12609339_sUSA: The enduring potential for energy efficient technologies in the USA has been highlighted by US senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Providing the keynote speech at Danfoss’ recent EnVisioneering Symposium in Washington DC, the senator maintained that energy efficiency was the first fuel and the cheapest, fastest way to meet America’s energy needs.

“In the last 40 years, we have saved more energy through efficiency than we have produced through fossil fuels and nuclear power combined in the US,” she said. “When you think about it in those terms, it has tremendous opportunities for savings and could really help address our energy needs in the long term.”

The event, titled The Decade Ahead: Trigger Points to Efficiency, assembled executives in the hvac and related industries, as well as leaders in research and business, to discuss the future of energy efficiency in new and retrofit buildings. Specifically, the symposium outlined the converging technologies and trends that could redefine the way energy is used in buildings and reshape the role of the traditional electric utility.

The US Department of Energy predicts that 75% of buildings are expected to be new or renovated by 2035, which means a major opportunity for deploying energy-efficient building technology. According to symposium participants, these emerging and maturing technologies – such as variable speed air conditioning, solar power, combined heat and power and energy storage – are reducing energy use today and, when broadly deployed, harbour even greater potential to improve building energy efficiency, both individually and in the short term.

According to Danfoss, by optimizing the efficiency of individual technologies and systems has caught the attention of industry, large buildings, and multi-building owners who are becoming increasingly interested in the benefits of efficiency and sustainability. This includes industry’s move toward new, low-GWP refrigerants, and exploits the benefits of “big data” and the connectivity of buildings and technologies.

It is estimated that in the next 25 years, 50% of commercial space in the USA will be new – indicating a dramatic change in a short period for buildings. At the same time, industry is seeking to improve the efficiency of existing buildings through improvements in ASHRAE Standard 90.1, a proposal for which is seeking a 7% gain in efficiency by 2016.

Together, these trends are seen as relevant to the new opportunities emerging for net zero energy and onsite generation/district energy on a broad scale. Ralph DiNola, executive director of the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit organisation working to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings, described the net zero building as the number one trend his organisation sees today. According to DiNola, the number of net zero buildings has doubled in the US in just two years, from 60 in 2012 to 160 in 2013.

Ralph DiNola also revealed that US utilities installed more renewables than the private sector and  in places like Hawaii, Arizona, New York, and California, the cost of solar and storage has now dipped below the cost of retail electricity.

David Ulmer, project manager at EnergyCAP, a producer of energy management software, suggested that building owners could actually be paid to reduce energy costs. By reducing consumption on those days of the year when demand is highest, he suggested that the United States could save energy and billions of dollars in transmission and generation investment.

“Market designs can help incentivise certain behaviour, causing electricity demand to respond when conservation is needed most. Building owners and consumers can see significant utility savings and make some real money,” he said.