It’s not enough to design super-efficient new buildings. To reach zero-net carbon, architects have to improve performance in existing buildings, and make the most of the embodied carbon we’ve already spent on them.
Given that we’re on target to double the current square footage of building stock globally by 2060, it would be criminal to ignore existing building inventory as an opportunity for reuse. Quinn Evans principal emeritus and 2018 AIA president Carl Elefante, FAIA, and senior associate Richard JP Renaud, AIA, explain why renovation and adaptive reuse—staples for their firm—are critical to achieving the necessary carbon benchmarks.
You have said that “the greenest building is the one that is already built.” Why are the renovation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings so important to achieving zero net? Carl Elefante, FAIA: We have a carbon burden that already exists in the built environment. As designers, we’re thinking about the future, we’re thinking about new buildings. The challenge is to not increase the current carbon burden, which means new buildings have to be much, much more energy-efficient, contributing much less carbon, ultimately contributing zero. But that does nothing to reduce the existing carbon burden. We’re not going to get to zero without drawing down from where we are today. To do that, we have to address the performance of existing buildings.
How should architects and developers approach the existing building stock that they should be considering for renovation? Elefante: “The mountains and the carpet” is Ed Mazria’s description—the “mountain” of modern, tall, dense buildings surrounded by a “carpet” of midcentury and earlier low-density buildings—and it describes an important duality that exists when you start to look at the carbon needs. The types of policies and programs needed to address getting to zero carbon with the large downtown buildings is very different from the challenge of the dispersed buildings in the carpet.
What are some of the challenges? Elefante: The concentration of dense, large buildings downtown has a relative handful of owners. To get at their carbon footprint, you’re dealing with a few stakeholders. The projects are large enough to potentially fund all of the analytical work of energy modeling and life cycle assessment that needs to be done to reach performance goals. In the carpet, you have many thousands more owners, down to the ones with a single property. The scale is so small that it’s very hard to say to an individual homeowner, “Spend money doing modeling, life cycle assessments, and optimizing alternative design scenarios.” It tends to require a more prescriptive approach: “Here are things that you can do to adapt your residence or small-scale commercial building: Insulate your roof and walls, upgrade your mechanical systems to all electric, etc.”
In large-scale renovation or reuse projects, where are the opportunities with embodied carbon? Richard Renaud, AIA: With the mountain buildings, the envelope is a good target. Many of the curtain walls in early modern buildings had very little concern for thermal performance—keeping the view and light was their primary objective. Operationally, how can we improve the curtain wall? And when is it too far gone to be able to be improved? This all comes back to improving performance and minimizing the future use of carbon. The curtain wall was made out of aluminum and glass, two materials that use a lot of carbon to make them. What can we do to save that carbon? Not replacing it becomes very important. The Professional Plaza Building [shown above, in Detroit, which Quinn Evans renovated] was a nice midcentury building that actually had a thermally insulated curtain wall. The owner came to us and said: “From a monetary basis, I want to retain this curtain wall. What can we do to improve its performance?” In his eyes, it’s money; in our eyes, it’s carbon. The owner wanted to save money, he wanted to make the building more efficient. He wanted to reuse as many materials as possible in its redevelopment, which inherently is what we intend to do, too.
Are there ways for architects to get owners thinking more about carbon? Renaud: The mountain is actually a lot easier, because the owners are going to come to architects. The problem, as Carl said, is with the “carpet.” You have thousands of owners, and most are not going to hire an architect.
Do we write off the carpet too quickly as not worth saving? Renaud: Yes. If you come in [to a carpet building] and you have four walls and a roof, even in poor condition, if you can save anything, it’s a plus. We’ve got to stop looking at it only as saving money, and start saying: “How much carbon do we have here, and how is reuse going to save it?”
Elefante: We can’t do this without systemic change. I constantly find myself reminded of the founding of AIA 160 years ago. What was happening then was the adoption of what we now call Building and Life Safety Codes. What we’re faced with today is really similar. Back then, the systemic change was recognizing that it was more important to have all buildings fireproof so that we didn’t have a disaster every time somebody dropped a candle. We need systemic change here as well, and the basis for the change is there. City after city is beginning to develop plans for carbon reduction. There is no way to get to the reductions that are needed without addressing carbon in the building stock—both operational and embodied carbon. Even if you find no value in an existing building other than to keep its basic structure, that saves so much embodied carbon. How do we really start to think about our buildings as carbon sinks, as ways to sequester carbon?
Is sequestering the carbon that is already in the built environment critical to achieving zero? Elefante: Yes. We just can’t throw these buildings out. We’ve got to work with the buildings that we have and continue to make them valuable. If we’re looking for quick reductions in carbon, the place that we have to look first is embodied carbon. If you start with scenarios like renovating existing buildings, then you are instantly saving carbon. This market change is happening very quickly. From my own perspective of being an official old guy and having been around for the rise of sustainability and green building, there’s an awful lot of people around that say, “Architects really missed the boat on the green building switch, so others took it on.” This is going to happen even more quickly, and it’s imperative that architects wake up and make this transition from being carbon polluters to being carbon sequester-ers. It will be either the saving or the demise of our profession.
Like it or not, humans have become an indoor species, so buildings have a major impact on our health. That’s why the Healthy Building Movement is gaining momentum, say John Macomber and Joseph Allen.
Will you ever again step onto a crowded elevator without hesitation? Reach for a doorknob without concern (or gloves)?
Easing social distancing restrictions might reopen businesses, but as long as memories of COVID-19 lockdowns are still fresh in people’s minds, the experience of being inside an office building most likely will not return to “normal.”
Even before the pandemic struck, there were plenty of reasons to be concerned about air quality and ventilation in the buildings where we live and work. After all, healthier indoor environments don’t just keep us from getting sick—they also enhance cognitive performance.
“OFFICES WITH THE PREMIER HEALTH STORY WILL GET THE PREMIUM RENT AND GET THE TENANTS, AND THE OFFICES WITH A LAGGING HEALTH STORY WILL LAG.”
To convey to managers the benefits of the healthy building movement, John D. Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, recently wrote a book about it: Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, to be published April 21.
Although facilities managers might think they’re saving a few dollars on electricity and air filters, “There’s just no reason anymore to economize on airflow and filtration,” Macomber says. “That just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a cheap way to help people be healthier.”
Together with co-author Joseph G. Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Macomber explores “nine foundations for a healthy building” and studies how simple tweaks to increase air flow and quality can have dramatic effects on workers.
But the economic benefits don’t stop there. Macomber expects that a growing public focus on health measures will drive major changes across a variety of industries, but especially in travel and hospitality. Increasingly, Macomber postulates, savvy business leaders and landlords will begin to leverage healthier indoor spaces as recruitment tools and sources of competitive advantage. Anxieties over COVID-19 are likely to accelerate these trends, he says.
