It's no secret that Americans have an uneasy relationship with energy conservation. Incongruous with the American ideal of manifest destiny, conservation has become synonymous with self-denial, hardship, and a threat to the American way of life. Political pundits credit President Jimmy Carter's failed bid for re-election in part to his now infamous “sweater speech” in which he urged the American public to put in an effort to conserve that would be the “moral equivalent of war.” Since then, Washington has been reluctant to include the “C” word in any energy legislation, preferring instead to prod the country's commercial and industrial sectors into energy efficiency with grants and tax incentives, and waiting for the private sector to dream up reliable, abundant, and affordable sources of alternative energy.

Bringing back conservation. In the 2001 “Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group,” the U.S. Department of Energy proclaimed that conservation alone is not the answer to rising fuel prices and the country's dependence on foreign oil. America's best course of action, according to the department, is to find a reliable and affordable energy and electric supply for the nation. However, that report was issued before the oil industry had the nation over a $70-per-barrel barrel this summer. In addition, the damage by Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast refineries has caused severe shortages and price hikes in industrial materials and plastic resins, which use petroleum inputs. These added expenses have made the cost of doing business too high for some energy-intensive industries. As a result, some companies have had to halt or scale back production and lay off workers to stay in business.

To save profit margins, many companies are commissioning new energy-efficient buildings or retrofitting current facilities. In the “2005 PinnacleOne Pulse of U.S. Public Construction” study released by PinnacleOne, a Phoenix-based national construction consulting firm, 60% of public owners in the United States who responded to the survey reported having implemented construction projects with energy-efficient designs in the last year. Green building construction and products are now an $8 billion industry. Taking its cue from the private sector, Congress crafted a national energy policy act that encourages conservation through tax incentives without completely abandoning the search for new sources of energy stores.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed into law on Aug. 8, contains increased goals for federal energy efficiency, encourages standards for state government buildings, funds R&D for energy-efficient technology, and offers tax breaks for efficient commercial property. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va., hails the new policy as a win for the government, industry, and public and is promoting the provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that mandates tax incentives for achieving national energy-efficiency goals in its Commercial Building Tax Deduction coalition. Representatives of nearly 40 organizations attended the second meeting in October. Members include standards organizations, manufacturers, building and trade associations, government officials, and energy-efficiency groups.

The new policy also contains benefits for manufacturers of electrical products. Many of the efficiency standards contained in the law are based on industry consensus standards crafted by NEMA. In addition, the energy bill pre-empts any future state-legislated standards for products covered by federal legislation, meaning that product efficiency standards brought into state legislation by interest groups are moot. But it also contains provisions for developing coal-fired and nuclear power plants and incentives for oil refineries to expand their capacity, additions die-hard conservationists would rather leave out.

Beyond the national energy policy. In a survey by the Association of Energy Engineers, more than half of the engineers who responded listed energy efficiency and management as the most important aspect of the nation's new energy policy, and the majority — 67% — announced a desire for more efficient building and equipment codes. For those interested in designing and installing energy-efficient systems, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) offers its building rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. The voluntary program is a feature-oriented rating system, developed through a consensus process by volunteer USGBC committees, where credits are earned for satisfying specified green-building criteria, such as energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Certified (26-32 points), silver (33-38 points), gold (39-51 points), and platinum (52-69 points) levels are awarded based on the total credits earned.

St. Louis-based Guarantee Electrical Co. (GECO) is one example of a contractor that's put the LEED standard into practice, serving as the electrical design/builder on a 60-point, platinum-certified building for the Alberici headquarters in Overland, Mo. The new corporate headquarters, reconstructed from a 145,500-square-foot warehouse, receives almost 20% of its energy from a 65kW wind turbine and a passive solar panel system used to heat water delivered throughout the building. GECO Engineering designed the lighting and lighting control systems — a first LEED project for the firm.

According to Gary Schaeffer, president GECO Engineering and primary E.E. on the project, in addition to the learning curve for a first-time project there were other engineering considerations. “It's just more intense,” he says. “A lot more involved engineering than you would do on a normal project.” To find products with the required energy-efficiency rating that fit with the project aesthetically, Schaeffer had to research green products on the Internet. Because of strict light-pollution standards, the flagpole couldn't be lit from below. Instead, Schaeffer found a light fixture that fits into the ball at the top of the pole.

Schaeffer admits that most of the LEED considerations don't fall in the realm of the electrical designer — salvaging drywall, aluminum, and glass from the former building — but the scope of work that does can be challenging. The ASHRAE 90.1 standard limits an office building to 1.3W per square foot, but in order to meet the requirements for platinum certification and Alberici's conservation needs, Schaeffer had to design the system to use only 0.7W per square foot. The way GECO accomplished this was to buy premium lamps that put out more lumens than the standard. In fact, all the fixtures operate at 90% efficacy. To complement the headquarters' high-end, high-tech look, Schaeffer used suspended fixtures with both an up-light and a down-light component. “We actually designed to the lower Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) recommendations,” Schaeffer says. “We're at 30fc to 35fc in the building, and I believe we finally ended up with 0.67W per square foot in the building for our lighting load.”

To further extend the energy savings, nonelectrical methods were used, such as daylight harvesting — sensors turning off lights when there is sufficient natural light — and light-reflecting colors were used on the furniture and the walls, although Alberici did paint some of the walls its brand color, red. Dimming systems and occupancy sensors were installed for added energy conservation. GECO wired the garage at 0.2W per square foot. The lighting load for the entire facility is under 0.5W per square foot. To verify the savings for the LEED program, all the lighting is separately metered.

