Market forces and well-informed policies can work together to start us down the road toward a radically more efficient and profitable U.S. building fleet. But this task is daunting.
It requires nearly every American to make different choices. It requires money. It requires collaboration between business leaders and policymakers. It requires a long-term view of the built environment. Even if it were possible to physically retrofit all of the nation’s 120 million buildings over the next 40 years—and make the new ones energy-efficient—will their owners really want to? Will you?
Why? Because there’s enormous business opportunity for smart building owners, tenants, investors, and entrepreneurs. Together, they can capture a $1.4 trillion net opportunity by 2050. In addition, everything from faster classroom learning and hospital healing to the ability to create more jobs and recruit better workers could enhance the value of these energy savings.
Superefficient buildings won’t just use less energy, freeing up electricity for electric vehicles and natural gas for industry and flexible power production; they’re also the key to supplying renewable energy to all sectors. Buildings are a future hub for energy storage and energy production. Their physical characteristics can shift based on weather. Efficient, smart buildings can both learn and signal when to buy or sell energy with the grid.
If we do get motivated, pay attention, spark new businesses, and achieve our vision of American buildings that use energy in a way that saves money, what would that mean for fossil fuels? By 2050, those buildings, though their floorspace expands by 44 percent, can be using 13 percent to 55 percent less electricity and 24 percent to 68 percent less natural gas than they used in 2010. Their oil use could readily shrink to zero. That’s all from efficiency—not from the additional option of onsite renewable power generation that efficiency makes far more profitable.
Watch the Reinventing Fire: Buildings Video
For the first time in history, buildings’ energy use can start trending downward rather than up. And where we live, work, shop, play, heal, learn, and worship can become more magical: spaces that create delight when entered, increase health and happiness when occupied, produce regret when departed, and incite pleasure when remembered. Our buildings will at last become not just the shells we live in, but truly worthy of who we are and whom we aspire to become.
In the collaborative spirit of RMI’s Reinventing Fire, Consultant Mathias Bell and Buildings Principal Victor Olgyay will host a live chat on Thursday, March, 22, at 11 a.m. MDT. At this event, we’ll give an overview of RMI’s buildings work as part of our Reinventing Fire vision and our in-market work, including RetroFit and Super Efficient Housing initiatives.
We hope you can join us!
This chat does not include audio or video. It is a live question-and-answer session hosted by RMI that allows us to receive typed questions in real time and answer in the same format.
We typically receive hundreds of questions during a given chat, so while we might not publish or answer every question during the hour, we will review all the questions and post follow-up blog responses.