“I think awareness is heightened, and in this economy there’ll be a drop in demand for space, both for apartments and offices,” he says. “With those two things together, I think that the offices with the premier health story will get the premium rent and get the tenants, and the offices with a lagging health story will lag.”
Many elite companies already use their building’s efficiency or grandeur to send a signal to customers and workforce talent. As a result of the global pandemic, Macomber expects an emphasis on indoor air quality and other healthy building measures will diffuse through the rest of the economy.
As the country begins to return to work, concerns about the spread of infectious disease will “make it easier than ever to invest in the basics of a healthy building, notably around ventilation, air quality, water, moisture, and security,” says Macomber. “Those aren’t expensive to begin with. So, I think those will propagate through pretty quickly, and they’ll be must-haves, because the cost is not relatively very high, and the benefit is extremely high.”
As anyone who has ever felt sleepy on a stuffy airplane can attest, poor ventilation impedes cognition. “Casinos figured this out a long time ago, pumping in extra air and keeping the temperature cool to keep you awake at the gaming tables and slot machines longer,” Allen and Macomber write.
But through scientific, double-blind studies of workers in offices with various levels of air quality and flow, in which the workers were compared with themselves to gauge differences in personal performance, the authors of Healthy Buildings can quantify these effects.
Across all nine dimensions of cognitive function, which include things like “strategy,” “focused activity level,” and “crisis response,” performance was dramatically improved when study subjects worked in the optimal conditions (with high rates of ventilation and low concentrations of carbon dioxide and other harsh compounds).
“Think about that for one second—simply increasing the amount of air brought into an office, something nearly every office can easily do, had a quantifiable benefit to higher-order cognitive function in knowledge workers,” Macomber and Allen write.
Macomber is careful, though, not to make the leap from enhanced performance to increased productivity, because productivity involves so many different factors.
Among the nine foundations for a healthy building (see graphic) is “security,” a term the authors expect will take on a broader meaning in a post-pandemic world. Building security will involve monitoring not just who enters and what they are physically carrying, but also what they might be carrying internally. In addition to metal detectors, infrared scanners at building entrances will take visitors’ temperatures, to help prevent the spread of viruses and other pathogens, similar to technology already in place at some airports.
As people begin to internalize the collective nature of public health, sharing of personal health and air quality metrics—using wearables and smartphones—could lead to new applications that provide real-time information about the conditions inside buildings. Imagine an app that does for public health what WAZE has done for traffic congestion, Macomber says.
“There is going to be substantially more awareness and interest on the part of the public, in terms of the quality of the spaces that they’re occupying, and they’ll be selective about their airplanes and about their cruise ships,” he predicts. “And pretty quickly they’ll be selective about their apartments and their offices as well, and they’ll share that information with other people.”
Written by Zack Sterkenberg View the original article here
Our world is getting greener by the day. As a global community, we are trying vigorously to recycle more, waste less, and become more efficient in everything that we do. Now, with the green building trend towards sustainability firmly in place, the WELL Building Standard is helping to spearhead the next big wave of change – making buildings healthier and greener for those of us who inhabit them.
The days of walking into uninspiring, lean-style working environments that carelessly hemorrhage energy and neglect facility performance with a blind eye are no more. Thanks to the growing popularity of WELL and the rising trend towards human health optimization, the architects and designers of today take care to mindfully consider your well-being and overall satisfaction.
The WELL Building Certification
At the most basic level, WELL is a building performance rating and certification system similar to LEED, but with a focus on human well-being and performance rather than environmental sustainability.
This performance-based system was constructed around seven core concepts to measure, certify, and monitor our working environments. These seven concepts lay the foundation for maximizing human health and wellness within the built environment.
The WELL Building Standard’s core concepts include:
Under each of these concepts is a more complex list of certification “features” or metrics. The list includes over 100 individual metrics that fall under the greater umbrella of the seven core concepts.
The WELL program was developed during the course of seven years of exhaustive research. The research looked intensely at the role of nature and nature-based architectural patterns on human physical and mental wellbeing.
The correlation between human wellbeing and nature is well documented in studies on biophilic design, but WELL is the first building standard to tie all of the research together into a cohesive program that focuses exclusively on the health and wellness of people.
Benefits of a WELL building
In 2013, the CBRE Global Corporate Headquarters in Los Angeles became the first commercial office space to achieve WELL Certification. Upon initial analysis of the pilot program, employees working in the Headquarters reported overwhelmingly positive outcomes.
83% felt more productive
92% reported a positive effect on health and wellbeing
94% claimed the space had a positive impact on business performance
93% reported easier collaboration
After seeing such great success from WELL v1, WELL introduced WELL v2 in 2018. Using the latest health data and user feedback, WELL v2 maintains the first four WELL concepts and expands the concept list to ten.
Version two of WELL was built with the goal of accessibility. WELL wanted to put even more truth behind their mission of “[advancing] health buildings for all.” The new version aims to meet the needs of any type of building, as its dynamic nature allows for continuous advancement and change. V2 provides a much more adaptable scorecard than v1. The new concept provides the opportunity to build a unique scorecard with the features that are relevant to your building.
Why businesses are betting on WELL
To date, there have been over 2,000 WELL-certified projects registered across 52 countries. These projects represent over 391 million square feet in built space. These numbers continue to grow by the day. There are several reasons why WELL is making such expansive waves in the business world. The most significant is the impact that the initiative has on the overall health and productivity of the employees, a company’s largest and most important asset.
As an engine operating at peak performance helps to drives a car to victory in a race, a workforce that is happy, healthy, and efficient workforce leads to increased success and higher profits for the entire company. By constructing facilities that integrate green design elements, businesses can expect lower physiological stress, increased attention span, increased cognitive functioning, and improved employee well-being across the board.
In the same vein, by incorporating plants into the working environment, employees will have lower blood pressure, cleaner air to breathe, loweredrisk of illness and an overall boost in wellbeing. WELL effectively leads to a more productive and creative workforce with lower absenteeism rates and lower healthcare costs. By definition, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
This is great news for the employee. A company’s staff is the backbone of the business and is a major driver of overall success. This is why it makes absolute business sense to invest in them. This is the core mission of WELL: to make businesses more effective by making the employees more productive.
Perhaps Henry David Thoreau was onto something when he set out solo for a cabin in the woods with the aim of becoming completely self-sustainable – for one, he wouldn’t really need to stress about a contagious pandemic.
Thoreau’s experience would later shape the 19th century literary classic Walden; or, Life in the Woods, detailing how he was able to rely solely on himself, including growing his own food and sourcing firewood for heat and light at night.
Whether he knew it or not Thoreau was excelling at social distancing and we could all take a leaf out of his book.
Because, while most of us have got the idea of self-isolation down pat, I bet few are likely to pass the self-sufficiency test.
You only have to look at recent purchasing trends to see some of the panic stemming from a lack of self-sufficiency to see this ‘test’ in action.
