POST 2B …
TITLE: Time to examine the energy demand picture.
Based on 2000 figures from the US Energy Department, we in the U.S. used our energy this way:
1. Buildings 38%
2. Transportation: 27%
3. Industry: 25%
If you add the transportation and industry component related to buildings to that sector, then you see that almost 50% is used directly and indirectly in buildings. As an architect, that makes me feel very responsible!
Using the 2000-Watt Society as a benchmark for buildings here in the U.S., let’s look at a typical school building, one built to Minnesota building code using about 100,000Btu/sfy. According to the 2000-Watt Society, leveraging today’s available technology, this building should be using about 85% less or 15,000Btu/sfy. The first Passivhaus certified building in North America, built near Bemidji at Concordia Language Villages called the Waldsee BioHaus, has been open since the summer of 2006 and uses less than 15,000Btu/sfy.
So yes, this is possible to accomplish today! In fact it’s not only possible, but the level of comfort has been improved with even temperatures, space filled with fresh air and daylight and healthy building materials, to name just a few methods we enhanced the user experience.
Does it cost more?
In the case of the BioHaus, it did. But as the architect of the building, I have some additional insight to this question which compels me to ask, “Did it really cost more?”
If you first compare cost-per-square-feet to a typical project – then it does. But is this a fair comparison? Does a car manufacturer produce a pilot-project vehicle for the same price as the final public-use model? Since the Passivhaus is a German energy standard for buildings, then a more fair answer to this question would come from the market and there the answer is 0% to 5% additional initial cost. Put another way, if you could buy a car offering 30 miles per gallon for $25,000 or one that delivers 160 miles per gallon car for $26,250, what would you do?
Naturally you’d buy the more efficient one when you add the operating costs like energy. So let’s get back to a 5000sf school building, with say, an average of $0.06per kWh as the energy cost. This would mean that the typical annual energy cost for this school building would be either $8,790 or in the case of the BioHaus, it’s about $1.320 – a $7,470 savings or a less than 7-year payback based on a $200/sf investment cost base with a 5% premium. And we still haven’t taken into account the future energy price risk! Again, what would you do?
Of course you’d build the most efficient house when you consider the true long-term risk of global warming as defined by the Nicolas Stern report. It documents that today’s 1% global GNP investment would stabilize CO2equ in the atmosphere with a downside risk of up to 20% global GNP if we maintain the status quo. I interpret this as a very real potential loss in quality of life as we know it today and in the future lives of our children. One last time: What would you do?
My conclusion to the question about what is holding us back is that it’s NOT technology and NOT money, but OUR HEAD! We have a social/cultural issue on hand. So how do we overcome that?