heating, air conditioning, lighting and other systems. Yet there are still too few of these programs, which provide energy savings of 2.5 to 7 times greater than approaches involving single measures such as lighting, often the easiest step.

Deep renovations are essential for climate action. More than half of America’s commercial buildings were built before 2000. They don’t meet today’s most efficient codes and often lack the most energy-saving products and technologies. Even many newer buildings that meet the latest codes don’t perform as expected, either due to faulty installation, lack of maintenance, or normal wear and tear.

Energy-efficient commercial building retrofits
(Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE))

In today’s report, which updates previous research, ACEEE analyzes 50 utility programs across the United States to identify and recommend approaches for commercial building retrofits. Many of these programs offer limited data because they are still in their early stages or the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed their progress. Therefore, most program data is from 2018 or 2019. Since many programs are still new, it will take time and additional data to determine their success.

Overall, we find that utilities have made progress and are using a variety of strategies to improve their programs. Several good practices highlighted in the ACEEE report analysis 2014, such as offering low-cost energy assessments and collecting energy consumption data, are now the basis for identifying and evaluating program savings. The ACEEE also explored the issue in a 2005 report…

To learn more about scaling commercial building energy retrofits, keep reading Blog post by Srivastava on the ACEEE website.

Rohini Srivastava ACEEERohini Srivastava is Senior Fellow, Buildings Program, for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst to advance policies, energy efficiency programs, technologies and investments, and behaviors. Rohini conducts research on new technologies, practices and programs aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of buildings. Specific areas of research include innovative program approaches, the multiple benefits of energy retrofits, and the workforce skills needed to advance high-performance building technologies and zero-energy buildings. Prior to joining ACEEE in 2018, Rohini was a Collaborating Researcher for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Energy Innovation Consortium and the Indian-American Center for Building Energy Research and Development. Rohini is a Registered Architect in India and is a LEED Accredited Professional. She earned her Ph.D. in Building Performance and Diagnostics from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.A. in Architecture from Kent State University.

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