Thursday, December 31, 2009

Renewable Energy Connecting LEED with International Climate Policy

Above: Offshore wind farm off the coast of Denmark.

By Ed LeBard, Associate AIA | LEED AP

With the upcoming United Nations sponsored Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, several countries are lining up with memorandums of understanding in developing policy designed to lower dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions.

The best way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels is to harness renewable energy either on-site or off-site via green power. Renewable energy is one of the major principles of the US Green Building Council's LEED program as well as the Architecture 2030 Challenge adopted by thousands of firms in the A/E industry.

In the United States, for instance, there is enough geothermal energy to provide the nation's energy needs 2,000 times over; as a result, there are at least 132 geothermal power plants currently being developed in 12 states. With the addition of these new plants, the nation's geothermal capacity would triple. Also, the United States has more than 12 solar power plants currently under development.*

The state of Texas is providing an alternative to its oil and gas production by leading the nation in generating wind-powered electricity. As of now, Texas has about 9,000 megawatts of wind-powered capacity online with more than 40,000 megawatts under way. The roughly 50,000 megawatts total of wind provided energy will be enough to power approximately a quarter million to half million homes annually (between 1,000 and 5,000 megawatts powers 10,000 homes per year).* This will result in Texas leading the world in producing wind-power electricity when completed.

Iceland receives 78 percent of its primary energy from renewable resources, with 62 percent coming from geothermal.27 percent of Iceland's electricity are provided from geothermal power plants, powering up to 90 percent of the country's homes. The country has been leading the world on geothermal power for energy use since 1755.**

Germany is the world leader in solar photovoltaic panel installations with 5,300 megawatts - enough to power roughly 15,000 to 50,000 homes annually depending on the average home user.* The country also has a 15 year advantage in solar panel technology over other countries due to its rigid requirements of natural gas and oil use. For instance, the German government imposes a renewable energy tax on oil, thus raising the cost per gallon to $8. This results in Germans driving less as well as adding renewable energy investments for the country to funnel out - such as increasing the number of solar panel installations, and developing wind power generators.

Relating to the U.S. Green Building Council, renewable energy is one of the leading principles of the various LEEDv3 ratings. For instance, wind power, solar, hydro power, and geothermal, biomass, and biogas energy can all be provided via either a 3rd party facility supplying green power or by on-site provided power. In LEEDv3 New Construction, renewable energy contributes to Energy and Atmosphere (EA) Credit 2-On-Site Renewable Energy as well as EA Credit 6 - Green Power. Both credits intend to encourage use of on-site renewable energy to supply a portion of the building's overall energy load.

EA Credit 2- On-Site Renewable Energy provides up to 7 points (New Construction & Schools) towards LEED. One percent of overall building energy that's provided by renewable energy tallies 1 point while 13 percent of overall building energy provided by renewable energy would result in 7 points. Building commissioning is required to measure and verify the performances of the renewable energy sources.

The objective of EA Credit 6 - Green Power is to include at least a 2-year renewable energy contract to provide up to 35% of the building's electricity from renewable sources. The contract must be based on the quantity of energy used, not cost. In a state with an open electricity market, building owners can pick a Green-e certified power provider. The power provider must be certified and licensed to provide green power in the state. In a closed electricity market, the government controlled utility company must have a Green-e certified program.

Lastly, the renewable energy race has powerful economical implications as well. Using on-site renewable energy technologies can result in cost savings. Rebates in utilities are available to lower the impact of first costs for equipment. The initial costs of installing and providing renewable energy on-site can be offset by life-cycle savings. In some cases, excessive energy provided by renewable sources can be sold back to the utility facility, thus providing profits to the homeowner or landlord. Also there are government-provided incentives for using renewable energy - like tax breaks for purchasing solar photovoltaic panels. Also to encourage development of on-site renewable energy systems, renewable energy certificates (RECs) are available.

By reducing funds needed for fossil fuel power and maintenance, the United States' government and private agencies can divert cash flow to other infrastructure needs such as upgrading the aging power grid, providing net-zero electric car lots powered by solar PV carport canopies, and funding renewable energy research. There is a ripple effect as return on investments on renewable energy would lessen the United States' dependence on foreign resources like oil, thus the dollars would stay in the US. When a nation re-invests in itself through renewable energy and green infrastructure, the return on investment will lead to a booming green economy and at the same time, lower our carbon emission.


*Washington Post, 11/22/09 (Earth Policy Institute)


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