Buildings, Electricity and Global Warming: While Senate Debates Energy Bill, Pew Center Releases Reports on Reducing Energy Consumption in Building, Electricity Sectors

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Pew Center on Global Climate Change releases two new reports on how to address greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings and electrical power sectors in the U.S.

Effective long-term policy in the U.S. on global warming must address greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings and electricity sectors. These sectors together account for the largest portion of our economy’s physical wealth and enable almost every activity of our daily life, but also account for approximately half of our nation’s CO2 emissions.

Two new reports released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change identify a number of technologies and policy options for GHG reductions in both sectors. The first report is Towards a Climate-Friendly Built Environment, written by Marilyn Brown, Frank Southworth and Therese Stovall of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The other is U.S. Electric Power Sector and Climate Change Mitigation, written by Granger Morgan, Jay Apt, and Lester Lave of Carnegie Mellon University.

Long capital stock turnover, regulatory uncertainty and diverse and often competing interests all contribute to the difficulty of reducing GHGs from these two sectors. These reports find that a portfolio of affordable technology and policy options exist to completely transform the high-emitting buildings and electricity sectors to low-GHG emitting sectors over the next 50 years. However, the long lead time required to develop new technologies, deploy available technologies, and turn over capital stock, means that policies need to be launched now to create the impetus for change. Efforts must be sustained over time to achieve the deep reductions required.

"The importance of these two sectors to both the U.S. economy and to the issue of climate change cannot be over-stated,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “This research shows that we can achieve enormous reductions in the building and electric sectors, but only if we craft a clear and comprehensive policy to guide them."

Some insights that emerge from the reports are:

  • Policies are needed to enable meaningful GHG reductions from these sectors. The diverse and fragmented nature of the buildings sector, and the current state of regulatory uncertainty in the electricity sector prevent many available GHG reduction options from being adopted in the market in the absence of policies.
  • Significant increases in R&D and deployment policies are essential if we hope to significantly reduce GHGs from these sectors. A significantly expanded R&D program is needed in the U.S. to develop new technologies, and deployment policies are needed to push and pull available fuels and technologies into the market in the near and long term.
  • An elimination of most GHGs from these sectors is possible over the next 50 years. If managed properly, the electricity sector could undergo a complete capital stock turnover to low or non-GHG emitting generation sources over the next 50 years; while buildings in the U.S. could become net low-GHG energy exporters in the same time frame – but government policies are essential to provide clear policy direction in order to drive the massive public and private investments and choices necessary to enable such a future.

Solutions Series

This report is part of the Solutions series, which is aimed at providing individuals and organizations with tools to evaluate and reduce their contributions to climate change. In 2003, the Solutions series released the first of its sectoral reports, Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation, written by David L. Greene of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Andreas Schafer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other Pew Center series focus on domestic and international policy issues, environmental impacts, and the economics of climate change.

A complete copy of this report—and previous Pew Center reports—is available on the Pew Center's web site, http://www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-in-depth/all_reports/.

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