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Making Old Commercial Buildings Better Than New

Commercial BuildingsBuildings are the ultimate end-users for 68 percent of coal and 55 percent of natural gas in the U.S., and accounted for about 39 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions in 2009. If America’s buildings were a separate country, they would be the third biggest energy user behind China and the U.S. The annual cost to power this sector is $400 billion—as much as we spent on Medicare in 2009—and much of that is wasted.

RMI sees energy efficiency as the key to reducing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions in the built environment, offering a huge, yet-to-be exploited opportunity to reap economic and social benefits, including a cleaner and healthier environment, local jobs, and a revitalized economy.

Based on the analysis RMI conducted for Reinventing Fire, 80 percent of today’s commercial square footage will be standing and operating in 2030, and 65 percent will be in place in 2050. At current trend and performance levels, fossil fuel use in commercial buildings will increase, not decrease, by 2050.

Our RetroFit initiative is driving the widespread adoption of deep energy retrofits—or retrofits that save at least 50 percent of energy over current usage—in existing U.S. commercial buildings. Our vision is a commercial building stock that is efficient, healthy, productive, and secure—and one that supports a new, low-carbon electricity system.

While most industry efforts are focused on scaling up shallow retrofits, we believe the most effective way to capture all cost effective savings and realize long term goals is via deep retrofits. Deep energy retrofits that improve upon the health, productivity, and operating and capital costs of buildings must become a viable product in the real estate world.

RMI Pioneers Going Deep

Empire State BuildingIn 2008, RMI and its world-class partners developed an integrated sustainability program, including energy efficiency retrofit measures, for the Empire State Building in New York City. RMI brought its whole-systems approach to the project while serving as a design partner and technical peer reviewer.

Today, the retrofit is saving 38 percent of the building’s energy and $4.4 million annually. RMI’s pioneering retrofit of this iconic building now serves as a model throughout the world for deep retrofit projects, of both new and historic buildings, and demonstrates the financial opportunities of a comprehensive retrofit program when coordinated with infrastructure upgrades.

We’re also working with the U.S. General Services Administration on a deep retrofit of the Byron G. Rogers Federal Office Building in Denver, Colorado. On track to reduce the building's energy use by 70 percent, the building will become one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the country.

By working with “ecosystem changers”—including large portfolio owners, ESCOs, mechanical engineering firms and architects—RMI is aiming to drive demand for deep retrofits and the capacity of industry practitioners to perform them. Our unique contribution is to reduce the risk and demonstrate the value of deep retrofits to increase market uptake.

Scaling Deep Retrofits

The proven success of the Empire State Building retrofit and of the anticipated Byron Rogers Federal Office Building retrofit is cause for celebration. But it begs the question: If we can reap exceptional energy cost savings from taking a whole-buildings perspective in an individual building, what can we gain from deploying a whole-systems approach to energy savings across entire portfolios?

RMI is working with partners such as the global telecommunications giant AT&T and the Exchange, the U.S. Department of Defense’s oldest and largest retailer, through our Portfolio Energy RetroFit Challenge to demonstrate that very low energy use is both technically feasible and financially prudent. Each project will set the foundation for owners to roll out energy efficiency measures and retrofits throughout their portfolio, providing targets, best practices, and other strategies for screening, phasing, and implementing improvements more deeply and cost effectively.

The Portfolio Energy Challenge is intended to be a model for companies to select efficiency improvements that support important corporate real estate goals, such as delivering greater energy and cost savings, improving space utilization and occupant productivity, and increased tenant attraction and retention.

Invest With Us in a Brighter Energy Future

Earth BuildingsAmerica’s 120 million buildings are staggeringly diverse, and upgrading them can only be done one building at a time. There are huge barriers, primarily from an overall lack of awareness among building owners and occupants of the many benefits of energy efficiency.

The challenge is to dramatically accelerate these nascent trends. That will take both a leap in awareness of the potential for efficiency gains and leadership from energy service companies, building owners, regulators, politicians, and consumers.

If successful, an energy efficiency revolution could revitalize the real-estate sector, create jobs, and help to rejuvenate the national economy—in addition to dramatically reducing the need for fossil fuels.

Will you be part of it?

Building image courtesy of Shutterstock.comEmpire State Building courtesy of gagliardifoto / Shutterstock.com. Image of earth with buildings courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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