The government is a lot of things. One of them is a building owner. Indeed, owning and operating facilities are two of the things it does most.
According the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an arm of the government – at the local, state or federal level – owns about 14 percent of the commercial buildings in the United States. The breakdown is that about 4 percent of government buildings are federally owned, 24 percent are owned by the state and 72 percent are locally owned.
That’s interesting. What is even more interesting is that those buildings are far more energy efficient than non-governmental buildings, at least as of 2012. The EIA says that from 2003 to 2012 the government reduced the average energy consumption per square foot of the buildings it controlled from 105,300 Btus per square foot (Btu/sqft) to 81,200 Btu/sqft. Non-governmental commercial buildings also moved in the right direction – but not by as much. Energy intensity in these structures shrank by 12 percent, from 91,000 Btu/sqft to 80,000 Btu/sqft.
These are the lastest available figures. It would be interesting to see what has happened during the past two and a half years. On one hand, government mandates are accelerating. On the other, the private sector has systematically grown its engagement with energy efficiency. For many companies, energy efficiency has gone from an important but peripheral concern to a central corporate goal supported by senior management. A reasonable guess is that the gap of roughly the same size still exists, with energy efficiency figures improving on both the government and private sector. While the Obama Administration has been aggressive, it is important to note that most of the study period was during the Bush Administration.
If an assumption is made that the actual buildings are more or less the same – that a law office has about the same energy profile as an IRS office – it is interesting to look at why the discrepancy exists. One answer is mandates can be passed at the governmental level demanding that a particular goal be reached. The top down nature of local, state and federal government make it a bit easier to make significant changes. Another reason, according to the press release on the study, is that the configuration of government property lends itself to efficiency:
More than half of government buildings are located on multibuilding campuses, where energy management and purchasing are often centralized. Campuses may also have a central physical plant, with equipment like boilers, chillers, and generators serving multiple buildings, which is often more efficient and cost-effective than separate building-level equipment.
Federal and private industry work closely together on energy use in buildings. On Monday, the General Services Administration and the Energy Department released a joint request for information (RFI) on ways to “to improve economic and environmental performance” in commercial and federal buildings.
The RFI is seeking new or underutilized technologies for the GSA’s Green Proving Ground and the DoE’s High Impact Technology Catalyst programs. The areas of concentration are smart energy analytics, cold climate heat pumps, fans and blowers, chillers, refrigerants, alternative HVAC approaches and water conservation and reuse. The RFI is open until November 18.
Also this week, the DoE launched the Better Buildings Smart Lab Accelerator. It is another initiative that cuts across governmental and private lines. The program, according to the DoE, is aimed at increasing energy efficiency at universities, corporations, national laboratories, hospitals and federal agencies.
The discrepancy in energy efficiency performance between private and government buildings is startling. The reasons are varied. What is more important is that there appears to be a concerted effort by the two sides to work together to develop and deploy technologies and systems that increase efficiency.