First it was the toilet paper and tinned food, before spreading to plants, with a nursery’s months-worth of vegetables and seedlings stock sold over one weekend.
Next up: renewable energy infrastructure, as demonstrated by one solar retailer experiencing a 41 percent jump in PV sales and a 400 percent increase in battery enquiries over the past two weeks.
But where were these eco warriors, cultivating their own veggie patches and living ‘off-grid’ before the apocalyptic hysteria hit?
If history is any proof, crises are often the perfect kindling for igniting change, especially when standards of living are threatened.
And the COVID-19 crisis has certainly given the energy world a wake-up call when it comes to sustainability.
Mother nature gets a well deserved break
Amid coronavirus-induced lockdowns, shutdowns and working from home, air pollution has significantly dropped worldwide.
In New York, carbon monoxide levels, largely produced from cars, have fallen by nearly 50 percent compared with the same time last year.
Greenhouse gas emissions in China have also plummeted with NASA releasing images where you can see the country’s reduction in nitrogen dioxide from space.
According to one analysis, the slowdown of economic activity in China led to an estimated 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions in just four weeks.
The restriction on air travel, or any travel at all, has also clearly played a role in reducing pollutants.
And whether you choose to believe the stories of wildlife returning to cities, like dolphins and swans returning to Venice canals, coronavirus has certainly given mother nature a well-deserved moment of respite.
However, this has been at the expense of economic development, of jobs and livelihoods – and it’s certainly not going to be long-term.
Air pollutants will likely jump once day-to-day normalities resume.
However, if we’re smart about it, we can use this period to re-evaluate our energy systems to help flatten the emissions curve and keep our air clean.
Energy systems under pressure
Aside from the closure of factories and reduction in fuel-consuming transport, we can’t forget that data centers and server-farms are also huge energy-intensive industries.
Collectively, these spaces represent approximately two percent of the United State’s total electricity use.
In the UK, there’s been reports of home-working intensifying pressure on the electricity network, instead of being in the office where lighting, heating and cooling are shared.
Now everyone’s either working from home, or just at home, internet use and streaming is peaking.
A study by SaveOnEnergy estimated energy generated from the 80 million views on Netflix’s NFLX thriller Birdbox was equal to the equivalent of driving more than 146 million miles and emitting just over 66 million kilograms of CO2 – what it takes to drive from London to Istanbul and back 38,879 times.
Beyond the environmental impact, coronavirus has brought more attention to the question of whether our current energy systems and frameworks can actually keep up with increasing demand pressures.
Several country-appointed energy councils have met to discuss electricity demand pressures related to COVID-19, with renewable energy a popular topic.
In a meeting between Australia’s federal, state and territory energy ministers, the transition towards a genuine two-sided market was emphasized – where consumers become prosumers by contributing excess rooftop solar and battery electricity to the grid.
This would play a large role in forming a ‘day-ahead’ market, to “address concerns that managing challenges like system strength is becoming increasingly difficult with only a real-time market”.
On top of this, the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus actually includes tax deduction incentives for commercial and industrial solar PV, in a bid to help alleviate financial pressure through reduced electricity bills.
Digital transformation is underway across the energy sector, with significant advancements in renewable energy technologies and the ways in which energy is distributed.
For any real change to occur, you need people to switch perspectives.
Powering new mindsets
Tough times spark innovation. Now is as good a time as any to test new energy systems and processes, and it starts with a shift in thinking.
Energy networks, retailers and operators have delivered services in much the same way for a century – driven by fossil-fuels.
New technology is making it easier, more effective and affordable to use renewable energy, and the costs associated with installing those technologies, such as solar and batteries are decreasing.
And most industry players recognise the need to change and evolve in order to remain relevant, or are at least are starting to, with a little nudge from COVID-19.
Self-generating renewable energy infrastructure gives people the power to become self-sufficient for their electricity needs, with some even going ‘off-grid’ altogether.
National Energy Market retailer Powerclub is one company already trialling new technology to help alleviate demand pressure on the grid via a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in South Australia and is currently calling for more households to join.
The VPP enables Powerclub households with batteries to sell their stored, excess solar back to the grid during peak demand periods and price hikes, via peer-to-peer energy trading technology.
There is a huge benefit to the broader community in that the VPP gives those who may not be able to afford solar panels, or those who are renting, the opportunity to access clean energy.
As great as it is to think of only the environmental benefit that comes with using clean energy, a monetary incentive certainly makes the proposition more appealing.
Not only does a VPP provide renewable energy infrastructure owners with a passive income, it can also provide an incentive for others to install solar panels – knowing they’ll be able to pay back their investment faster.
Pair a VPP with home grown vegetables and you’re a little closer to achieving Thoreau’s vision for self-sufficiency.
Where to from here?
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to reconsider their impact on the environment – but it has.
We’re now being given a chance to press reset on many areas of our lives and reconsider what it takes and what choices to make in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Energy regulators are on the right track with numerous initiatives and policy changes currently underway.
But you could make a change right now – how we return to normal life post COVID-19 could lay the foundations for a cleaner and more resilient energy future.
Why does that matter? Well, as Thoreau said; “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?”
By The Enel X Energy Intelligence Team, Strategy View the original article here.
As America enters its second month of widespread lockdowns, the effects of these measures are becoming clearer, especially in electricity demand. Data from the largest United States regional transmission operators (RTOs) show grid-wide declines in electricity usage.
However, because this data includes commercial, industrial and residential end users, the true impacts to specific sectors of the economy are largely hidden—increases in residential energy demand partially or entirely offset significant declines seen in commercial demand. Below, Enel X provides an inside look at our internal data to show how the effects of coronavirus are being felt across individual sectors.
The Broader Picture: Energy Demand Is Down
Grid-wide RTO data shows that energy demand is broadly down for the entirety of 2020. In the first two months of 2020, a mild winter led to lower-than-average consumption due to a decline in heating demand. Then, in mid-March, coronavirus shutdowns led to further drops in demand.
Every year will include variations due to temperature fluctuations, but this sustained and ongoing drop has some analysts worried about long-term effects on consumers. A decline of this magnitude, as James Newcomb of the Rocky Mountain Institute told Utility Dive, could severely affect revenue for utilities. To recoup their losses, utilities may have to increase customer rates.
The drop since mid-March is even more noteworthy when controlling for factors like temperature—The New York Times highlighted work by Steve Cicala, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, who has demonstrated that changes in electricity demand closely tracked changes in GDP during the 2008 financial crisis. Currently, Cicala’s adjusted numbers find electricity demand down about 8% from expectations as of April 6th.
Enel X Internal Data: A Drop in Demand Across Sectors, With Notable Exceptions
Grid-wide data does not tell the story of specific industries, though, and the aggregate numbers include residential data. Internal data from our commercial and industrial customers – who represent approximately 2% of demand across USA and Canada—tells a more detailed story. Most commercial and industrial sectors have seen far more significant declines in consumption than the grid-wide data suggests.
