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Energy-efficiency expert offers ideas for a greener future

6/3/2008

Bill Rose
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Bill Rose, a research architect in the Building Research Council at Illinois, sees shades of green in our future for energy efficiency.

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
217-333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu
        
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Bill Rose is no Johnny-come-lately to the green revolution. He’s no Pollyanna either.

A research architect at the University of Illinois’ Building Research Council who has served as a consultant on museum and historic-building projects, Rose has long been an advocate of energy-efficient building practices. For starters, he believes residential and commercial buildings alike should be as air-tight as possible, outfitted with double- and triple-glazed windows and stuffed full of thermal insulation.

But unlike many new riders on the eco-bandwagon, Rose has been around the energy-conservation block. As a result, his vision of the future isn’t particularly, well ... rosy. And where others see only green, Rose sees gradations – what he defines as “light green” and “dark green” approaches to energy efficiency.

So, what’s the distinction?

“Light green efforts lead to projected savings, while dark green efforts are aimed at measured savings,” he said.

To Rose’s mind, light-green practices suggest an optimistic outcome.

“Light-green efforts are uplifting, inspiring things you can be doing ... things you can teach to middle-school children to change behavior, and to architects who want to design and deliver better buildings.

“But if you turn the equation around and say, ‘It’s the year 2050; what’s left?’ ... a cloud falls over everyone in the energy conservation business,” he said, explaining that many experts in his field project that “the world’s oil will all be turned into atmospheric carbon dioxide perhaps sometime between 2040 and 2050.”

“If we actually measure and track energy use in buildings, we see that our projections fall short and our efforts are likely insufficient.”

While the masses say they want to conserve energy – dutifully converting incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents, turning off and unplugging appliances when not in use – Rose believes the genie is probably already too far out of the bottle.

“What can keep the petroleum in the ground? Can you imagine going to Mosul, or to Nigeria or Venezuela, and saying ‘yours will have to stay in the ground,’ while others’ reserves will be exploited? That’s a hard sell.”

Despite a less than optimistic attitude about what lies ahead, and little hope that tactics such as sequestration, carbon offsets and carbon neutrality will actually get us to reduced atmospheric carbon, Rose still supports investment in new technologies and research.

“That was true with AIDS: Technology, research and money turned that around,” he said.

But barring the discovery of a cure for the world’s insatiable appetite for energy, going green – both shades of it – is still the next best thing.

Rose groups efficient lighting, thermal insulation and improved glazing in the light-green category, along with wind generators and photovoltaics.

To borrow a line from Martha Stewart, these are all “good things,” according to Rose. However, relying on these strategies alone, he said, results in an Orwellian mindset in which “consumption is conservation.”

“We’re rewarding people who consume, not the people who conserve,” he said.

In practical terms, dark-green approaches, while directed toward the goal of achieving actual, measured physical reductions in energy use, are more challenging.

Such approaches include equipping homes and commercial buildings with “energy dashboards” that allow consumers to gauge exactly how much energy they’re using.

“A dashboard can be connected to a site that can allow someone who wishes to experiment with energy savings to see the actual outcomes of an energy-saving opportunity,” Rose said. “This would take the guesswork out of energy savings.”

Another dark-green strategy would be rationing natural gas and electricity, which, he said, has a lot in common with carbon-offset programs.

“I’m in favor of both – light and dark green,” Rose said. “We’re not likely to engage the public unless we can promote easy, simple solutions that make sense, which means pushing the ‘projected’ approaches. But I’m not sure we can get to where we want to be with projections alone.

“We need parallel tracks – projecting and measuring at the same time.”

Rose would love to see programs developed that would set goals for community wide, measured energy reductions of 25 percent by 2010. He even has a marketing-style name for the approach: “Fourth and Ten.”

Such a plan, he said, would be “feasible ... almost easy.” But in order for it to work, everyone would have to be on board, including the utilities.

“Utilities must reward actual reductions and non-use, but that’s not how they’re structured,” he said. “How could a utility explain this to their investors? Corporations are not set up to put themselves out of business.”

A 2007 Illinois law established the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requiring Illinois utilities to reduce overall electric use by 2 percent by 2015, and a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring utilities to supply 25 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2008 for certain “eligible” customers. Rose applauds such programs but maintains that they still don’t go far enough to encourage people to actually curtail their use of energy.

So, what’s a concerned citizen to do?

“For individuals ... set a target and meet it,” he said. “Collectively, re-regulate utilities.”

Is it possible to be both a realist and an optimist?

“Sure,” Rose said.