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May 25, 2021

Investment Strategies Support Resilient Performance

By Diana Alexander

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) held the Better Buildings, Better Plants Summit from May 17-20, 2021.  The summit is part of an initiative aimed at working with public and private organizations to make buildings more energy efficient. The leadership symposium included sector-specific discussions on commercial, industrial, education, local government, multi-family and workforce markets.  The goal of the summit was to convene leaders across the economy to share solutions and create opportunities for innovation and savings.

Keynote speaker Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm noted that buildings account for 75 percent of the electricity we consume.  Commercial buildings have one of the largest carbon footprints in the U.S. Mid- or high-rise office buildings will have a difficult road to earn zero emissions, and decarbonizing our buildings will require efforts to power them with cleaner technologies.  Consulting engineers will need to be innovative. The Better Buildings Low Carbon Pilot program is a pathway to low or no carbon emissions (link below).

DOE identified architects, engineers and contractors (A/E/C) as a critical stakeholder group when discussing zero energy goals and zero carbon buildings, recognizing that they can address energy reducing barriers early, and use advanced building construction to create efficient, affordable, and appealing solutions for low-carbon buildings.  

Angela Becker-Dippmann, Director of Program Development, Energy & Environment for Pacific Northwest National Lab, highlighted a case study on Net Zero emissions for commercial buildings.  She focused on grid optimization and credited the success of the project to forming joint ventures with local utilities, engineering and construction firms to integrate communication between the buildings and the grid to maximize efficiency and keep occupants happy.  Increased collaboration between stakeholders is thought to also lead to more resilient buildings, reducing risks of water and power utility disruptions during extreme weather events. 

DOE’s national labs also shared emerging trends and technologies on resilience planning and collaborative carbon reduction plans.  Buildings will be vital in meeting the primary clean energy goals, which include a carbon-free electric grid by 2035, and goals around equitable energy for underserved communities and justice. The labs are also monitoring the following megatrends:

  • Cyber threats and the dangers of having an outdated grid;
  • Electrification;
  • Resource competition;
  • A skilled workforce to support the new system;
  • How to keep costs down while increasing demand flexibility;
  • Population growth;
  • Economic development; and
  • Urbanization.

Smart buildings are planned to be the centerpiece for a fully integrated and successful new system, with goals around creating more jobs in America, stimulating economic growth, and providing strong energy security. 

Other risks include the health threat.  For example, increased ventilation between classrooms can increase the potential for spreading viral infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for energy efficient HVAC systems.  Schools were not designed to support the open-air flow required to manage air quality during such health crises. 

One’s geographic location also proposes other potential challenges, including lack of hydrogen access to clean their grid, state policies that do not allow for the research and development needed to advance technologies to meet new energy goals, and fossil fuel dependance.  The summit leaders encouraged participants to lobby and advocate for changes at the state and local level to help them meet their energy goals.

Click here for more on the Low Carbon Pilot program: 

Click here to download FEMA’s Guide to Expanding Mitigation, Making the Connection to Electric Power, which focuses on how community officials can work with public and private sectors to build resilient communities.

Diana Alexander is ACEC Private Market Resources Director..

All comments to blog posts will be moderated by ACEC staff.

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May 25, 2021



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