Ready for Lift-Off: Moving Building Decarbonization into Common Practice

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I am always excited at the beginning stages of a new product or project, especially if it’s a brand new area of focus - a “blue water” opportunity that has tremendous potential, but is also uncharted. The first part is easy, you simply have to start moving. Of course, having a goal in mind and a rough idea of how to proceed is helpful. Over time, you need to get smarter and demonstrate the ability to adjust both your direction and strategy to develop better, faster, more coherent ways to reach your goal. If you want to change how the world operates, though, the final stage is outrageously complicated. You have to figure out how to bring lots of people along with you on the journey, even if they are afraid of the water and don’t necessarily want to travel.

We just got smarter and more coherent about electrification and building decarbonization, and I have the paperwork to prove it.

The Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) had the great idea of creating a special edition of the Electricity Journal focused on electrification. They recruited authors with a variety of perspectives and expertise to provide detailed thoughts on how we can make decarbonization happen. The “Energy Optimization is the Key to Affordable, Reliable Decarbonization” special edition is now available and free until the first week of November. A fuller description of the purpose of the special edition with a quick summary and direct open access to individual articles is included in a RAP blog.

Sue Coakley and I had the honor of discussing how to change the market to achieve building decarbonization. We started out trying to write “The Big Plan”, before quickly realizing that we simply don’t yet know enough to be able to do that. Instead, we focused on five things that need to happen to begin accelerating the needed change in “Transforming our buildings for a low-carbon economy: five key strategies”.

The five topics discussed are:

  1. Building as Batteries: We must better integrate buildings into the grid as a resource or building decarbonization will be very expensive.
  2. Accelerate Adoption of Advanced Heat Pumps: A new generation of heat pumps provides the comfort, efficiency, and controllability that the market requires, and must become better established.
  3. Focus on Natural Market Cycles for Building Decarbonization Investments: New construction, equipment replacement, and air conditioning upgrades provide the most cost-effective options for decarbonization action.
  4. Begin the Difficult Work Within High Value Opportunities: Replacing fuel oil and propane in cold climates and affordable housing, in particular, must be addressed.
  5. Local Government Leadership for Building Electrification: Local governments have established aggressive policy goals and can be great leaders as well as coordinating with other actions to change broader markets.

Of course, the five areas that NEEP discusses are not everything. There are other technologies both developed and developing. There are major state and federal policy issues. There are, of course, electric vehicles. We wrote this paper about buildings, technologies, and markets because that’s what we know.

In this issue of Building Decarb Central, I will describe two of the five strategies we developed and provide a bit more discussion. We will follow with the other three strategy areas in next month’s edition.

Other articles that may be of particular interest to Building Decarb Central readers are Joni Slinger and Ken Coburn (both from RAP) writing on “Redefining energy efficiency: EE2.0” which discusses reframing policy and programs to support getting the greatest value from low-cost, emissions-free sources, and ACEEE Executive Director (and NEEP Board member) Steve Nadel’s article on “Focusing and improving traditional energy efficiency strategies” to work with no-and low-carbon resource to meet climate related targets.  

Taken as a whole, the articles in the RAP-coordinated special edition of Electricity Journal provide the best information to date on how to move the U.S. economy forward on decarbonization with a focus on affordability, speed, and reliability.

We offer our gratitude to RAP for the initiative they have shown in advancing the collective thinking on decarbonization as well as the invitation to participate in the edition. We certainly hope that our readers find new and useful information in this collection of articles to motivate and advance your own navigation of the blue water opportunities of building decarbonization.

This blog is part of Building Decarb Central, a series of blogs and other resources aimed at providing a constant flow of information on building decarbonization. Be sure to check out our web portal for more stories, resources, and information.

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