I had the honor recently of addressing members of Congress on opportunities for “reinventing” existing buildings to achieve high levels of energy efficiency and productivity. The morning briefing was hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy. Why existing buildings? Here are the stats:
- There are 5.5 million existing commercial buildings in the U.S. comprising 87 billion square feet. 
- Replacement rate of buildings, demolition and new construction, is less than 2% per year, leaving a vast amount of outdated technologies in current building stock.
- We will spend over $1 trillion on construction in 2015 with only about $50 billion will be focused on energy retrofits of commercial buildings.
- More than $279 billion could be invested in existing U.S. building retrofits, according to Deutsche Bank, yielding more than $1 trillion of energy savings over 10 years.
- Savings potential is equivalent to 30% of the total annual electricity spending in the US and would create thousands of jobs.
These points translate into tremendous potential and opportunity for reinventing existing buildings over the next two decades.
During the briefing, I outlined actions necessary to push forward on deep energy retrofits including enabling policies for point-of-sale retrofits and stretch codes for major renovations as well as programs that provide incentives for projects that take building energy performance to the highest levels: zero net energy (ZNE). I also urged them to work to modify Title 42 federal preemption of local and state equipment standards that have inhibited states from enacting more progressive equipment standards locally. I was encouraged by the participation of our lawmakers and my fellow panelists including leadership from Danfoss, National Grid, Johnson Controls, IBM and others. The examples that were shared demonstrate effective policies in places such as California and at the General Services Administration (GSA) do work to improve existing building energy performance. We need a holistic approach to reinventing of our existing building stock. There is a groundswell of interest in achieving this goal. Enabling policies, establishing incentives to spur projects and financing options, and removing current legal barriers blocking higher standards for building efficiency are the first steps we must to take to get there.
1, 2. http://www.eia.gov/consumption/commercial/
3, 4. https://www.census.gov/construction/c30/c30index.html
5, 6. United States Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits, Market Sizing and Financing Models, The Rockefeller Foundation and DB Climate Change Advisors (Deutsche Bank Group), March 2012