Energy 101: Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings

Here's a fact that might surprise you. About 20% of all the energy we use in the U.S. goes to power commercial buildings. Buildings like the offices and schools we use every day. So you can easily see how much energy—and money—we can save when our buildings are as energy efficient as possible. Today's energy-saving buildings are built with an innovative approach to construction known as "whole-building design." The whole-building approach works a lot like designing and manufacturing an automobile—all of the parts of the building are designed and built to work together as a complete system, instead of just as a collection of individual parts. Builders are using these concepts to meet new certification standards. Maybe you've already heard of these LEED-certified buildings.

From the very beginning of each project, a team addresses all aspects of the building's construction. The team includes architects, engineers, developers, and owners, and even the people who will occupy and work in the building. Together, they set goals for energy efficiency, performance, and creative use of space. By adopting this approach, buildings can be up to 70% more efficient than conventional commercial buildings. OK. Take a look at how one of these high-performance office buildings works. It's the Research Support Facility at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The RSF integrates many energy-saving elements into a whole system. Take the lighting system for example. This high-performance building makes the most of the sunlight. The structure's relatively narrow width allows the sunlight to better reach its interior spaces. This daylighting design combines innovative windows, intelligently placed with creative interior design, to maximize the use of sunlight and minimize excess heat.

Here, south-facing windows gather the sunlight. The shades—or louvers—block out the heat in the summer, and in the winter, let in more warmth and light. Daylight, directed by louvers and reflected by light-colored interior surfaces, provides most of the lighting that occupants need, and along with additional lighting controls, reduces the lab's energy bill. Plus, the windows are well insulated—they're triple glazed and low-e rated, keeping the cold and heat outside where they belong. Also, some of the windows are electrochromic and thermochromic, so they automatically darken when direct sunlight hits them—an advanced building technology that controls brightness, glare, and heat. OK, now take a closer look at a work station. Brightly lit by daylighting, the work stations use energy-efficient laptop computers, LED desk lamps, and energy management systems to ensure they're saving energy. Shots of solar panels being installed on the RSF roof. And as with many high-performance buildings, this one not only saves energy, but it also produces energy. Solar photovoltaic panels face south to collect the sun's energy and convert it to electricity.

Commercial builders and developers are using this building, and others like it, as models for new buildings everywhere. And energy efficiency is not just for new construction. Many existing buildings are being upgraded to use a lot less energy—even the Empire State Building has been retrofitted to save energy! Saving energy, saving money—with more comfort. Energy efficient commercial buildings..