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Energy Code Compliance; Any Relation to Performance?

By January 19, 2015November 7th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

Last week, I received a late Christmas package in the form of an opportunity to throw a pitch for code compliance that would actually move the needle.  This will be at the AESP National Conference in Orlando.  I owe a substantial thank you to ACEEE for choosing papers at last year’s Summer Study for Buildings and this recently published research report, Energy Codes for Ultra-Low-Energy Buildings: A Critical Pathway to Zero Net Energy Buildings.

I discussed the Summer Study papers in a post back in August.  There were seven(!) papers presented on the subject of code compliance.  The lack of information in the reports I’ve reviewed thus far, and the suggested research in the Zero Net Energy report, combine to form my case for what needs to happen.

Here is the problem with all these code compliance studies, and the scopes of work that led to them, as I see it so far: they only focus on code compliance and reporting those results.  Well gee, Jeff, what do you expect?  I don’t necessarily expect more, but the problem is this:

  • To my knowledge, energy efficiency programs are not credited with impacts for code compliance, at least in a direct sense because…
  • Customers are not incentivized for code compliance because…
  • Energy performance is a weak function of code compliance.

Is our mission saving energy or code compliance?  The latter is supposed to result in the former, but I doubt there is a strong correlation.  Every code compliance study I’ve reviewed lacks this key element: how much energy is the building using?  What is the energy intensity of building and how does that align with compliance?

Moreover, what does 63% compliance mean anyway?  One study indicated that it represented a percentage of parameters investigated were in line with code.  So what?  That’s like judging a football team by players’ physical parameters only: height, weight, speed, and strength and how appropriately they match the optimal specifications for each position on the team.

In this case, Cardell Jones, Ohio State University’s third string quarterback at 6’5”, 250 pounds, would be awful.  He’s way out of specifications – too big and slow.  To the contrary, he was amazing, fast, strong, and accurate with the throw as he started the last three big-time games for OSU on their way to the national title.  He throws the football with the ease of a major leaguer throwing a baseball.  In his first game as a starter, he led OSU to destroy Wisconsin for the Big 10 Championship.  In his second game, he wiped out national favorite, Alabama.  In the third game he plowed under favored Oregon by 22 points. But he doesn’t meet code?  This line of thinking doesn’t account for skill, the assembly of the team, or the coaching staff – the whole team, the whole building.

Equipment (widget) efficiencies are reaching their maximum cost-effective limits.  Simply put, some things like motors and boilers cannot exceed 100% efficiency, and saving 30% on the next lighting breakthrough, after four generations of 30% savings each, doesn’t leave much.  Similar to energy codes, percent savings do not matter.  Savings matter.

To research this, I went to our library of energy codes, dating back to 1980 and tracked lighting and cooling efficiency requirements over the years.  I also logged from DOE’s Building Codes Program the energy index (like energy intensity) of past, present, and future energy codes through 2030.  This clearly demonstrates the crash course we are on with actual building performance targets – unless we do a lot more thinking outside the widget-efficiency box.  That well is going dry.

Heard of the “X” factor?  I call this the “1/X” factor.  Improving widget efficiency takes a 1/X shape and bottoms out as shown in the chart. Meanwhile, the code keeps lowering the boom in linear fashion, and thus the collision course.

It must also be noted that the years shown are ASHRAE Standard 90.1 (the code) edition years – and there is a delay of typically a few years between issuance and adoption for state codes.  For example, Iowa is one of the most aggressive states in the country for adopting codes, and it uses the 2010 edition.

Finally, the gap between the code index and the widget efficiency curves has been the widest over the past twenty years, indicating the easy stuff is quickly winding to an end.

At the same time, program-participant facilities haven’t even come close to capturing half their cost-effective measures.

What to do?  The aforementioned ACEEE Zero Net Energy paper lists a few things that are common with our plan:

  1. Address the larger potential energy savings available in systems
  2. Not rely on pie-in-the-sky theory and computer sims (my term) and meet stringent efficiency targets in actual ongoing operation (i.e., actual performance)
  3. Gather data on how energy is dissipated in buildings, unlike any code compliance study I’ve reviewed

These items may cover a third of the plan, the rest is simmering in my brain, which I’d be happy to spill to anyone interested.  Just shoot me an email.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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