The industries at the bottom of the chart are those with the most drastic reductions, and they are largely unsurprising—media and entertainment is considered inessential, flights are restricted, and schools are closed.
Increases show that some businesses – or even entire industries – are now ramping up their efforts and being called upon to work harder than ever. Manufacturing has seen a moderate decline in average demand, but our numbers show the sector has seen an uptick in peak demand.
In part, this may be because many individual manufacturers are operating at a higher level than ever before. One customer we spoke to – a manufacturer of household foods – explained just how much has changed this past month. As a result of quarantine orders and increases in grocery demand, they said, their products have been flying off of shelves. Their order volume has gone up significantly as a result, and that’s led to much higher production levels—what is normally a 24/5 plant has become 24/7, and the plant itself is expanding.
“Even as demand returns to normal,” the customer told us, “our plant will have to work at higher than normal production levels likely until at least the end of the year.”
What Lies Ahead
Professor Cicala notes that the United States’ electricity trend has tracked Europe with a lag, indicating a further drop may be coming. The grid-wide data shows there is room to fall—ERCOT (Texas), for instance, only implemented state-wide lockdowns on April 2.
If widespread shutdowns and work-from-home measures remain in place when warm summer months arrive, consumption could vary greatly from normal patterns. Commercial buildings often have more efficient cooling systems than personal homes, and offices generally have fewer cubic feet per person than a home does.
While it’s too soon to tell what long-term implications the virus will have on the energy sector, the impact has already been felt in the way homes and businesses are using electricity.
By Kirsten Korosec View the original article here.
Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles in the first quarter, beating most analysts expectations despite a 21% decrease from the previous quarter as the COVID-19 pandemic put downward pressure on demand and created logistical challenges.
Tesla said Thursday it produced 103,000 electric vehicles in the first quarter, about 2% lower than the previous period.
The deliveries and production figures beat most analysts expectations, causing Tesla shares to jump more than 10.4% in after-hours trading. Analysts, who had anticipated lower numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had varying forecasts. A consensus of analysts by FactSeat expected more than 79,908 vehicles would be delivered while Reuters reported IBES data from Refinitiv forecast numbers as high as 93,399 vehicles.
The company, which sells directly to consumers as opposed to using dealerships, was able to beat those expectations in part because it continued to produce and deliver its electric vehicles to customers in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has prompted city, county and state officials to issue stay-at-home orders that have directed non-essential businesses to close. While manufacturing is often exempt from these orders, pressure from the United Auto Workers as well as falling demand has prompted automakers, including GM, Nissan, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Volkswagen suspended production at all U.S. factories.
Tesla also suspended production, beginning March 23, at its plant in Fremont, Calif. However, deliveries have continued.
While COVID-19 still affected Tesla, the company still managed to beat its delivery numbers from the first quarter of 2019.
Here’s a breakdown of the first quarter 2020 deliveries and production:
Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles (compared to 112,000 in Q4 and 63,000 in Q1 2019)
Tesla produced 103,000 vehicles (compared to 105,000 in Q4 and 77,100 in Q1 2019)
This quarter deliveries included some Model Y vehicles, the newest addition to Tesla’s portfolio. Model Y production started in January and deliveries began in March according to Tesla.
Tesla also said that its new Shanghai factory, which is producing the Model 3 for Chinese customers, is achieving “record levels of production, despite significant setbacks.” Tesla didn’t provide any details on the levels of production at the Shanghai factory. The first public deliveries of Model 3 sedans produced at its Shanghai factory began January 7, one year after Tesla began construction on its first factory outside the United States.
Last year saw numerous developments in the electric-vehicle space, from manufacturers like Tesla, Ford, and Porsche.
In addition to the developments, carmakers made claims about how fast they’ll be introducing new electric and hybrid vehicles over the next few years — partially in response to tightening efficiency and emissions standards.
Some manufacturers have revised their earlier estimates and are planning to reach electrification targets sooner than expected.
The electric-vehicle market made big gains in 2019, across multiple car manufacturers — and the industry has even bigger plans for the years to come.
Rivian, for example, closed out the year with an extra $1.3 billion in investments. Tesla turned a profit, debuted the Cybertruck, delivered the first Model 3s built in its Shanghai plant, and announced a boosted range on its Model S and Model X. On the luxury end of the spectrum, the Audi E-Tron went up for sale, Porsche started production on the Taycan performance car, and Lamborghini announced its first hybrid supercar.
While plenty of tangible EV-related developments happened in 2019, it was also a year of promises made. As of late last year, auto manufacturers had pledged to spend a total of $225 billion developing new EVs in the near future, via The Wall Street Journal.
Increasingly restrictive emissions and fuel-efficiency regulations around the globe — but not so much in the US — are compelling carmakers to roll out vehicles more able to fit within those restrictions. Accordingly, in recent years, manufacturers have advertised a whirlwind of plans and timelines for bringing more EVs to market.
Scroll down to read more about what automakers see in their EV future.
Toyota — whose cars currently make up more than 80% of the global hybrid vehicle market, according to Reuters — announced plans to generate half of its sales from electrified vehicles by 2025, five years earlier than it previously estimated. Despite having its own battery-making operation already, Toyota will partner with Chinese battery manufacturers to meet demand.
Last year, Volkswagen said it will spend more than $30 billion developing EVs by 2023. The manufacturer also aims for EVs to make up 40% of its global fleet by 2030. Not to mention, Volkswagen plans to reach its target of 1 million electric cars produced by the end of 2023, two years ahead of its prior predictions.
In 2019, General Motors said Cadillac will be its lead brand when it comes to electric vehicles. Cadillac’s president said the majority of the brand’s models would be electric by 2030, and left open the possibility that the lineup would go entirely electric by then. He also confirmed that Cadillac would roll out a large Escalade-like electric SUV, which it expects to begin manufacturing in late 2023.
Last year, Ford unveiled the Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover that gets its name from the company’s iconic sports car. But that wasn’t the only EV Ford had plans for. In 2018, Ford’s CEO said an increased investment in electric-car initiatives would result in a 2022 model lineup that includes 40 electric and electrified vehicles.
In 2019, Ford Europe said it will offer an electrified option for all of its future nameplates and announced at the Detroit Auto Show that a fully electric F-150 would launch in the coming years. The Blue Oval also showed off a lineup of 17 hybrids and EVs — both family haulers and commercial vehicles — it plans to bring to the European market by 2024.
Last year, Volvo released its first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge, which it expects will go on sale in the US in the fourth quarter of 2020. The brand also doubled down on its pledge to generate 50% of its global sales from EVs by 2025 and promised that, by the same year, it will reduce the total carbon footprint of each vehicle manufactured by 40%.
Plus, Volvo said it will release a new EV every year for the next five years. This is all part of the Swedish company’s plan to become fully climate neutral by 2040.
