Energy Star and CBECS

Have you been in a Kohl’s lately getting a great deal on that sundress or those pants on the clearance rack?  Have you paid attention to the announcements?  Chances are you probably heard something about the store you were in being either LEED or Energy Star certified.

Now, why would Kohl’s go though the effort of getting Energy Star?  Just because it looks good?  People buy more expensive energy star appliances over standard efficiency equipment.  Wouldn’t you rather shop in a store that cares about energy over a store that doesn’t?  Maybe that works in hippy places like California.   I think, first and foremost, it is because they are reducing energy cost.  This helps them give you best possible deal on the latest fashions, right?  That’s a win.  A bonus from this is that through Energy Star they get marketable recognition of their natural profit preserving activities.  Positive marking appeal.  Another win.

How does Energy Star for buildings work?  It is pretty simple really.  Basically, you enter in the past year’s worth of energy bills for your building and then check how your building performs against other similar buildings.  If your building is better than 75% of the building stock in the same class, then your building qualifies for Energy Star.  Now, the question is, what is your building really being compaired against?  Energy Star’s infomation is based on the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).  This survey catalogs the energy consumption, location, internal loads, occupancy, etc. of about 5,000 buildings.

The survey is conducted every 4 years by the Energy Information Administration.  The last survey should have been done in 2011.  Due to funding cuts, however, this survey was not completed.  There was a survey done in 2007.  However, there were statistical problems with the data and that survey was scrapped.  This leaves us with the 2003 survey being the last viable data for the Energy Star rating.  So, the last 10 years of improvements in equipment, lighting, envelope, energy codes are not accounted for in the survey.   By making small improvements in your building over the current energy codes, with current equipment, you can easily get that blue sticker on your building.  The Energy Star label for buildings is starting to become diluted and meaningless.  It is not encouraging innovation or competition any more.

More importantly,the CBECS is also a policy tool.  Law-makers need up-to-date and accurate information for making decisions on energy policy and building codes.  Politicians don’t run campaigns based on 10 year old survey data.  Neither should we do the same with our energy policies.

The good news, CBECS is back!  They are finalizing details on the 2012 survey.   Budget-willing, data should be collected in 2013 and results published in 2014.  Given the current economic and budgetary climate, this could always reverse.  Organizations such as ASHRAEUSGBC, and others have been diligently advising lawmakers to budget for the CBECS.   Please write your congressional leaders and let them know the importance of this (relatively cheap) tool.  It costs only $4 million per year to maintain the CBECS.  This should be a no brainer on both sides of the aisle.  For the Reds, it doesn’t pick specific winners or losers in the market.  It only encourages innovation and competition.  For the Blues, it encourages using less energy which is good for the environment.  For all of us, it encourages less energy use which ultimately means lower dependence on foreign energy sources.

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