Low-Energy New Commercial Buildings

The best-performing commercial buildings in the country achieve energy-use reductions of 50 percent or more below standard practice by successfully integrating multiple “state-of-the-shelf” technologies11 (Turner and Frankel, 2008).12 This represents a huge opportunity for improved energy performance using existing and available technologies (Griffith et al., 2007). To achieve such high performance requires that integration, interaction, quality control, and monitoring be employed throughout the design, construction, and operation of the building.

Barriers to Improving Energy Efficiency in Buildings

Numerous barriers hinder the adoption of energy-efficient technologies in buildings. They vary in their relevance to particular situations and in the difficulty of their being overcome. Many of these barriers also apply to other sectors.

Environmental and social costs are usually not reflected in the price of energy. The price does include costs associated with meeting environmental standards, but other adverse environmental impacts, such as emissions of mercury or carbon dioxide, land disruption, and legal water contamination, are not factored in. Also, the costs incurred by society in defending sources and protecting shipments of oil and other energy imports are not included in energy prices. As a result, more fossil energy is used than would otherwise be the case.

Various types of fiscal policies may discourage investment in energy efficiency. For example, capital investments in commercial buildings must be depreciated over more than 30 years, while energy purchases can be fully deducted from taxable income the year they occur (Brown, 2001).

Some regulatory policies also discourage investment in energy efficiency. In particular, policies that allow public utilities to increase their profits by selling more electricity or natural gas are disincentives to effective utility energy efficiency programs (Carter, 2001). Many utilities also have applied tariffs and interconnection standards that discourage end users from adopting energy-efficient CHP


“State-of-the-shelf” technologies represent the state-of-the-art selection of technologies that are widely available (on the shelf) today.


See also www.gettingtofifty.org for a searchable database of information about projects with energy performance targets that are 50 percent beyond the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) standard 90.1-2001 (NBI, 2008).

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