Honda revealed its Honda E city car in 2019, and also said every model it sells in Europe will be at least partially electrified by 2022. That’s a big jump from Honda’s earlier projections of a full lineup of electrified cars by 2025. The fully electric Honda E and hybrid Jazz, known as the Fit to US consumers, will jumpstart the initiative.
In 2017, BMW Group projected that electrified vehicles — a term that doesn’t necessarily equate to fully electric vehicles — would account for 15% to 25% of its sales by 2025.
In working toward that projection, BMW Group unveiled the electric Mini Cooper SE last year, targeting it toward “urban mobility.” In June, the Bavarian brand said it will offer 25 electrified vehicles by 2023, two years earlier than it had initially planned. One of those new models — an electric version of the 1 Series hatchback — may arrive as early as 2021.
BMW also projects a twofold increase in electrified vehicle sales by 2021, as compared with 2019, and a 30% growth in those sales year over year through 2025.
Nissan launched the Leaf Plus with a longer range last year, and plans to introduce eight new electric cars by 2022.
At last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, the brand unveiled the concept version of its new Ariya EV, and Car and Driver reported late last year that a production version could make it to the US by 2021. Nissan claims the high-performance crossover will travel 300 miles on a single charge and go from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
In 2018, Fiat Chrysler announced it would invest $10.5 billion in electrification through 2022. By that year, FCA plans to offer at least 12 hybrid and all-electric powertrain options and launch more than 30 electrified nameplates. As part of that effort, the company announced a $4.5 billion investment in new and existing plants last year that would allow it to produce at least four plug-in hybrid Jeep models.
FCA began making good on that promise when it displayed plug-in hybrid versions of the Compass, Renegade, and Wrangler at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.
In 2017, Daimler, the parent company to Mercedes-Benz, unveiled plans to plunge more than $11 billion into developing its EQ series of electric cars, with the aim of introducing more than 10 EVs by 2022. The company also plans to offer at least one electric option in every Mercedes-Benz model series. Last year, Daimler confirmed that an all-electric G-Wagen is in the works.
The renewable energy industry is primed to enter a new phase of growth driven largely by increasing customer demand, cost competitiveness, innovation, and collaboration. But will challenges surrounding trade and tariff policy require the industry to prioritize risk mitigation tactics? Our 2020 renewable energy industry outlook explores what it will take for companies to thrive in the year ahead.
Renewable energy industry primed for continued growth
For the first time ever, in April 2019, renewable energy outpaced coal by providing 23 percent of US power generation, compared to coal’s 20 percent share.1 In the first half of 2019, wind and solar together accounted for approximately 50 percent of total US renewable electricity generation, displacing hydroelectric power’s dominance.
Declining costs and rising capacity factors of renewable energy sources, along with increased competitiveness of battery storage, drove growth in 2019. In the first half of the year, levelized cost of onshore wind and utility-scale solar declined by 10 percent and 18 percent, respectively, while offshore wind took a 24 percent dip.2 The greatest decline was in lithium-ion battery storage, which fell 35 percent during the same period.3 This steady decline of prices for battery storage has begun to add value to renewables, making intermittent wind and solar increasingly competitive with traditional, “dispatchable” energy sources.
The renewable energy sector saw significant demand from most market segments as overall consumer sentiment remained positive. Renewable energy consumption by residential and commercial customers increased 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively, while industrial consumption declined slightly, by 3 percent, through June 2019 compared with the previous year.4 As in 2018, US corporate renewable energy contracts once again hit new levels, as corporations signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 5.9 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy in the first half of 2019.5
The prospects for short-term solar and wind energy growth appear favorable, with about 96.6 percent of net new generation capacity additions (~74 GW) expected to come from these two resources in 2020.6 With several states increasing their renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in 2019, the industry will likely see mandatory RPS-driven procurement growth through the mid-2020s, while voluntary demand will continue to hit new levels. As of late 2019, at least 10 utilities have announced 100 percent decarbonization goals, and we’ll be watching for that list to grow in 2020.7
Moving into 2020, companies in the renewable energy industry should be mindful of a few caveats that could impact renewable energy growth. Under current policy, eligibility for the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for new wind build expires and the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) step down starts in 2020, both of which have been key drivers for wind and solar growth in the US renewable energy market.
While the wind industry did not request extension of the PTC before it expires next year8, it has requested that solar energy’s ITC be extended to wind projects.9 The solar industry, however, did request an ITC extension. In July 2019, both houses of Congress introduced legislation to extend the solar ITC for five years at its full 30 percent value.10 We’ll be watching to see if this becomes law by yearend or is taken up again in 2020, and whether wind will be included. For sectors that have worked together toward a cleaner energy mix, taking separate paths would likely create new industry dynamics.
We will also be watching US tariff policies throughout 2020. Solar developers are optimistic, since imported panel costs have fallen rapidly and are likely to offset the impact of existing tariffs by the end of 2019.11 That’s good news for growth as long as new tariffs are not imposed. However, the US government expanded tariffs on Chinese imports, most recently including bifacial solar modules, and is considering increasing tariff amounts.12 The wind industry expects record growth for 2019–2020 before the PTC phaseout, but we’re keeping an eye on recently proposed tariffs on imported wind towers from several countries. If these tariffs are imposed on top of existing tariffs on towers and other equipment from China—and existing multi-country steel tariffs—the upward pressure on prices could stymie some new projects.13 Overall, the decline in wind and solar construction costs—weighted project costs fell 13 percent and 37 percent, respectively, between 2013–2017—will likely help cushion the impact of tariffs on imported components.14
2020: Renewable energy industry poised to enter new growth phase
The year ahead promises further growth in the renewable energy sector. This will likely come against a backdrop of increased innovation and collaboration among multiple stakeholders. Renewables are likely to continue moving into the driver’s seat in electricity markets as utilities and regulators prefer them to replace retiring capacity and customers increasingly choose them to save costs and address climate change concerns. Growth in the US offshore wind sector will likely bring multiple opportunities for industry players as states vie for manufacturing and port infrastructure projects. Grid resiliency will also likely be a growing driver for distributed renewable deployment as utilities and their customers increasingly consider renewable microgrids combined with storage solutions. However, trade and tariff policy uncertainty will likely keep the industry on the lookout for risk mitigation tactics. But companies that are ready to innovate, collaborate, and seize new opportunities will likely thrive in a new phase of renewable growth.
In the past decade, the topic of “sustainability trends” has been a subject of great discussion. As we approach a new decade with our climate in crisis, it becomes more important than ever to keep up with and invest in the latest in sustainability efforts- particularly in the world of business. We asked over one hundred eco-minded business leaders what they saw as the sustainability trends that will shape the next decade. Here are the top ten trends they identified. From relying on renewable energy to eating smarter, we were excited to see that they were largely positive and optimistic!
1. CHANGES TO ENERGY PRODUCTION
One of the most talked about sustainability trends is reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy and are the leading contributor to climate change. In the United States, they’re to blame for more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — and 98 percent of CO2 emissions alone.
