Green Building Priority #1 – Reduce Energy Use
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Air pollution over Denver. Most of this pollution is from fossil fuel combustion. Photo: Warren Gretz, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Click on image to enlarge. Number-one on my top-10 list of green building priorities is to reduce our cons... In Nigeria, which is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, there are an average of 300 oil spills per year, most of them generating little if any attention. Indeed, parts of the Niger Delta have become veritable oil lagoons, devoid of life. As the world's largest consumer of oil, we in the United States bear significant responsibility for this environmental damage. Here in North America, development of the Athabascan oil sands in Alberta, Canada, is not only devastating vast swaths of northern forest, but also dramatically increasing the "global warming intensity" of that oil consumption. In other words, due to the energy intensity of extraction and processing, a gallon of Athabascan oil has higher global warming potential than a gallon of oil that is pumped out of the ground. Canada is currently the largest exporter of oil to the U.S., and about one million gallons per day of that comes from the Athabascan oil sands. To feed our nation's 600 coal-fired power plants, we're removing mountaintops in West Virginia, wreaking environmental destruction on an untold scale in those areas. Our coal-fired power plants, with a peak capacity of about 335,00 megawatts (MW), generate 48.5% of all U.S. electricity--so when we reduce our consumption of electricity, we help to reduce the impacts associated with coal extraction and combustion. Along with carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, there are direct air pollution emissions as well. We've cleaned up power plants a lot, but they are still a leading source of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulates. Beyond environmental impacts of our energy consumption are the military costs of ensuring access to Middle Eastern oil, and the terrorism risks posed by our power generation and energy distribution systems. Oil and natural gas pipelines, refineries, power plants, and electricity distribution lines present significant vulnerability to terrorists who want to inflict economic damage to America. As I argued in an Environmental Building News editorial , I believe the Achilles heal of nuclear power isn't accidental spills or even long-term waste storage, but rather the risk of terrorism. The bottom line is that conventional energy sources carry significant environmental burdens, hidden economic costs, and looming terrorism risks. Thus, I believe the number-one priority in green building is to reduce energy consumption. How we do that is the subject of this ongoing Energy Solutions blog. Opportunities range from building highly insulated homes, to installing more efficient fluorescent and LED lighting, operating our homes and appliances for maximum efficiency, conserving water (which saves energy), using renewable energy systems to reduce our need for conventional fuels and electricity, and driving our cars less. The great thing about using less energy is that you get paid for doing it. Most of the measures to reduce energy use pay for themselves--some very quickly. You get rewarded financially and you can feel good about doing the right thing for the environment. To summarize, here's my top-10 list of green building priorities: #2. href="http: /www.buildinggreen.com/live/index.cfm/2010/11/9/Green-Building-Priority-2--Reduce-Water-Use">Reduce water use #3. Ensure a healthy indoor environment #4. Reduce the need for driving #5. Build smaller and optimize materials use #6. Ensure durability and reuse existing buildings #7. Protect and restore the site #8. Use green products #9. Create resilient, climate-adapted buildings #10. Make it easy for homeowners to be green In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex contributes to the weekly blog BuildingGreen Product of the Week , which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. You can sign up to receive notices of these blogs by e-mail--enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner of any blog page. Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News . To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed .