Strong Messages Delivered at ASHRAE High Performance Buildings Conference

March 20, 2012
Keynote speaker foresees demise of ‘Dodo sapiens’

High-performance buildings are about more than energy efficiency; indoor-air quality and maintainability also are important. That sentiment, delivered by Kent W. Peterson, PE, MCIBSE, LEED AP, vice president and chief engineer of P2S Engineering Inc., Long Beach, Calif., was one of the messages imparted to the approximately 200 professionals attending ASHRAE’s High Performance Buildings: A Focus on Deep Energy Savings conference, held March 12 and 13 in San Diego.

Perhaps the strongest message came from ASHRAE President Ronald Jarnagin, staff scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash. He told attendees they must be more aggressive and take a systems approach to building designs because, despite numerous energy-efficiency initiatives, the country’s energy use is not decreasing.

“We’re not getting the job done today,” Jarnagin said. “Today’s building designs mortgage the energy future of the United States.”

Citing the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2011, which projects world energy consumption to grow by 53 percent between 2008 and 2030, Jarnagin said, “We’d better pick up the pace” in efforts to make buildings more energy-efficient.

Jeanne Clinton, special advisor for efficiency, California Public Utilities Commission, covered building energy-management measures from an economic-development point of view. She said committing to green building produces multiple wins: operating-cost savings, stimulation of the economy with investments in products and services, creation of jobs and upgrading of jobs to higher skill levels, and carbon-emissions reduction.

“There’s an unlimited amount of capital available in the private sector, if we can deliver the right proposal (to building decision-makers),” Clinton said.

There are challenges to selling owners on the benefits of high-performance buildings, Clinton acknowledged.

“We need business models and financing models that give us the ability to make a compelling case,” Clinton said. “We also need to have enough personnel with the right talents to deliver the goods.”

Clinton advised design engineers to pursue three courses of action to strengthen the high-performance-buildings market:

• Standardize or otherwise make the retrofit process easier for investors, owners, and facility managers to understand.

• Push for more favorable national tax policies, reaching out to other groups, such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, The Alliance to Save Energy, Building Owners and Managers Association International, and The Real Estate Roundtable, to strengthen the case.

• Reinvigorate traditional training organizations and boost the continuing education of the incumbent workforce.

“We’re going to have to take it up a notch if we want to deliver on the opportunities,” Clinton said.

The event’s second-day keynote speaker, Eric Corey Freed, LEED AP, founding principal of organicARCHITECT, San Francisco, said the Klaxon alarm on climate change is ringing loud and clear, and those who deny or ignore it do so at their—and the human race’s—peril.

Coining a new term for humanity, “Dodo sapiens,” Freed said, “We won’t be the first species to wipe itself out, but we will be the first to do it knowingly.”

According to Freed, the job and goal of the engineering and architectural communities should be to make every building a high-performance building.

“What we do now is take traditional buildings and add things to them to make them green, when we should be conceiving them as green from the start,” Freed said. “What we really need are living, regenerative buildings that take control and responsibility for their own water, waste, energy, and food.”

Bing Liu, PE, senior research engineer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Erin McConahey, PE, LEED AP, principal, Arup, Los Angeles, discussed ASHRAE’s “Advanced Energy Design Guide for Small to Medium Office Buildings: 50% Energy Savings.”

Liu, who chaired the project committee that developed the guide, said the publication represents the next step toward net-zero-energy buildings, but cautioned it cannot be used in a vacuum.

“Successfully creating a high-performing building takes integrated design,” Liu said. “It’s not just for designers or ASHRAE members; it must apply to all the individuals who touch the building.”

McConahey, who served on the project committee that developed the guide, agreed.

“We must move beyond a hierarchical model characterized by antagonism and silo-making in the design process,” McConahey said. “Just because you had everybody in the same room talking to each other didn’t mean you were going to have an energy-efficient building come out of it. You have to focus on the right things at the right times in the process, and everybody has to contribute savings.”