As of 2017, fossil fuels accounted for 80 percent of the energy in the US. While this number seems depressing, this is the lowest share since 1902! Renewables now account for 11 percent, the highest share since the late 1910s.
This is a promising reminder of the fact that collective efforts to invest in and improve our energy infrastructure are having a meaningful impact, and many of you felt hopeful that solar and wind energy will become far more commonplace in the next decade.
Caio Bersot at EnergyRates.ca reminded us that not only are solar and wind energy technologically promising, the trends towards micro-generation of electricity in homes using these renewable energy technologies is also extremely promising. Whether wind turbine, solar panels or even geothermal energy, renewable energy tech is becoming increasingly affordable. This will probably enable people to invest in renewable energy sources without having to spend too much on installation costs.
2. REDUCTION IN OUR ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Another one of the most promising sustainability trends in business is reducing energy consumption. Electric vehicles (especially to fuel freight transportation), LED lighting, smart homes, and LEED certified buildings were all mentioned frequently as critical areas of forward progress because they change how we consume energy (and how MUCH electricity and fuel we consume).
Catherine Pears at Wavelength Lighting shared that in commercial spaces, the installation of LED lighting is less of a fleeting trend and more of a necessary shift required of any energy-efficient building. Legislation in cities like New York City and Berkley, California are already implementing requirements for lighting upgrades to commercial buildings above a certain size— because there is simply no need to be wasting so much energy by keeping traditional light sources (like CFL and incandescent) in place. Now that LEDs have caught up to traditional lighting in terms of price point, and actually pay themselves back in a short amount of time, the choice is pretty clear: choose LEDs and save energy and money.
Liz Jeneault of Faveable saw electric vehicles as the most promising trend. In the coming year and beyond, we absolutely will see people purchasing more plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Everyone is familiar with Tesla, but automakers across the board are offering or developing more eco-friendly options. Many of the vehicles are coming in the form of an SUV. The SUV segment continues to rise in popularity, as people want just the right of amount performance, comfort, and spaciousness. They don’t want the gas guzzlers of the past, however.
That’s why new vehicles like the Audi e-tron have been such a big hit. The SUV is fully electric, but offers excellent performance. I definitely feel having more zero-emissions vehicle options out there will help consumers make smarter choices for the environment. Reducing our personal carbon emissions is a great way to help address global warming. Since many of us drive so much, opting for a plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle can have a big impact.
Caio Bersot also highlighted trends towards a smart home. People buy personal assistants, motion sensors, smart lockers and bulbs, cleaning robots, and smart appliances all the time. The main reason is that such devices make your life more comfortable and practical. However, brands are starting to notice the importance of adding sustainability to the mix. Smart home gadgets will become each time more energy-efficient, be it by using less electricity or for actively preventing you from spending more energy than you should. This will include smart light bulb kits, smart power strips, smart thermostats, smart energy monitors and even smart curtains.
3. PLANT BASED EATING
The next in our series of sustainable trends attempts to mitigate the environmental impact of our diets. Many responses to this question were optimistic about recent trends towards plant-based eating and meat substitutes. It’s no secret that eating meat has a big impact on the planet. Within the United States, agriculture and forestry together accounted for 9.0 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 (not to mention the negative impact that agriculture has on soil and waterways). What does this have to do with meat? 26 percent of the earth’s land is actually used for livestock grazing and one-third of the planet’s arable land is occupied by crop production used entirely as livestock feed.
According to John Moss, of English Blinds, the rise of veganism is perhaps the main sustainability trend to watch over the next decade. Nestle, the world’s largest food conglomerate, states that “the plant-based food trend is here to stay,” and America’s top takeaway marketplace GrubHub states that demand for orders of plant-based food have reached an all-time high. In fact, GrubHub’s data indicates that orders of vegan food increased 19% in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016, and GlobalData identified a 5% rise in the number of data subjects identifying as vegan between 2014 and 2017.
The ability to eat vegan without spending huge amounts of time and money doing so has also increased exponentially in recent years, making this a much more viable option for people who might have previously ruled it out due to time or financial constraints, which is helping veganism as a whole to snowball.
Sylvain Rochon was particularly favorable towards simulated meat substitute products like the Impossible Burger and lab-grown meat.
The “meatless meat” market is growing very quickly because most people don’t care whether their burger or steak is made of actual meat or not. They like the taste and texture and how it feels. These companies like Impossible Foods figured out a way to put vegetables together to simulate color, texture and taste of meat. Since real meat is environmentally problematic and expensive to produce, most people, taste and texture being equal, would prefer to buy the less expensive alternative “veggy-meat” than the real thing.
Lab-grown meat, once ready for mass production and cost-effectiveness, can be an amazingly effective alternative to real meat, giving rise to designer meats. It is much easier to alter muscle cells in a lab environment for taste, texture, color and shape than to do that on a real live animal. So expect different varieties of muscle cell cultures to emerge as sources for future meats without the need to harvest any cells from animals anymore.
And, just like vertical farming in controlled environments, lab-grown meats can be produced within city borders, near distribution centers. This is all great for the consumer’s health, our wallets and the environment, and it is all made possible by the massive amount of investment made in artificial intelligence plus automation over the past few years.
4. REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE
While many were focused on plant based eating trends, others felt that regenerative agriculture, to support both plants and livestock production, is the more important game changing wave of progress.
Lucinda Cramsey of Moink Box highlights,there are only 60 years left of top soil on this earth if we do not take a step toward regenerative farming. I was born a poor farmer in LaBelle, MO, where I still live today. I’ve seen how big ag. companies abused the family farm, and their land. Without our top soil, we have no food. Without food, we have nothing as humans.
Regenerative agriculture – defined as a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services – is an antidote to our current depletion of topsoil.
Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, meaning that it can feed the planet while simultaneously reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.
Nonprofit Regeneration International claims that transitioning 10% to 20% of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems could sequester enough carbon dioxide to reverse climate change. That seems like a bold claim, but many independent farmers have been astounded by the results they’ve seen. Take, for example, Gabe Brown who moved to regenerative practices on his ranch in Bismark, North Dakota. Organic matter and rainwater uptake tripled while he was able to handle five-times the number of cattle he used to.
With big brands like Patagonia, Dr. Bronners and Justin’s Nut Butters behind the regenerative agriculture movement, this trend certainly holds promise.
5. CHANGES TO OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH PLASTIC
Many felt that the tides were finally turning on our relationship with single use plastic, in large part driven by the growing awareness of ocean plastic pollution and its impact on ocean life, acidification and the food and water we consume.
Louis Watton of Shiply shared, I believe that cutting down on excess plastic packaging has been and will continue to be the biggest sustainability trend over the next decade, and will have a big impact on both businesses and consumers.
