Of all the benefits of building green, energy efficiency holds the greatest payoff. As your development does its part to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, you save on construction costs and residents watch utility bills drop.
Green homes consistently use a third less energy than traditional construction, making energy efficiency the cornerstone of your high performance development. If all buildings met today's leading green standards, U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions would drop nearly 15 percent. Electricity demand would drop even more, cutting air pollution from power plants and helping offset utility bill hikes for all consumers.
The savings to affordable housing owners and residents matter even more. Their budgets cannot support rapidly rising gas and electricity prices. Utility bills are the second most likely reason low income families default on their mortgage or miss their rent payments. Therefore, when you build energy efficient homes, you keep residents comfortable while keeping their bills in check and making it more likely that they will be able to rent or own that home for the long-term.
Energy efficiency is also your ticket to lower construction costs with fewer environmental impacts. When you take advantage of the sun and wind and construct a high-performance building envelope, you can right-size HVAC systems and save money and materials upfront. Smaller mechanical systems and energy saving features (like centralized laundry rooms and boilers) save space and allow for a more compact building footprint with reduced site impacts, such as minimized stormwater runoff and limited urban 'heat island' effect.
As your buildings become more and more efficient, the next level of efficiency--power generation onsite-- becomes more and more feasible. Only 30 percent of a power plant's production makes it to the average home. You can more than double that with onsite generation, whether photovoltaic panels, microturbines, or fuel cells. These technologies remain expensive, but state and local grant programs are available to cover a portion of the cost. At a neighborhood scale, microturbines, fuel cells, and waste to energy digesters can be great options.
Building Solutions to Climate Change, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Buildings and Climate Change, US Green Building Council