Ed Mazria said that it was “meant to confuse the public and stall meaningful legislation, insuring that America remains dependent on foreign oil, natural gas and dirty conventional coal.” Lloyd Alter of Treehugger called it “one of the dumbest studies that has crossed our screen in a while.” Danielle Sacks at Fast Company wants to “make sure studies like these don’t make it past their press release.” So what, if anything, are we to make of ConSol’s study, prepared for NAIOP, which concluded that the best possible scenario for energy efficiency improvements to a hypothetical 4-story, 95,000-square-foot office building is 23 percent over the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 Energy Standard? While we continue to wait for more meaningful data about the performance of green buildings, I think the study suggests the danger- for both legislators and stakeholders- of relying on energy modeling of any kind as the basis for policymaking or who agree to assist a green building project in achieving certain energy reductions by the terms of their construction contracts.
As you may know, the NAIOP study evaluated a handful of energy efficiency measures as implemented across the same building type in three different U.S. climate zones in order to determine the feasibility of 30 to 50 percent reduction targets over ASHRAE 90.1. The energy model used in connection with the study considered enhanced wall and roof insulations, varying levels of exterior glazing, efficient windows, reduced air infiltration, reduced lighting power densities, efficient HVAC equipment; and photovoltaic electricity energy generation.
The results were as follows:
Chicago: 23 percent in energy savings; $188,523.45 cost increase; 8.8 year payback;
Baltimore: 21.5 percent in energy savings; $165,148.13 cost increase; 11 year payback;
Newport Beach: 15.8 percent in energy savings; $169,898.13 cost increase; 12.2 year payback.
In a press release detailing the results of the study, NAIOP president Thomas J. Bisacquino said that “[w]ith the results of achieving higher efficiency targets differing so greatly across the climate zones, the study reveals that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mandatory energy reductions does not work in legislation or other mandates. It is important that policymakers and others realize the economic consequences that imposing mandated targets will have on the development industry.” As I noted above, many commentators decried the study’s methodology, arguing that it failed to consider numerous other energy efficiency strategies, including site orientation and other passive design techniques. For example, on his blog, Jerry Yudelson said that “It’s all about integrated design; that’s why NAIOP’s study is plain wrong as a general rule. You have to “build it in, not bolt it on, meaning that if you take a conventional building and attempt to add energy-savings features to standard design, it’s always going to be less and less cost-effective to go beyond, saving 15% more savings.”
Regardless of the resulting furor, I think it is important to note the study’s results for a few reasons. First, ConSol used the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus Version 2.2 simulation tool in order to derive its results. The study was based on a projection and not actual data. Second, other studies promulgated by some of the organizations that decried the NAIOP study have also been heavily criticized. For example, as we noted last fall over at gbNYC, NBI’s highly touted study only obtained data from 22 percent of the LEED-certified buildings in the country, compared it to a national database (CBECS) that includes buildings dating from the early part of the 20th century, and then compared the median energy consumption for LEED buildings to the average of the pool of comparable buildings. This study was widely disseminated for the proposition that LEED buildings were performing 25 percent better than comparable buildings with respect to energy efficiency. Interestingly, according to CoStar, USGBC issued a statement in response to the NAIOP report that LEED-certified buildings are “proof-positive that you can achieve 30 percent and greater energy efficiency using integrated design with little or no additional first costs.” CoStar also quoted Dave Hewitt, executive director of the New Buildings Institute, that the study was “artificially constrained to suggest that you can’t get there from here.”
I don’t disagree that integrated design is green design and will likely lead to higher efficiencies, but I do think that one point to take from the NAIOP study, in the context of commercial real estate, is that passive solar design or other integrated design features that were mentioned in the response to the study may not be possible for certain types of building stock. Particularly here in New York City- or in the rest of the country where new construction has grinded to a halt- the “bolt it on” types of green improvements may be the only option. In that context, the NAIOP study may be particularly useful to policymakers who are considering mandating the 30 to 50 percent improvements in efficiency that the study was specifically contemplating. If those improvements are not possible, or are more difficult than many believe, design professionals, contractors, and consultants may also be exposing themselves to significant liability absent sufficiently protective language in their construction agreements. From the lawyer’s perspective, I think the critical points to take from all of this are that until we get studies that are grounded in actual performance-related data, it is dangerous to advocate for policies that are based on energy models. Moreover, I think it emphasizes the importance of transactional risk management – in the form of a fully vetted construction agreement- in connection with green building projects that aim for increasingly higher levels of energy efficiency.
While the results and merits of this particular study continue to be debated, what is clear that building performance, contracts, and risk management will intersect significantly as we move forward during the course of 2009. I am also curious to see what NAIOP’s reaction to the backlash will be – if any – and whether any building science experts (like Henry Gifford and Joseph Lstiburek, whose work we have referenced previously over at gbNYC) chime in.
- Commercial Developers Try to Debunk Green Building (Fast Company)
- A Hog in a Tuxedo is Still a Hog (Architecture 2030)
- Experts Reject NAIOP Study, Citing Flawed Analysis (CoStar)
- Yudelson Associates Blog
- Study Shows ASHRAE 30 Percent Difficult to Meet (BD+C)