The packaging industry is the single largest producer of plastic. In 2015 there was roughly 146 million tonnes of plastic produced for packaging (over twice the amount that was produced for building and construction) and 141 million tonnes of that plastic is wasted – as such, targeting this industry is very important in the fight for sustainability.
As long as high profile programs such as Blue Planet 2 continue to bring attention to the undeniable negative impact such massive plastic production and waste has on our planet I believe consumers will be hyper-aware of the products they buy and how they are packaged.
John Moss of English Blinds echoed these sentiments. The consumer-led drive to cut down on the use of nonrecyclable plastics is already well underway and this is a trend that is only going to strengthen and snowball in the coming decade. We’re already in a position where a significant number of consumers across all demographic groups are willing to call out businesses of every caliber on the needless use of disposable plastics, and/or vote with their feet when it comes to leaving stores with poor plastic credentials without making a purchase.
Robert Piller of Eco Marketing Solutions reminded us that much damage has already been done. [Plastic reduction] will continue to trend, but will it help reverse ecological challenges? Well, that remains to be seen. The damage done so far is staggering, as between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic materials end up in oceans each year (National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis), and 100,000 mammals and 1 million seabirds are killed each year by consuming plastics (The Ocean Conference). Fixing this problem would require every business and consumer to go green in a big and bold way.
6. CHANGES TO RECYCLING AND COMPOSTING
While strides have been made with composting and recycling in the US and worldwide, both have major challenges. Between the China Ban (and our even more problematic recycling practices before the China Ban) and composters struggling to accommodate (and now banning) materials like bioplastic that add no nutrients to their output, our system of sustainable waste management needs an overhaul.
Many responses were optimistic about technologies that can help us improve both recycling and composting in the future.
Jeff Kneal of The Critter Depot reminded us that our longstanding approach to composting (designed largely for yard waste) is not ideal going forward. One of the biggest trends is composting with black soldier fly larva. Black soldier fly larva are create a highly nutritious compost, that performs better than chemical fertilizers. Black soldier fly larva can also compost meat, fish, and other complex proteins, making them more efficient than worms. BSFL will consume and produce about twice their body weight per day, reducing landfill, and the need for large trash trucks. And, because of their protein, black soldier fly larva are also great food sources for reptiles and chickens.
These types of innovations can help us significantly improve industrial composting, and the output from industrial compost.
Most respondents recognized that recycling is essential to sustainability long-term. We will continue to produce goods out of metal, glass, plastic, paper and other materials – and when these items are at the end of their life, recycling them into new useful goods is optimal.
Improving single stream recycling involves three things:
(1) improved sorting technology, so Materials Recovery Facilities can better and more cleanly sort even more waste items into separate, usable materials. An example of an innovation here is that currently needed – MRFs cannot accept plastic bags because they are so flimsy and get caught in the gears of machinery. Investments are being made to better sort this material out at the front of th sorting line. If successful, plastic film (a material that is technically fairly easy to recycle) could start being accepted curbside nationwide!
(2) improving reclaiming and remanufacturing with recycled content, so manufacturers can readily and effectively use the materials. For example, printing on recycled plastic and paper can be challenging. Colors are less vibrant. Advancements that enable manufacturers to produce goods made with 100% post consumer waste that are still excellent for printing.
(3) developing end materials and products that can be made easily with this recycled content.
For example, as highlighted by Ronald D’souza of Angel Jackets, several brands have taken the initiative of producing sustainable t-shirts made out of plastic water bottles, including the significant brand Ralph Lauren. The most notable benefit of such trend is that it replaces harmful human-made polystyrene with waste plastic bottles that would otherwise be dumped in the ocean. “Approximately 18,834,000,000 are dumped in the landfills every year. While, each plastic bottle can take up to 700 years to perish. Although this method of recycling plastic is still in its developing phase, in the next decade, we will witness more products made of plastic bottles, including Jackets, pants, bags, hats, and most wearable and even customers would opt for such items. Recycling plastic, especially for creating something sustainable is undoubtedly a positive step that will help us reverse the looming ecological challenges the world is facing.
7. GOVERNMENT REGULATION AND POLICIES
The single issue that garnered pessimism about progress was the role that governments play in pushing true, long-term progress when it comes to sustainability.
Though globally, there are a lot of countries whose political leaders have made the planet a core priority, many lamented the fact that this is not true of the US’s current administration. Many did, however, recognize that 2020 is just around the corner and that a new wave of optimism could emerge with our next election – [I’m] not at all confident under the current US administration. I’m somewhat optimistic if we see a new administration elected in 2020. Others also highlighted the role that local and state politicians have played in the US to keep environmental progress going during this time.
8. CONSUMER AWARENESS AND YOUTH ADVOCATES
Even those who felt hopeless about politics voiced optimism of just how passionate the next generation of consumers and citizens is when it comes to climate change and marine plastic pollution.
There is hope of the impact this will have on companies and governments.
Dr. Nardia Haigh shared, Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Climate movement is reinvigorating people who have worked on climate change for many years, activist investors, and other social movements in related areas. The breadth of industries affected will continue to grow. Climate change activism is no longer of concern just to energy companies, but it stands to affect all kinds of companies as these activists are consumers, students, investors, entrepreneurs, parents, and leaders. All this appears likely to make climate change a strategic issue for all companies, and therefore competition on the basis of one’s climate change credentials will continue to grow.
Sarah Hancock of Best Company shared a similar sentiment. In my opinion, the sustainability trend that will have the biggest impact on business and consumers in the next decade is the increased awareness, education, and action surrounding sustainability initiatives.
People are and will continue taking to social media and the streets to demand action from governments and businesses on environmental issues. Up-and-coming Gen Z’ers will continue to be important influencers in these movements. Expectations for companies to address issues such as climate change, deforestation, and waste will continue to grow. Consumers, especially younger ones, will increasingly shift their loyalties to companies they perceive to be acting on these issues.
As a result, I expect to see many businesses increasing their sustainability commitments through more responsible recycling practices, efforts to become more energy efficient, and donations to environmental causes. A growing number of organizations will likely take the next step and put in the necessary work to gain B Corporation status as well.
9. THE MOVE TO SLOW FASHION
Sheri Turnbow of Bespoke Southerly was one of the many respondents that highlighted the exciting trends towards sustainability in the fashion industry. Fashion is considered one of the largest industry polluters in the world.
Textile factories produce toxic wastewater, synthetic fibers get released into the ocean through washing, fast fashion has created a culture of disposable clothing where very little is recycled and most ends up in landfills — 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year.
As a result of these issues, we are seeing trends, particularly among smaller entrepreneurial brands to implement systems to reduce waste at all stages of fashion production. Possibly the most prominent of these is the made to order model. Made to order means each garment is made when the customer orders it – so cut one at a time vs. creating vast amounts of inventory that may never be sold. This model also enables personalization and customizations of clothing that is increasingly popular with millennials.
