Energy efficiency has been a big topic this week. On the left coast, the city of Seattle moved closer to requiring that many buildings measure and publicly disclose energy use while on the right coast, New York City passed a package requiring energy audits and tune-ups every 10 years, among other actions.
These steps make sense. But they also seem to bypass a really big elephant in the room: our own, personal energy use at work.
Think about it. When you are at work, you aren’t paying for energy so it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal if you leave the computer running all weekend or maybe run a space heater in the dead of winter. You likely work in an efficient building or you work in an energy hog. But either way, it’s the building’s energy use that gets measured when (or if) it applies for Energy Star status. There is no accountability between that number and your use of energy while at work.
Even energy software programs like this one, look at a building as a whole (though its “eggs” can be located on floors).
But a building as a whole is only part of the solution to improving energy efficiency. The other part, which is consistently ignored, is the users.
See, you never really know how a user will treat a building. Even that brilliant LEED platinum project can turn into an energy hog if everyone in it is plugging in multiple devices or using extra electronic equipment. Architects can guess at how a building will be used but that’s all it is: a smart, qualified guess.
To really get efficient buildings, there needs to be a connection between the building itself and the user. How do you make that connection? How do you get people to care about resources they are using when they aren’t paying for it?
One idea: instead of just measuring the entire building’s performance (which, I know is a feat in and of itself), why not also find a way to measure separate sections of a building and give that information to tenants? That way, users can at least begin to make a connection between the very nebulous idea of “building energy use,” and well…. us. The workers. The people using energy. That way, we no longer have the excuse of thinking “this is a LEED certified building, it will be efficient enough for me.” Or “this is an energy hog anyway, it doesn’t matter what I do.”
Heck, if I had a pop-up system on my computer that was half as annoying as my virus detector that told me when I’m using more than my fair share of energy and when I’m being efficient or even gave me that information on a floor by floor basis, I could understand how much I’m using. Maybe it would get people to turn off their computer during the weekend. Or maybe it would remind me to turn off my task light when the sun comes out (because hey, sometimes, I forget).
So, um…. how do we do that?
Locally, Washington Real Estate Holding’s LEED Platinum (for existing buildings) Park Place is at least starting down this very interesting road. I wrote about the building, constructed in 1971, in the DJC here. In the story, I said Park Place has a new online system that lets tenants, staff and eventually the public
Image courtesy Chris J. Roberts Photography
see its operation in real-time, including water capture, reuse, lighting and HVAC loads. The system measures water on a building level but also measures utility use on a floor by floor basis!
Floor by floor measurement still might not seem like it goes far enough, but it sure is a great start to at least seeing how much you – or you and your counterparts – use compared to the rest of a building. Park Place has 10 floors that are occupied by the EPA. Don’t you think actual energy use will affect the actions of people working on those floors?
What do you think about all of this? Are the politicians on the right track by starting with building energy use? Should that information be made public or is it proprietary? Do I have the right idea? Should we – as tenants of a building – see how much energy we are using or is our energy use not worthwhile when compared with building operation as a whole?
Heck, is there a building out there that already sub-meters individual spaces for tenants to this level?
I’d love to hear from you on this topic!