Client-driven conservation. As the price of energy continues to increase, so does the popularity of energy-efficient buildings. Corporations and even cities are now marketing their green buildings as part of their branding strategies. “Cities are adopting strong green building codes as a way to differentiate the city and to indicate that it's cutting-edge, high-tech platform that attracts educated people and companies that want to work in these buildings and be located there,” says Michael Zimmer, member of the LEED Energy and Atmospheric Tag Committee and partner with law firm of Thompson Hine in Washington.

Traditionally, owners have seen the cost of energy efficiency as prohibitive, but according to Zimmer that's mostly an outdated or misinformed opinion. The new energy policy's requirements will certainly drive down the cost of efficient products. A quick glance at the points in the LEED standards also proves measures can be taken that don't cost extra money. According to Zimmer, recent analyses have indicated that the cost increases in the design of green buildings are in the range of 2% to 2.5%, but the savings in energy and sustainability benefits in terms of water, heating, cooling, electricity, and healthcare benefits will pay back that differential fairly quickly. As energy prices continue to escalate, that figure will be paid back even faster.

With 70% of all electricity and almost 35% of all energy used in commercial buildings in the United States, there is a definite opportunity to design, build, install, and manage systems in buildings that are efficient as well as healthful. “What price you affix to that, or the value to that, is a little bit more difficult to quantify,” Zimmer says. “But it is real and it is a growing market factor.”




Timeline: U.S. Energy Regulation in Relation to the Price of Crude Oil

1946 — President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act, establishing the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The price for crude oil is $1.05 per barrel.

1950s — Federal energy policy is separated from public land management. Energy responsibilities are divided between the Department of the Interior, which regulates oil, natural gas, and coal policies; and the Atomic Energy Commission, which is in charge of nuclear energy. The price of crude oil follows inflation at $1.93 per barrel.

1972 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases a study on energy conservation urging the improvement of insulation and glass standards to new commercial buildings. The price of crude oil increases to $2.48 per barrel.

1973 — The Arab Oil Embargo leads President Richard Nixon to initiate “Project Independence,” a series of plans to insure American energy independence within a decade, and establish the Federal Energy Office.

1974 — Under the Energy Reorganization Act, Congress establishes the Federal Energy Administration, which absorbs and enlarges the Federal Energy Office. Later that year, Congress abolishes the Atomic Energy Commission and assigns its regulatory duties to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its nuclear research and weapons work to the newly established Energy Research and Development Administration. The price of crude oil rises more than $9 per barrel to $11.58.

1975 — In the State of the Union speech, President Gerald Ford outlines a set of legislative proposals built around the theme of energy independence. In December, Ford signs the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which provides for the formation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc. (ASHRAE) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) jointly sponsor ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1, “Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.”

1977 — The Senate approves the creation of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to take on the functions of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs in addition to natural gas pricing and regulation, energy regulation and research, and development of all forms of energy, such as coal production, hydroelectric power, and nonmilitary development of nuclear energy. Also that year, President Jimmy Carter signs into law the Department of Energy Organization Act, merging the energy-related functions of various federal agencies, including those of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Administration, and the Federal Power Commission. The new Department of Energy becomes effective in October, and James R. Schlesinger is confirmed as the first Secretary of Energy. The price of crude oil spikes to $30.03 per barrel.

1978 — The National Energy Conservation Policy Act requires utilities to provide residential consumers with energy conservation audits and other services to encourage slower growth of electricity demand and specifies the rate for retrofit of federal buildings with cost-effective energy measures.

1981 — The U.S. House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce becomes the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee's role is to guide the nation's energy policy and regulate the supply and delivery of energy. The price of crude oil holds steady at $34.28 per barrel.

1982 — The Energy Emergency Preparedness Act requires evaluation of the ability of the market to respond to an energy supply interruption.

1983 — The Model Energy Code is established under a contract by the Department of Energy to regulate energy-efficiency criteria for new residential and commercial buildings.

1985 — Amendments are added to the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978, including requiring the Department of Energy to take a test withdrawal from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

1986 — The Conservation Service Reform Act relaxes some of the conservation measures imposed by the Carter administration. The price of crude oil drops to $14.32 per barrel.

1988 — The Federal Energy Management Improvement Act calls for a 10% improvement in the energy efficiency of new federal buildings and for the Department of Energy to establish an Interagency Energy Management Task Force to promote energy efficiency in federal operations.

1989 — The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Competitiveness Act establishes goals for the Department of Energy's R&D programs through 1995.

1990 — The Solar, Wind, Waste, and Geothermal Power Production Incentives Act makes all such facilities eligible for federal support. The price of crude oil is $23.73 per barrel.

1991 — The EPA introduces the Green Lights Program, a partnership program designed to promote efficient lighting systems in commercial and industrial buildings.

1992 — President Bill Clinton signs into law the Energy Policy Act directing the Secretary of Energy to establish energy-efficient standards for buildings, requires that transmission lines be available to all generators of electricity (setting the stage for utility deregulation), establishes grant programs for industrial energy efficiency, and requires federal agencies to install energy efficiency measures that have a payback time of less than 10 years.

1995 — The EPA merges the Green Lights Program with Energy Star, helping businesses improve energy-efficiency in their buildings.

1996 — The EPA and Department of Energy partner on the Energy Star program. The price of crude oil decreases to $12.72 per barrel.

1998 — The International Code Council (ICC) takes over the Model Energy Code and integrates it with its International Codes series as the IECC.

2004 — NFPA 900, “Building Energy Code,” is an ANSI-accredited document that combines NFPA-developed administrative provisions with the technical standards provisions of ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1 and 90.2. The next revision is due in 2006.

2005 — President George W. Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law. The price of crude oil peaks at more than $70 per barrel.