Dual Degree Ph.D. Student Publishes at the Environmental Science Technology  

Building Codes Can Help to Save Environment

 

In an effort to decrease global energy expenditures, more countries are implementing and updating their building codes, for private and commercial constructions. This is the focus of the paper written by the dual degree Ph.D. student Nathaniel Gilbraith, from Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade de Lisboa (IST-UL) and CMU, with his advisor Inês Azevedo and with Paula Jaramillo, both researchers at CMU, that was recently published in the prestigious journal Environmental Science & Technology.  

Titled “Evaluating the Benefits of Commercial Building Energy Codes and ImprovingFederal Incentives for Code Adoption”, the paper explores the social and private benefits of implementing the ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010 in the United States, which is viewed as a stricter commercial building comparatively to previous legislation.  

“My Ph.D. research is quantifying how changes in energy demand can help overcome our energy system challenges and transition to sustainability,” says Nathaniel Gilbraith, explaining that “this research highlights that reducing energy demand can reduce emissions and provide social benefits.” Currently, this dual degree Ph.D. student in Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), is carrying out research "on quantifying the value of residential solar PV in the Portuguese electricity system."

CMU Portugal Program: What is the importance having this paper accepted and published in this journal? 
Nathaniel Gilbraith (NG): This research project was the first project my advisers and I initiated during the dual Ph.D. program. Over time, as we quantified the benefits of building energy codes, we realized that more efficiency buildings can help provide large human, environmental, and climate benefits. For me, it is very important, and I am very proud that we were able to publish this research in a high quality journal and share these results with the community.

CMU Portugal Program: What are the main findings of this paper? 
NG: Our results show that by adopting standards that improve building energy efficiency, not only can buildings save energy but that substantial amounts of emissions can be avoided. The human, environmental, and climate value of avoiding these emissions is on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars across the entire United States. Thus, we recommend that governments consider the social benefits of building codes when determining the minimum allowable efficiency level of buildings. One of the main findings of this paper is related with the fact that social benefits will remain substantially larger than the federal incentive funding levels, when considering projected reductions in grid electricity emissions intensity.

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"This research highlights that reducing energy demand can reduce emissions and provide social benefits." - Nathaniel Nathaniel Gilbraith, dual degree Ph.D. student in EPP.

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CMU Portugal Program: How did you get to this conclusion?  
NG: We found that, in the United States, a relatively small amount of money is allocated towards incentivizing states to adopt building energy codes. The benefits of these codes, however, are substantially larger. This conclusion holds true even when we consider the reductions in emissions intensity associated with recent U.S. laws that require power plants to emit fewer pollutants. Therefore, we believe that building energy codes will continue to provide large human, environmental, and climate benefits will into the future.

CMU Portugal Program: What method and data did you use? 
NG: We used the building energy simulation model EnergyPlus to estimate the energy consumption of commercial buildings (such as office buildings, restaurants, hospitals, and schools) for a baseline energy efficiency level and when a more stringent building energy code is in place. We converted energy savings into emissions savings using electricity production and emissions data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Finally, we quantified the human and environmental benefits of reductions in emissions using the AP2 integrated assessment model; we valued reductions in carbon dioxide emissions using a “Social Cost of Carbon” that estimates the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our climate and societies.

CMU Portugal Program: How is this paper related to your Ph.D. research? 
NG: My Ph.D. research is quantifying how changes in energy demand can help overcome our energy system challenges and transition to sustainability. This research highlights that reducing energy demand can reduce emissions and provide social benefits. I believe we should value, and compare, all aspects of both increases in energy supply and decreases in energy demand in order to move towards a more sustainable energy system.

February 2015