Verde Laguna: Creating lean-energy buildings

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an open consensus-based process in which a cross-section of the construction industry participated in the development of the rating systems and credits. Actually, the LEED Pilot Credit Library is intended to facilitate the introduction of new credits into the rating systems.

This year, a pilot version testing launched by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system indicates that Demand Response programs will be incorporated in 2012 into the following LEED rating systems: new constructions, commercial interiors, schools, healthcare (when becomes available), and existing buildings operation and maintenance.

Demand Response is a set of time‐dependent program activities and tariffs that seek to reduce electricity use or shift usage to another time period, by providing control systems that encourage load shedding or shifting during times when the electric grid is near its capacity or electricity prices are high, helping to manage building electricity costs and to improve electric grid reliability.

The intent of introducing DR into LEED buildings is to "reduce regional carbon emissions (CO2) and improve, and enhance the optimization of electric generation, transmission, and distribution resources."

This is important because the "process of generating electricity is the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the US, representing 41% of all CO2 emissions" according to the EPA, and the "residential and commercial sectors are heavily reliant on electricity for meeting their energy needs, particularly for lighting, heating and air conditioning." Industries also consume a significant amount of electricity, according to the same source.

The requirements for this credit are slightly different for existing buildings operation and maintenance than all other systems, but basically the two main options for achieving the Demand Response credit are to have or to incorporate the capability to participate in DR programs through a local utility, or to implement electrical load-shifting measures to transfer demand from daytime hours to off-peak hours.

Either measure would contribute to reduction in peak demand from daytime hours to off-peak hours. Either would contribute to reduce demand for utility power, avoiding typically high emissions during those periods. Shifting peak electrical demand to off-peak hours can result in a reduction of annual carbon emissions from electricity generation, because in most regions of the country the installed capacity to handle peak demand during summer time are older "peaking plants," which are not utilized on a regular basis. There is a strong correlation between CO2 emissions, and the thermal inefficiencies of these dirty plants serving peak demand.

The vision for DR as an electric power source is an opportunity to help meet the nation's power supply needs, an opportunity that California utilities have been exploring with the use of demand response programs and Critical Peak Prices, which is a form of price-responsive demand response to help reduce peaks in customer loads.

As part of the effort to protect the environment and improve system reliability, utilities and regulatory agencies have been implementing means to lower power costs to consumers. Because customer efficiency investments are driven primarily by individual transactions, the utility companies lay out incentives for specific technologies, offering utility incentive dollars for lighting improvements, for HVAC improvements, etc.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings, which account for about 40% of total U.S. energy use and are responsible for about 50% of CO2 emissions, is probably the most cost-effective way to address the challenges of high energy prices, grid reliability, air pollution and global climate change.

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at

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