Building owners must pursue energy efficiency

In Photo: A façade of an energy-efficient building

AN official of a global lighting company recently pointed out that building owners have an important role in the drive for energy efficiency.

Since energy efficiency is considered the low-hanging fruit in the current situation, he added building owners must do a lot more pushing toward achievement of energy efficiency to help mitigate climate change.

A smart building combines technology and design.

“Today, energy efficiency is improving by about 1.5 percent every year. Simply doubling the annual rate of improvement in energy efficiency to 3 percent per year would set us on a sustainable path, and deliver two-thirds of what needs to be done to meet the bold commitments agreed at Conference of Parties 21 in Paris,” Harry Verhaar, head of global public and government affairs at Philips Lighting said in his essay for the recently concluded World Building Week.

Verhaar also urged the developers to accelerate the renovation of existing infrastructure.  As of the moment, he said the renovation rate for buildings stands at about 1.2 percent, way behind the standard even in developed countries. To create a global impact, Verhaar pointed out developed economies have to achieve a 3-percent annual growth rate.

“Clearly this would require the implementation of new policies in building codes and performance-based procurement, as well as fiscal measures,” Verhaar explained.

A prototype of a smart office

He said policy frameworks also have to be changed and give emphasis on connected technologies for smart buildings and cities.  Moreover, Verhaar financing mechanisms must be transformed to enable future savings, and benefits can be allotted to mitigate the initial investment and renovation budget.

Verhaar said building owners must also be proactive in pursuing the pro-environmental agenda as there are other groups competing for the funding.

“However, organizations can’t just sit and wait for more favorable policies or financing mechanisms. Building owners, landlords and occupants need to start viewing sustainability as the most attractive route to generating financial, environmental and social benefits, rather than just an acceptable sacrifice they need to make for the greater good,” he pointed out.

According to Navigant Research Global Building Stock Database, Asia Pacific is the largest market for office space, with a total of over 65 billion square feet of office space.  This can generate a potential $977 billion of reduced annual rent for commercial tenants if buildings were optimized in line with best practice.  “This is more than the total economy of Indonesia. Europe has a total of $243 billion of potential savings, and North America $220 billion,” he said.

Sharing his thoughts, urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr. concurred with Verhaar that buildings are the biggest energy consumers in the world. Moreover, he pointed out that they consume 40 percent of the world’s total energy, while its construction and operation produce about 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions and solid-waste generation.

“In the Philippines, according to the Department of Energy, about 50 [percent] to 70 percent of the city’s energy is used to air-conditioning units in the afternoon. Imagine how much energy would be saved if all buildings change their old air-conditioning units to the newer one designed with inverter technology which uses 30-percent less energy,” Palafox said in his book The Philippines: Towards Resilient Cities and Communities.

Palafox also stressed that there must be balance in both green cities (passive) and smart cities (active). He pointed out that having plants, several windows and using glass in the design of the house, and new types of air-conditioning and lighting doesn’t guarantee that it will lead to energy-efficient buildings.  He also lamented the sachet approach of Filipinos leads to the development of inferior quality in the construction of houses and buildings.

“Culturally, the tingi-tingi approach is well ingrained in Filipinos. It is rare to see cigarette sold per piece and even cooking oil sold into smaller packets anywhere else in the world. The late National Artist Nick Joaquin called it the “heritage of smallness.” While this habit has its advantages in the short term, this piecemeal approach costs more in the long run, especially when it is carried over even in the construction of our homes and buildings,” Palafox explained.

Palafox also refuted that green and smart buildings are more expensive to build. He said any higher first costs are usually eliminated through reducing operating cost—building maintenance is usually more expensive than construction in the long run if the infrastructure has an interior design.

Verhaar said the potential is immense in terms of the financial gains to be achieved in energy efficiency. By using smart technology in buildings, it can significantly reduce bills for energy, water and air conditioning, and generate even greater financial benefits by improving the productivity of employees through enabling them to do things like find a meeting room faster or adapt the light and temperature conditions at their workstation.

The financial rewards are immense. Analysis conducted by Philips Lighting for World Green Building Week suggests that businesses around the world could realize savings of up to $1.5 trillion in reduced rental costs alone if their office buildings were refurbished to the most efficient standards of today.

Finally, Verhaar said the commitments of the Paris climate agreement are achievable if followed by commitment from governments, businesses and individuals. Nevertheless, organizations could achieve more results if  their employees and the societies they operate in, simply by embracing the benefits of smart technology and energy efficiency. “Accelerating the rate at which they renovate their buildings would be a highly effective starting point,” he added.