Sustainable Buildings

Buildings are one of the major contributors to energy consumption in both the industrial and the developing world. In the United States, buildings account for 36% of the total energy use, and for 65% of electricity consumption. As stated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), "the built environment has a profound impact on our natural environment, economy, health and productivity". Buildings not only consume a huge amount of electricity, but often the electricity they consume is generated far away, requiring a complex and costly network of transmission and distribution infrastructure (the "grid"). While the transmission and distribution of electricity is quite efficient, some energy is lost in the form of heat as electricity travels across wires. Buildings that are able to reduce their demand for electricity and natural gas – through both efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation - are less expensive to operate, place less strain on utility infrastructure, are responsible for fewer transmission losses, and lead to reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

In an effort to reduce the impact of buildings on the surrounding community, the construction industry is taking the lead toward a resource-conscious world through the sustainable buildings movement. Sustainable buildings, also referred to as "High Performance" or "Green" buildings, address the ecological, social, and economic issues of buildings in the context of the community by applying the principles of sustainability to the building design. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has codified the goals of sustainable building through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. LEED provides a framework for designing, building, and operating sustainable structures, and has been broadly embraced across the United States and beyond.

The LEED rating system awards points across six aspects of sustainability:

  1. Sustainable Sites
  2. Water Efficiency
  3. Energy & Atmosphere
  4. Materials & Resources
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality
  6. Innovation & Design Process

  7. The Energy & Atmosphere category alone is responsible for almost one quarter of all available LEED points. There are several technologies that produce energy from unlimited and renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Among those options, solar energy – and specifically solar photovoltaics - is the most promising technology for integration into buildings due to its modularity and simplicity. The growing market for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) represents the one of the most exciting examples of the potential to combine sustainability with intelligent building design.