Experts Examine Future of Energy Performance

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Determining a building’s energy efficiency based solely on using predictive energy models and specifying certain design and construction attributes may be a thing of the past by the time the next generation of architects and engineers join the workforce, according to the New Buildings Institute (NBI), headquartered in Vancouver.

Communities and owners want measurable performance data, according to NBI. They want to know whether greenhouse gas emissions are lower, whether energy consumption has been reduced and even whether the building has achieved zero-energy usage. Models remain an important tool, but the actual data after the building is operational is what truly shows whether efficiency expectations have been realized.

Last summer, a group of experts from the construction industry gathered in Seattle, for the Getting to Outcome-Based Performance Summit to examine the opportunities, barriers and next steps that will transition the commercial building industry from estimating energy use, based on models in the design phase, to measuring real performance outcomes, based on actual energy use in an occupied building.

Early in May 2015, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and NBI released the report, Getting to Outcome-Based Performance, which summarizes the results of that 2014 meeting.

“In the past 15 years, we have seen significant advances in the way buildings are being designed to achieve high-performance goals,” said NIBS Presidential Advisor Ryan Colker in a statement. “To ensure we’re seeing the benefits of those goals, we don’t want to rely on energy savings predictions. Actual, measured outcomes matter. The industry needs to use a holistic approach that puts the focus on real performance outcomes in order to achieve the energy efficiency goals expected over the life of a building.”

The push for performance outcomes comes in response to an increasing number of policy goals targeting better building efficiency as a means to cut energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings account for 39 percent of carbon emissions in the United States and are a major contributor to climate change worldwide.

“As design features become more energy efficient, the proportion of building energy use associated with operations increases,” said NBI Technical Director Mark Frankel in a statement. “This means the role of building operators must be elevated and more focus placed on occupant behaviors especially related to growing plug loads. Better feedback mechanisms are needed to help design teams understand how their past projects are being used in order to improve energy models for future projects.”

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