Building Efficiency Supports Renewable Energy

July 7, 2016 By Richard Gerbe

Richard Gerbe

Renewable energy is slowly gaining ground in the overall energy mix, but it still faces many hurdles before it can be widely adopted and overtake fossil fuels as a primary source. That’s where building efficiency can step in and provide the backing renewables need to be successful. Building efficiency matters because without it, renewables will continue to face a steep uphill climb as they seek to gain ground on fossil fuels.

Below are several ways building efficiency supports renewable energy:

Addressing the Renewable-Energy Paradox

The first area where building efficiency can support renewables is the problem presented by the renewable-energy paradox, which is when people end up using more energy because they think the source is renewable. Instead of getting to the root of the consumption challenge, which is the general wasteful use of energy across the grid, this paradox can cause more energy to be consumed.

This is where building efficiency can help. As opposed to focusing upstream on energy production, building efficiency focuses downstream on how energy can be expended more efficiently, thus helping to curb energy consumption across the U.S. Therefore, building efficiency is able to counter this paradox, thus providing key support to renewables.

Positioning Renewables Better in the Energy Mix

Curbing energy consumption through building efficiency means that less energy is needed from the grid, and this reduction in energy produced can be applied to power plants that run on fossil fuels. As a result, renewables are better positioned in the energy mix since their share of the overall production pie is increased. In fact, every efficiency point achieved in this manner can help curb energy consumption and bolster renewables.

What’s more, because the energy consumption that’s reduced via building efficiency is evergreen, meaning the savings generated can be applied anywhere and at any time, renewables are further supported in the overall mix. And this backing is greatly needed since in 2015, renewable-energy sources accounted for only about 10 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and only about 13 percent of electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Enabling Renewables to Achieve Peak Efficiency

Renewables are the key to combatting climate change, but because they’re weather-dependent, they can be extremely unreliable, inconsistent and inefficient, thus forcing grid operators to rely on fossil-fuel-powered plants to step in and meet demand. This inability to use renewable energy whenever demand occurs means that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the energy mix.

How do we bolster renewable energy so it can be applied to meet demand reliably, consistently and efficiently? The answer is through technologies that maximize building efficiency by storing renewable energy as it’s produced via battery, ice and thermal energy storage systems. These storage technologies allow renewable energy to reach peak efficiency and meet demand whenever it may occur.

Supporting Renewables in Production and Consumption

Building-efficiency technologies that store energy further enhance renewables’ position in the overall mix by providing key support in the areas of production and consumption. On the production side, batteries can store renewable energy as it’s produced so it can be used at a later time. On the consumption side, ice and thermal technologies that store renewable energy allow a building’s energy consumption that’s associated with cooling to be deferred to when it’s ultimately required.

Further, these building-efficiency technologies that make energy storage possible can serve as the foundation of a future smart grid, which is the platform renewables ultimately need to really excel. A smart grid has complete control over production and consumption, thus allowing the two to be aligned and for renewables to effectively meet real-time energy demand.

In Sum

Renewables face many obstacles, but they can overtake fossil fuels with the help of building-efficiency technologies. Building efficiency addresses the renewable-energy paradox, positions renewables better in the energy mix, enables renewables to achieve peak efficiency and supports renewables in production and consumption. Further, building efficiency can cut energy costs by up to 50 percent and boost overall ROI, which is a topic that will be examined in a subsequent article on why building efficiency matters.

Richard Gerbe is a 2016 Consulting-Specifying Engineer 40 Under 40 Award Winner and Co-Founder of HIGHMARK, a pioneer in building efficiency. For more information, visit: www.highmark-ny.com.

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