Leading in energy-efficient design (USGBC Iowa) | U.S. Green Building Council
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Read an analysis of Iowa’s energy reduction performance in recent years.

"All new buildings are fairly energy-efficient now, right?" It’s a question that many sustainability advocates have heard when talking about the necessity of building rating systems, energy efficiency incentives or updated building codes. Is it actually true, though? Or would a state with a strong energy efficiency program produce noticeably better-performing buildings?

As a former USGBC Iowa Market Leadership Advisory Board Member, I took a look at projects in one of Iowa’s popular utility incentive programs to see how they compared in energy reductions to other areas.

Architecture 2030 in Iowa

The mission of Architecture 2030 (A2030) is to rapidly transform the built environment from a major consumer of energy and carbon producer to a key component of the solution to the climate and energy crises. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been tracking progress toward these goals on a national level since 2010. According to the most recent report by the AIA, progress toward the Challenge goal has been sluggish at best. Only 7 percent of projects that had energy models completed in 2015 met the A2030 goal. More to the point, none of the AIA-reported projects without an energy model met the Challenge.

The AIA’s 2015 Progress Report indicates that two states, California and Iowa, are leading the pack when it comes to average Predicted Energy Use Intensity (pEUI) reductions, achieving savings greater than 50 percent. Surprised that Iowa is on a par with California? What are the key components to Iowa’s achievements? Progressive energy code adoption plays a role in driving the market to higher levels of energy efficiency; however, A2030 challenges the industry to move beyond code requirements to deeper savings.

The Commercial New Construction program in Iowa

For over 15 years, Iowa’s investor-owned utilities have offered the Commercial New Construction (CNC) program, providing complimentary energy design assistance and construction incentives to new construction and major renovation projects across the state. Market penetration analysis indicates the CNC program provides whole building energy modeling to 70 percent of the eligible Iowa market. Energy design assistance uses whole-building energy modeling to virtually investigate the feasibility and effect of various design options on energy consumption before a building is built—when changes are less costly in terms of both time and money.

A recent study conducted by The Weidt Group documented the energy savings achieved by 2010–2015 CNC program participants compared to the A2030 baseline. The study found that 38 percent of Iowa CNC projects met the A2030 goal. Furthermore, only 6 percent of Iowa CNC projects are achieving less than 40 percent savings. This is a staggering achievement compared to the national pEUI reductions reported by AIA during the same timeframe.

The good news is that the A2030 goal—making all new buildings, developments and major renovations carbon-neutral in 15 years—is practicable. From this example, we can observe that:

  1. It is possible to meet the A2030 Challenge with market-rate buildings.
  2. Cost-effective, efficient technology is readily available in the market.
  3. Whole-building energy modeling provides the data needed to achieve high energy savings goals.

Integrated design and early, whole-building energy analysis are key to attaining Architecture 2030 goals. Long-term energy reduction to achieve carbon neutrality will require a continuum of energy analysis and monitoring throughout the lifetimes of our buildings.

Learn more about USGBC Iowa