Around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions derive from the building sector, in fact more than from transportation or any other sector . It’s clear there’s a huge potential in cutting GHG emissions by improving efficiency. The good news is that it’s also the cheapest way to do so! Improving energy efficiency can cut one third of global emissions with investments that largely pay for themselves, a new study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found.
Trevor Houser of the Peterson Institute showed that across rich and poor nations, the average cost of cutting a ton of carbon from buildings was $25. Considering the International Energy Agency IEA recommended a 8.2 billion tons cut in CO2 emissions in 2008, and that achieving that from industry or transportation would cost $210 or $300 a ton, improving efficiency in buildings is really cheap!
Houser listed the well-known barriers that have kept people from tackling the issue: Some building owners bear the cost, but don’t receive the benefits; some people can’t afford the up-front payments, even if they will save money in the long run; others need investments to pay back within a couple years, faster than efficiency can yield.
He also argued that simply putting a price on carbon won’t bring about the change. Rather it was agreed that certain rules and regulations would draw out the necessary investments to meet the IEA goals. In that sense, the world is on the verge of seeing building efficiency in the same way that it sees building safety codes — as the default choice, not a pricey burden. In the United States, it would cost the buildings industry 10 percent more than it would have otherwise spent, but all of it would be recouped. If policy makers fail to make such amendments, it could increase the cost of achieving the 2008 targets by more than $500 billion per year globally.
A new economic analysis found 80 %of the cost of efficiency improvements recouped are within 20 years. Another positive effect, for businesses as well as home owners, is that increasing efficiency in buildings prevents higher energy prices from translating into higher energy costs. Besides, a modern, efficient house offers offers a better atmospheric environment and raises value as well as life expectancy.
Considering the points made, it is not surprising that many experts in the field, as well as ngos and governments, have started to shift some focus from renewable energy to energy efficiency. Fact is, a combination of both will be necessary to reverse the ever accelerating impacts of climate change.