Local governments have pioneered a variety of policies to increase energy efficiency, and many have started with improving municipal operations. Common strategies include conducting regular audits, entering energy efficiency contracts, and establishing retrofit schedules for existing government buildings. In addition, new government buildings in many cities must meet increasingly high design standards such as LEED and EnergyStar. These efficiency measures often have the dual benefits of reducing carbon emissions and saving taxpayer dollars.
To support reduced energy use by building owners and occupants in the community, local governments are pursuing a range of incentive-based, voluntary, and mandatory policies. Some policies provide incentive for efficiency, while others address hurdles preventing efficiency improvements.
- Energy disclosure and benchmarking programs collect energy use data to increase knowledge of building performance. By making this information public, the voluntary or mandatory programs support the development of markets for efficient properties, and help identify properties well-suited for efficiency investments.
- Energy efficiency financing opportunities help property owners overcome the hurdle of upfront costs and encourage them to invest in efficiency. Programs include Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans, low-interest loans, grants, and rebates. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates the nation could see emissions reductions of 40 million to 110 million tons per year if benchmarking and financial incentives like these were offered in all US cities.
- Strong building codes also help local governments improve the performance of the current and future building stock. Adopting and enforcing them can lead to significant impact: NREL found that if U.S. cities adopted the most recent building and energy codes, emissions would fall by up to 117 million tons per year. While many communities are already taking this step, some are going further by adopting advanced codes that require the installation or removal of certain technologies, or require that existing buildings meet codes for new buildings by retro-commissioning or retrofitting.
- Forward-looking design includes “intelligent” efficiency measures, such as sub-meters and advanced controls to track and manage energy and water use in real-time. Some cities also encourage the construction of microgrids; district energy systems; and waste heat technologies. Together, these investments serve to reduce energy use, lower carbon emissions, and promote a competitive, high-performing building stock in the community.
As cities seek to achieve greater energy efficiency, several strategies have become critical to long-lasting, measurable results:
- Collecting and analyzing data, which enables better decision-making at the building level and across the building sector.
- Capturing the savings achieved by efficiency interventions and channeling them to new investment opportunities. This can ensure sustainable funding streams for additional projects.
- Partnering with non-profits and businesses to gain broad buy-in for policies and leverage local resources, technical expertise and available products. This final step – collaboration between cities, state and federal agencies, and a range of non-government entities – will be key to achieving deep reductions and a true market transformation.