EPA inspires buildings to duke it out for energy-savings supremacy

Monday - 8/26/2013, 5:41pm EDT

Lauren Pitcher, director of communications, Energy Star Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants, EPA

Download mp3

The fourth Energy Star National Building Competition Battle of the Buildings is under way at the Environmental Protection Agency to see which commercial buildings across the country can reduce their energy usage the most over a year.

While people have been trained to make smart energy choices at home, such as using a programmable thermostat or turning off the lights when they leave a room, EPA says those same people forget all that when they leave their homes.

"Where we work, play and learn, we use a ton of energy — in fact, almost 20 percent of the energy in the U.S.," Lauren Pitcher, director of communications for the EPA's Energy Star Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants program, told In Depth with Francis Rose Monday.

Lauren Pitcher, director of communications, Energy Star Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants program, EPA

That energy is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions as well.

The challenge then is finding a way to encourage people to make good energy decisions when they're not at home. The EPA's answer in 2010 was to launch the National Building Competition.

"Every year what we hear from the building managers is that this is the first time that they were able to get other people in the building, so the office workers, management, hotel guests, teachers, students, to actually care about saving energy and start adopting energy-saving behaviors," Pitcher said.

In 2010, EPA had 14 buildings take part in the competition. Now, 3,200 buildings are participating in this year's competition.

"The growth, I think, shows how effective this competition model is at motivating behaviors," Pitcher said. "That first year, we saw nurses and staff at the Cleveland Clinic signing pledges to start taking the stairs instead of taking the elevators. We saw college students at NC State University making a ridiculous number of YouTube videos about how to save energy in the dorms. … We were getting tons of phonecalls from building managers saying, 'How can we get in on this?'"

EPA developed a metric called Energy Use Intensity to measure energy usage across the diverse mix of buildings taking part in the competition.

"What that does is it normalizes energy use across all types of buildings," Pitcher said. "The is a standard metric. It quantifies how much raw fuel a building uses relative to its size and we normalize it for weather. It's a nice way to sort of even out the playing field, and you can compare all these different, diverse buildings to one another and have them compete in this really fun way."

According to EPA.gov, competitors use Portfolio Manager — EPA's benchmarking tool — to measure a building's monthly energy usage.

"In December, we're going to be doing a midpoint weigh-in, and that's when we'll post all of the midpoint statistics and we'll see how all of the competitors are doing at the midpoint of the competition," Pitcher said.

EPA will announce the winner of the competition in April, when it reveils which building has reduced its energy use the most based on a percentage basis.

"We'll also announce any building that reduced its energy use by more than 20 percent, which is a very impressive accomplishment," Pitcher said.

The National Building Competition is not just a way to encourage people to save energy in a fun way, but it also helps people to reevaluate their role in using energy once they've left their home.

"This idea that energy efficiency is something that belongs in the boiler room has become an outdated notion and our program reflects that," Pitcher said.

RELATED NEWS:

Army on track to double President's energy-saving contracting goal

Cool Roofs Initiative helps agencies achieve energy-saving goals