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Placed prominently at the beginning of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s Energy Report are the following ten recommendations for a 100% renewable energy future:

1. CLEAN ENERGY: Promote only the most efficient products. Develop existing and new renewable energy sources to provide enough clean energy for all by 2050. But in order to make this happen, Architect Katherine Austin of Sebastopol, Calif., assigns responsibility to governments to make it economical for product development, and to stop subsidizing unsustainable resources such as oil.

2. GRIDS: Share and exchange clean energy through grids and trade, making the best use of sustainable energy resources in different areas. Ultimately, says Jean-Philippe Denruyter, manager of global renewable energy policy, WWF International, The Netherlands, “smart grids should enable buildings and their occupants to more effectively combine self-generated electricity—solar, for instance—with grid electricity.”

3. ACCESS: End energy poverty by providing clean electricity and promoting sustainable practices, such as efficient cook stoves, to everyone in developing countries.

4. MONEY: Invest in renewable, clean energy and energy-efficient products and buildings. “Again, governments need to take the lead through subsidizing development and stop subsidizing existing wasteful energy sources,” Austin says.

5. FOOD: Support local farmers and purchase food that is sourced in an efficient and sustainable way to free up land for nature, sustainable forestry and biofuel production.

6. MATERIALS: Reduce, re-use and recycle to minimize waste and save energy. Develop durable materials. “I would add to this that the size of homes needs to shrink in the developed world,” says Austin. “Larger homes take more materials to build, and more energy to heat and cool.”

7. TRANSPORT: Provide incentives to encourage greater use of public transport, and to reduce the distances people and goods travel. Promote electrification wherever possible, and support research into hydrogen and other alternative fuels for shipping and aviation.

8. TECHNOLOGY: Develop national, bilateral, and multilateral action plans to promote research and development in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

9. SUSTAINABILITY: Aware of the fact that eco-friendly buildings may require more up-front capital, Denruyter recommends policies that encourage or even mandate sustainable building. This means developing and enforcing strict sustainability criteria that ensure renewable energy is compatible with environmental and development goals.

10. AGREEMENTS: Support ambitious climate and energy agreements to provide global guidance and promote global cooperation on renewable energy and efficiency efforts.


Retrofit First
In broad strokes, the study claims that a full transition to renewables would save €4 trillion (approximately $5.6 million) per year by reducing fuel used and improving energy efficiency. However, the catch is that significant investment needs to be made in renewable energy generating capacity, modernizing electrical grids, and improving efficiencies in existing buildings.

While green building design is generally applied to most new construction, with a very small, but slowly growing percentage of new construction shooting for net-zero energy–where the home or building generates all the energy it requires to operate–this is far from the case with existing dwellings.

“The major problem we face in housing is the older housing stock, which uses most of our resources,” explains architect Katherine Austin (see sidebar above). A former chair of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Austin says "it will take massive efforts to get the majority of existing homes to upgrade."

Making the point even more emphatically, Matt Belcher, a Wildwood, Mo. -based home builder and vice chair of the National Association of Home Builder’s Green Building Subcommittee, adds, “the vast majority of the places where people live, work and play aren’t new, and in comparison, many fall short of meeting current energy codes. Any solution that focuses solely on new buildings is akin to fighting a forest fire with a water pistol.”

So what can be done to turn the focus toward bringing that older stock up to par?

For starters, the WWF report recommends retrofitting 2% to 3% of floor area every year. Although it sounds ambitious, the paper cites Germany as a case in point that it can be done. They note that the Germans achieved a 2.2% retrofit rate in 2006, and have set an annual goal of 2.6% by 2016.

But where should the retrofit of U.S. homes, condos, and apartments begin? The researchers suggest insulating walls, roofs, and ground floors as the most effective strategy, potentially reducing heating requirements by as much as 60%.

“Adding insulation, replacing poor performing windows and checking for air leaks and caulking can achieve a much tighter envelope,” explains Austin. In fact, “it’s the easiest and lowest hanging fruit to reduce energy required for heating and cooling.”

To do the job right the first time, Bryn Baker, senior program officer for the WWF in Washington, D.C., recommends use of diagnostic-based tools such as a blower-door or an infrared imaging gun, not just for accurate assessment, but also to help prioritize what’s likely to be a long list of green retrofit options.


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