Reality check: Is green arrogant?

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By Elisa Wood

June 25, 2009

During a recent interview, a utility executive used the phrase “the arrogance of renewable energy.” He was talking about the need to keep costs in check and implying that green energy businesses do not.

The executive asked that I not attach his name to the phrase. He was afraid he would anger those in the renewable energy world with whom he does business. Not so long ago, utilities publicly criticized renewable energy without a second thought. His reticence to do so underscored to me just how powerful the green energy movement has become in the United States. From town councilors up to the US President, the political official is rare who does not back green energy.

To quote FDR, with power comes responsibility. In a world where green energy is receiving unprecedented public funds, the industry needs to ensure that public money is not squandered.

For energy efficiency, this means accurate measurement of savings, particularly in performance contracting. No fudging. Fortunately, the IT world increasingly offers technology that can pinpoint with accuracy if energy efficient motors, fans, lighting and other equipment lives up to its promise.

Equally important, organizations like ASHRAE and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are looking for more meaningful ways to quantify energy savings.

Green designs that work in theory do not always work in practice. An empty building does always behave the same way as a building with people filling the space. That is why the US Green Building Council plans to require operational performance data on a recurring basis as a precondition for LEED certification.

“Today there is all too often a disconnect, or performance gap, between the energy modeling done during the design phase and what actually happens during daily operation after the building is constructed,” said Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED, U.S. Green Building Council. “We’re convinced that ongoing monitoring and reporting of data is the single best way to drive higher building performance because it will bring to light external issues such as occupant behavior or unanticipated building usage patterns, all key factors that influence performance.”

Horst added: “Similar to the sticker on a new car that says the car will get 30 miles to the gallon — the car is calibrated to perform, but it’s also reliant on the driver’s habits.”

Meanwhile, ASHRAE is working on a prototype label, or “Building EQ” that measures energy use in a building in two ways. A new building initially receives an asset rating, based on its design. After its performance is monitored for a year and data is collected on actual energy use, the building becomes eligible for an operational rating

“When potential building tenants and owners have information on the properties they are interested in, they can understand the full cost of their investment and place a value on the energy efficiency of a building. ASHRAE’s label will help building owners differentiate their product in a technically sound manner while providing tenants with the tools they need to select energy-efficient spaces,” said Ron Jarnagin, who chairs the committee developing the label.

Accurate measuring and monitoring increasingly seems to be the name of the game in a world where use of public funds demands accountability. Performance labels are a far better alternative for the green energy world than labels of arrogance.

Visit Elisa Wood at and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. I am encouraged that the USGBC is taking a stronger stance on stressing and encouraging the measurement and verification of these green building designs. Also, an important thing that the industry (read: engineers) needs to understand that most green buildings are not being operated by the most technical people. These advanced systems and complex sequences ultimately act as the systems own downfall in terms of efficiency.