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It’s impossible to expect commercial developers to reduce energy use in office buildings by 50% over the current standards–and impractical to expect even a 30% reduction. Those are the conclusions from a just released report from NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. The study has created controversy among energy experts, who claim the results reflect a flawed analysis.

NAIOP commissioned ConSol, a consulting firm based Stockton, CA to determine the feasibility of significantly reducing energy use in commercial office buildings. The study was initiated to determine if commercial development could achieve reduction targets of 30%to 50% over the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 standard, the benchmark often cited in legislation and other calls for mandatory reductions.

But the study found that cutting energy consumption by 30% over the benchmark is impractical and that a 50% reduction is unworkable.

It would take most property owners more than 10 years to recoup their investment in the high-efficiency technologies needed to reduce energy use by 30%, the study found, adding that government standards must account for economic realities and varying climates. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mandatory energy reductions does not work in legislation or other mandates,” NAIOP president Thomas Bisacquino stated. “It is important that policymakers and others realize the economic consequences that imposing mandated targets will have on the development industry.”

Energy experts were quick to refute the study. Jeffrey Harris, a vice president at the pro-efficiency group Alliance to Save Energy, said he had major concerns with the study, including its assumptions about electricity prices and the cost of certain “green” features. Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, an organization focused on protecting the global environment, said, “Clearly, this study is meant to confuse the public and stall meaningful legislation, insuring that America remains dependent on foreign oil, natural gas and dirty conventional coal.” And Jerry Yudelson, the author and founder of green building consulting firm Yudelson Associates, said simply “NAIOP’s study is plain wrong.”

ConSol based its conclusions on computer-modeled tests of a hypothetical four-story, 95,000-square-foot Class A office building in three different locations. The models considered improvements in building materials such as enhanced wall and roof insulations; varying levels of exterior glazing; higher-efficiency window assemblies; reduced air infiltration via the installation of an air barrier; reduced lighting power densities; higher-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems equipment; and photovoltaic electricity energy generation.

The model analyzed the building’s performance in climates represented by Baltimore, Chicago and Newport Beach, CA against a standard adopted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers.

In the hypothetical models:

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