Steven Li of The Rising echoed these sentiments. High fashion, including Burberry and Gucci can afford to source sustainable materials, but brands like H&M will have a hard time following suit. Consumers are more aware of their environmental footprint than ever before, and when it comes to fashion, consumer decisions will most certainly weigh in the sustainability of the brands they buy from. Fashion has long been an industry optimized for the end product. Supply chains often top emissions charts and it’s good to see brands are pivoting to be more sustainable.
As solar and heat pump prices fall, these highly energy-efficient homes are paying for themselves faster. Here’s how they work and why they’re spreading northward.
Home-builder Bill Decker explains some of the techniques used to create highly energy-efficient homes in chilly southeast Michigan. New research shows that the extra cost of making a home net-zero energy can pay for itself in under a decade in Detroit and 11.4 years in Chicago. Credit: Dan Gearino
LAMBERTVILLE, Mich.—On a drive down a country road, builder Bill Decker gives an off-the-cuff seminar about energy efficient homes.
He shifts from carpentry to electrical engineering, and then to theology—his belief that his faith compels him to take care of the earth. Every few minutes, he pauses and points out a house his family-owned company has built.
He has been in business since 1981 and only now is his industry beginning to grasp something he has been arguing for a while: Net-zero-energy homes—homes that are so efficient a few rooftop solar panels can produce all the electricity the home needs—can be built almost anywhere, even in places with brutal winters.
His case is bolstered by a recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute showing net-zero energy houses can make financial sense in much of the Midwest as costs for some of the key components fall. The initial extra costs of making a new home a net-zero energy home pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the report says.
At the forefront are custom builders who specialize in efficient houses and helped to create this market, people like Decker, 79, whose southeastern Michigan company, Decker Homes, is just across the state line from Toledo, Ohio.
“It isn’t just energy efficiency we’re talking about here,” he says. “It’s the whole world. We’re talking about climate change.”
Indeed, housing is responsible for about 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including its share of power plant emissions.
Yet his sales pitch is largely about comfort. An energy efficient house doesn’t have chilly drafts, and the temperature varies little from room to room, and those are things that appeal to most people, he says.
‘It’s the Little Things that Add Up’
Decker parks on the dirt driveway of a house in progress as a light rain turns to snow flurries. In a living room that is studs and bare wood floors, he notes the features that make this house highly energy efficient. The key is making insulation an essential part of construction.
Decker walks to the corner of the room and points out an opening of several inches between studs to allow for easy placement of insulation. Builders call this a “California corner,” which is an alternative to a typical corner design that is much more difficult to insulate.
“It’s little things that add up,” he says.
Zero-energy homes start with well-sealed and well-insulated attics, walls and basements or slabs. They often use triple-pane windows, especially in places with cold winters. Inside, energy-efficient appliances, highly efficient LED lighting and smart thermostats help avoid energy waste.
Their designs often take natural lighting into account, too, and position windows and overhangs for additional solar heating in the winter and shade in summer. Since the homes are sealed to avoid letting cold or hot air in—and cool or warm air out—they also have ventilation systems customized to maintain comfortable circulation.
Decker recently completed his first house with an air-source heat pump, which is less expensive than geothermal heat or other electric options. In cold weather, the system extracts heat from the outside air and uses it to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. In warm weather, the process is reversed, with the system gathering heat from inside and transferring it outside.
He is starting to use air-source systems because newer models work well in below-freezing temperatures, which was not the case just a few years ago. Heat pump advancements are one of the main factors making highly efficient homes more affordable in many colder climates.
This is in addition to a cost factor that affects all climates: Rooftop solar prices have plummeted in recent years and are projected to continue doing so. That is true of battery power storage as well.
In Detroit, Net-Zero Pays for Itself in 9 Years
The costs and benefits of building net-zero houses vary widely in major cities, ranging from San Francisco, where the benefits would cover the costs in eight years, to Philadelphia, where it would take about three times as long, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The largest savings tend to be in cities with high electricity rates and older building codes.
The key point is that energy efficiency pays for itself, which is not the case for many other major expenses in a house, said Jacob Corvidae, principal at Rocky Mountain Institute, a research nonprofit that focuses on clean energy.
“Zero-energy homes are actually affordable,” he said. This is important because many consumers, builders and policymakers are reluctant to consider zero-energy homes because of the perception that costs are prohibitive, he said.
In Detroit, for example, a 2,200-square-foot net-zero energy house would cost $19,753 more than the same house with no solar and typical efficiency. The energy-bill savings would be $2,508 in the first year, and the solar and efficiency costs would pay for themselves in about nine years with inflation and other changes taken into account.
Bill Decker’s son, Dale, shows some of the construction methods used to insulate and seal a highly energy-efficient home against air leaks and energy waste. Credit: Dan Gearino
The Midwest is well represented among cities with short payoff periods. Detroit is second in the report. Columbus ranks fourth, with a payoff of less than 10 years. Chicago ranks 10th and Indianapolis is 12th, with payoffs of about 11 years and 12 years, respectively.
Detroit has high annual savings in part because the city has some of the highest electricity rates, Corvidae said. Columbus’ high savings are in part because the city has an older building code, so standard houses do not have high efficiency standards.
A home with all the energy efficiency attributes of a net-zero energy house but not the solar panels will save customers money even more quickly, the report notes, though it doesn’t provide all of the climate benefits. In Detroit, a “net-zero-energy ready” house without solar would cost $1,574 more than a typical house and would pay for itself in less than two years. After that, the investment means hundreds of dollars in savings for the homeowner every year.
New California Mandate Gets Close to Net-Zero
Net-zero energy homes are a fraction of 1 percent of new housing being built, but their share is growing. Builders completed 13,906 net-zero housing units last year in the United States and Canada, a 70 percent increase from the prior year, according to a report by the nonprofit Net-Zero Energy Coalition.
California was the leader with more than 5,000 units, five times more than runner-up Arizona, where the Rocky Mountain Institute report shows net-zero homes in Phoenix can cover their costs in 11 years.
California’s lead is likely to grow because of a state building code update that takes effect in 2020 and will require solar panels on most new housing and have strict efficiency standards, the first state to do so. The code falls short of a mandate for net-zero energy housing, but it comes close.
Meanwhile, some of the country’s largest home builders, such as PulteGroup and Meritage Homes, are taking steps to offer net-zero energy options. In Cortez, Florida, Pearl Homes is building a zero-energy community that also incorporates energy storage and electric vehicle chargers.
The corporate moves are tied to consumer demand and because energy efficiency is becoming more affordable, said Ann Edminster, a consultant and architect who works with the Net-Zero Energy Coalition.
“We’re starting to see the tip of that iceberg, and when it really hits, it’s going to be huge,” she said.
Bill Decker thinks many more people would want an energy efficient house if they only had someone to explain the benefits. In his part of the world, that someone is him.
“It’s creating value, saving money, helping the environment,” he said. “In the end, you say to yourself, ‘Why would you do anything else?'”