The United States can reduce its energy consumption and create more “green” jobs by adopting some of the strategies used by the European Union (EU) and Australia to rate and disclose the performance of commercial and government-owned buildings, according to a study from RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
The study provides several considerations for U.S. policymakers, which fall into the areas of energy efficiency requirements for building codes, energy performance certificates, retrofitting and making operational improvements to existing buildings, using public buildings as a test bed for new energy-saving solutions and establishing energy-efficiency programs.
The study finds that steps taken by the EU and Australia to inspect, rate and publicly disclose the energy efficiency of buildings indicate the buildings use less energy and are worth more when sold or leased.
When examining the recent efforts in the EU and the Australian Commonwealth to promote energy efficiency, researchers focused on five key policy tools: building codes, energy efficiency ratings, the role of public buildings, the training and certification of experts, and the issuance of tradable “white certificates.”
For example, the EU now requires all member nations to have energy efficiency elements in building codes, and the codes must be reviewed every five years. The EU also requires energy performance certificates to be presented for all building sales or rentals.
Some Australian states also require energy efficiency certificates, according to the study. The ratings may be based on a building’s design characteristics, energy performance, or both. However, the study also indicates that many highly rated building designs fail to perform up to potential because of the way they are managed or because of tenant behavior.
For public buildings, the EU requires that energy efficiency ratings be posted in a prominent place, typically at the entrance. In Australia, several jurisdictions have policies that set a minimum “Green Star” voluntary rating for any building that is leased or purchased for government use.
The study, “Improving the Energy Performance of Buildings: Learning from the European Union and Australia,” recommends that public building ratings be based on measured energy performance rather than design characteristics alone.
In Australia, the states of New South Wales and Victoria issued “white certificates” that could be sold to utilities and big energy users who are required to reduce energy use under the states’ cap-and-trade programs.
Researchers say new proposals being considered include a buildings-only cap-and-trade system in which owners of large buildings are given energy savings obligations that can be met either directly, or by buying certificates from better-performing buildings.