August 10th, 2019. PICTURED: Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, Iowa. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. CC 2.0.
One of the most dramatic early moves by the Biden Administration is his proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that claims will create millions of jobs repairing roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure, revolutionizing the elderly care sector, replace millions of trains and buses, deliver high-speed broadband internet to all Americans, deliver a “renewed electrical grid” and replace or retrofit tens of millions of buildings with higher energy efficiency, among many other hopeful objectives.
In what is termed a “Fact Sheet” the Administration lays out nothing but the theoretical results their policy prescriptions, which remain undetailed would hopefully create. But these are neither facts nor policy, only nice ideas.
Even after a year (2020) that saw the federal budget deficit crest $3 trillion, and the national debt reach $30 trillion, the Biden Administration is showing no signs of turning off the printing presses, and will presumably ask Congress to increase the deficit to double the amount of money taken in through taxes.
Biden ran for President with the pledge he would make large corporations pay more in taxes, and indeed this is how he plans to play for this whopping investment. However his math is wrong, and like other government programs the American Jobs Plan will go underfunded in many cases.
That’s going to be a major problem if his goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 is to be achieved, since like his math on taxes, his math on emissions cutting is nowhere near correct.
Economic hardship leads to increased energy usage, with the highest levels of U.S. emissions since 2000 coming in the aftermath of the housing collapse. With fears of inflation everywhere economists look, spending money may be a bad method of cutting emissions.
Charlie Szoradi lives sustainability. His house, car, travel plans, habits and lifestyle choices all fall in line with his business model of creating a family of consulting firms that specialize in squeezing every ounce of real estate efficiency out of their clients’ buildings.
“Buildings are the real pigs,” Szoradi tells Wal. Forty-per cent is the amount of the nation’s GHGs that he attributes to the cradle-to-grave life cycle of buildings in the country, and sees the 3.4 billion square feet of federally-owned or managed real estate as one of the most important projects in any attempt to cut emissions.
“I want the government, if they start talking about sustainability, to clean their own house,” says Szoradi. “The buildings need more attention; that’s the bottom line, and on the pie chart of what Biden is looking to do within this potential $2.3 trillion jobs plan, for buildings and utilities it’s $10 billion”.
“He’s allocated some dollars, but it’s not clear how they’re going to be spent,” he adds. “Repairing the concrete in the walkway up to the entrance is [maybe] counted as infrastructure”.
Using artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technologies, the family of companies within Szoradi’s Clean-Tech Partnerships treat buildings like living organisms. They use these advanced technologies to ferry information about temperatures, fan speeds, energy use, and more, to maximize energy efficiency.
Szoradi hoped to apply this same strategy to an entire school district, the location of which he kept hidden, by offering it free from upfront costs while pocketing merely half the difference in energy savings. But in a preliminary bid for a contract he was told that the idea would be impossible to get through the procurement bureaucracy.
“They just want to get a part number and pay on the price,” says Szoradi, who was understandably disappointed by their reaction.
If they were serious
Szoradi says that as more details about Biden’s infrastructure plan come out, especially those relating to halving of the U.S. carbon emissions, people concerned about climate change would want to see private, performance-based contracting seeking to increase energy efficiency primarily by reducing energy consumption.
Like setting a thermostat smartly, increasing the PSI in a car’s tires, increasing the speed of fans in the HVAC systems, or using low-flow (or high performance) nozzles for showers and sinks, there are many ways in which unnecessary kilowatt hours can be avoided, and Szoradi believes that the government could do far more to cut emissions this way than through retrofitting newer, more high tech systems.
And as long as the plan is chronically under-funded as economists suspect it will be, the savings in terms of money may be even more valuable to the country.
“I think the frustration is that so much attention has been given to renewables—to making power, versus saving power,” he explains to WaL. “We have tools to manage this footprint of energy, [but] it’s not enough to just buy electric cars.”
“If you’re going to repair the roof don’t just use asphalt, [as] there’re epoxy coatings and things that can reflect the sunlight [and] reduce the cooling load. I have a big fear it’s just going to be business as usual, rather than looking at some of the aggressive smaller companies that are innovators, because they don’t necessarily have the lobbying power to get in front of the government contracts.”
“The bad news would be the same old people getting the money, that they’re not piecing it out to the innovators. The politics of how you win a contract is so complicated, how procurement works, how the bidding process works”.
Szoradi says the best thing Biden could do for the U.S. emissions is by having an audit, using the “sleek, sexy” metric of kilowatts per year, per square foot, and kilo-British thermal units per year, per square foot.
“It’s an unbelievable scorecard: the amount of money you use per year, per square foot. They should do it for schools, and create a giant list 140,000 rows in a spreadsheet and rank the schools so that the ones at the bottom can learn from the ones that are at the top,” he suggests. “They should rank it by agency. ‘Let’s see how efficient you are, [you] have all those utility bills’”.
“There are some scorecards for which buildings are LEED-certified, but all that means is they could have a bamboo reception desk. If you don’t get down to the brass task of consumption of energy you are wasting your time with all the other stuff”.
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