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Lessons Learned from 100 Years of Building Innovations – Part 1: The Future of Building Performance

March 25, 2013

Sustainable technologies like wind and solar get a lot of press coverage, but when it comes to satisfying the world’s almost insatiable appetite for energy nothing today beats energy efficiency.

While the efficiency of commercial buildings has improved significantly in recent decades, the building industry has only begun to tap the energy reserves trapped in underperforming facilities.

As Trane celebrates 100 years of heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) innovation in 2013, we foresee a wide range of groundbreaking innovations in high performance building technologies, operating practices and intelligent building services that will create better, healthier, more comfortable and more productive indoor environments in the years to come.

Modern technologies, practices boost building performance
Building owners and operators can realize a wide range of benefits by adopting high performance building technologies and operating principles that are widely available today. New technologies and improved energy-efficiency practices enable commercial buildings to achieve higher levels of energy efficiency, better overall performance, lower lifecycle costs and a smaller environmental footprint.

Numerous sources, including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and European Union Institute for Energy and Transport (IET), say that high performance buildings use 20-30 percent less energy and cost as much as 50 percent less to operate over their full occupied life, compared to conventionally equipped and operated buildings.

Many new buildings are being designed and operated using high performance building principles. The problem is that relatively few new buildings are being built these days, at least in North America and Europe. According to the 2013 McGraw Hill Construction Forecast, commercial construction growth in recent years has been “hesitant at best.” In fact, 2012 commercial construction starts were valued at about $50 billion, compared to more than $100 billion in 2007. McGraw Hill forecasts about $56 billion in commercial construction starts in 2013. Things are no better in Europe, where no growth in construction starts is projected through at least 2014, according to the European Aggregates Association.

With construction starts remaining relatively low for new buildings, the key to unlocking energy savings potential lies within the current building inventory.

More energy-efficient building systems and the use of a wide range of energy conservation measures have helped drive down the energy intensity of commercial buildings by 18.5 percent over the last three decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But the inventory of existing buildings has just scratched the surface when it comes to realizing the full potential of energy efficiency to help reduce global energy consumption and our environmental impact.

Just as importantly, building owners and operators are starting to recognize that better-performing buildings are assets that help organizations accomplish their missions and most important financial and operational goals. They create better, healthier, more productive places for people to work, learn, teach, live, heal, shop, stay and visit.

McKinsey and Co. research concludes that the U.S. has the opportunity to reduce its non-transportation energy use by 23 percent by improving energy efficiency. This would eliminate more than $1.2 trillion in wasted spending and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 gigatons, which is the equivalent of taking every passenger vehicle off U.S. roadways, the research concluded.

So how do we harness this amazing savings opportunity?

Coming up in Part 2 of this series we’ll talk about the opportunities for energy savings that abound in today’s existing buildings.