Building a Better America

Saving Energy and Money with Efficiency
Released by: PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center

We can save money and help solve global warming by reducing the amount of energy we use, including in the buildings where we live and work every day. More than 40 percent of our energy — and 10 percent of all the energy used in the world — goes toward powering America’s buildings. But today’s high-efficiency homes and buildings prove that we have the technology and skills to drastically improve the efficiency of our buildings while simultaneously improving their comfort and affordability.

If we apply those lessons to all buildings, we can reduce energy use in buildings 24 percent by 2030.

Actions taken by local, state and federal governments and by the private sector have already led to major gains in the energy performance of buildings. The Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s projections of energy use per square foot in our buildings go down every year. Energy intensity projections in the commercial and residential sectors have gone down 10 percent, and projections accounting for the use of best available technology go even further — up to 30 percent better than we predicted just a handful of years ago. But we can and we must improve, implementing an aggressive two-part strategy that sets bold efficiency standards for new buildings and encourages investments in energy-efficiency improvements in the buildings we already have.

This report analyzes the effects of meeting bold efficiency goals and provides state-by-state data on the economic and environmental benefits as compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The policies needed to meet those goals are outlined in the report and we highlight forward-thinking cities and states where these policies are already making a difference for home and business-owners.

Taking decisive action to improve the energy performance of our buildings through a combination of policy and public and private investments would go a long way toward reducing our nation’s energy use:

  • Cutting natural gas and fuel oil consumption in buildings by over 20 percent each by 2030.
  • Cutting total energy use in our existing building stock 30 percent by 2030.
  • Newly constructed buildings will consume 50 percent less energy in 2020 and 75 percent less energy in 2030 than new construction did in 2008

Thanks to this reduction in energy use, Americans will reap great financial benefits as a result of lowered energy expenditures:

  • Electricity bills will decline by 34 percent by 2030, saving households an annual average of $450 on residential energy bills compared to what they pay today.
  • Heating oil and natural gas bills will decline in every state.

And, better, more energy-efficient buildings will reduce our global warming emissions.

  • Global warming pollution from buildings will fall 11 percent by 2020, with that reduction increasing to 30 percent by 2030. 
  • By 2030, the cumulative avoided emissions will total 696 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of shutting down more than 150 coal-fired power plants in two decades.

Achieving these benefits will require strong policies that promote energy efficiency and educate builders, building-owners and renters about the energy performance of buildings, including:

  • Adoption of strong building energy codes targeting reductions in energy use versus today’s average homes and commercial buildings. The codes should target 50 percent reductions by 2020 and 75 percent by 2030. We will also need strong commitments from cities and other stakeholders: a goal of achieving zero net energy buildings — buildings that produce as much energy as they consume — by 2030, and incentives to increase distributed renewable energy generation.
  • An aggressive program of energy efficiency retrofits sufficient to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent in households and 50 percent in commercial facilities by 2030, including financing programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy, on-bill financing, weatherization programs, utility-funded incentive programs and public private partnerships. 
  • Adoption of strategies to increase transparency and develop consumer demand for energy-efficient apartments, homes and businesses, including energy use disclosure and incorporation of efficiency measures into the real estate appraisal process.
  • Adoption of strong energy efficiency standards for household appliances and commercial equipment used in buildings.