Some Energy Reduction Goals Out of Reach

According to a new study, goals for efficient energy use in office buildings may be unrealistic in many cases, and government standards must account for economic realities and varying climates. NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, which commissioned the research, argues that the findings have broad implications for development and for public policy. “With the results of achieving higher efficiency targets differing so greatly across the climate zones, the study reveals that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mandatory energy reductions does not work in legislation or other mandates,” said NAIOP president Thomas Bisacquino in a statement released last week in conjunction with the survey. “It is important that policymakers and others realize the economic consequences that imposing mandated targets will have on the development industry.” Cutting energy consumption 30 percent above a frequently cited benchmark is impractical to implement by use of common design methods, concluded the study by ConSol, a consulting firm based Stockton, Calif. ConSol also determined that a 50 percent reduction in additional energy reduction above the benchmark is an unworkable proposition. ConSol drew its conclusions from computer-modeled tests of a hypothetical four-story, 95,000-square-foot Class A office building in three different locations. The models considered enhancements in such areas as insulation, window assemblies and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The model analyzed the building’s performance in three different climates represented by Baltimore, Chicago, and Newport Beach, Calif. The benchmark was a standard adopted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers. In hypothetical Chicago model, the building achieved a 23 percent reduction in energy use above the ASHRAE benchmark at an additional upfront cost of $188,523. Energy-saving measures clipped 21.5 percent from consumption at the model building in Baltimore, at an estimated premium of $165,148. And when researchers modeled the identical building for the Southern California city of Newport Beach, energy use declined cost an extra $169,898 despite a relatively small additional reduction of 15.8 percent beyond ASHRAE standards. Payback periods varied from 8.8 years for Chicago, 11 years for Baltimore and 12.2 years for Newport Beach. Although solar and geothermal energy could help reduce energy consumption further, the researchers found that those methods are often impractical. For example, using geothermal sources for the Newport Beach building would require two additional acres—an infeasible option for that location, the report concluded.