• Courtney Van Ostran, CPSM

LEED Week 2021 Feature: The Future of Renewable Resources and LEED Projects

Updated: Oct 14


As 2021 approaches its end, you may have thought a global pandemic keeping millions of people at home would have increased the consumption rate of energy and electricity, negatively impacting the state of our planet. Surprisingly, the “growth rate in the world's renewable energy capacity jumped 45% in 2020, part of "an unprecedented boom" in wind and solar energy,” according to a report from the IEA (International Energy Agency).


The US EIA (Energy Information Administration) expects that the U.S. renewable energy industry will generate 7% of electricity from renewable sources throughout 2021, and will increase to 10% in 2022. They predict that renewable energy sources will be the second most prevalent source of energy next year, next to coal and natural gas.


Renewable sources of energy are the answer to creating efficient amounts of electricity for our energy-hungry world moving forward. The mission to transform the entire grid to renewable sources is in motion, and will hopefully continue as we find efficient ways to harness larger amounts of natural energy. Creating LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects with renewable sources is one method of achieving more sustainable structures in the AEC industry that are better for our planet.


Vermont is A Leader in Renewable Energy


Creating renewable energy sources has been done before in the U.S., in the city of Burlington, Vermont. Burlington has completely sourced 100% of its resources from renewable generators since 2015!


“Thirty percent of Burlington's energy is generated by the biomass plant, plus 50% from hydro generators, and an additional 20% from wind turbines and solar panels… the city is set up to significantly reduce the energy consumption of its inhabitants, who can notably check their usage online.” - Urbanews.FR


Burlington spent millions on this project when it first started using renewable sources. The vast amount of trees and forests in the state also provided an ample amount of fuel for their biomass plant that replaced their coal-powered plant.


As part of the Building Education Series 2021 with the 2030 Districts Network, James Gibbons, Director of Policy and Planning for the Burlington Electric Department, spoke on Burlington’s resiliency in using sustainable energy sources during the Transforming the Grid to 100% Renewable Energy webinar session.


He notes that the state of Vermont is a leader in using renewable energy sources and has hopes that the rest of the world will eventually follow their footsteps to creating healthier and more sustainable ways to harness energy. Gibbons also explained that renewability is based on retail sales and that it’s regulated at the state level. Any action that is on the pipeline for Burlington’s energy conservation must also receive approval from the city council.


Are LEED Projects Becoming More Common, or Are Companies Avoiding the Certification Process?


Aiming to be a sustainable engineering and design firm in today’s society, Tec Inc. Engineering & Design puts in the effort to be a part of sustainably-led projects that meet proficient standards. Throughout Tec Inc’s history, we have completed 18 LEED projects and have 6 LEED AP engineers on our staff.


When it comes to engineering and constructing sustainable and efficient projects that are LEED-certified, firms must meet 8 sections of credit categories including Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, Material and Resources, Energy and Atmosphere, Location and Transportation, Innovation, and Regional Priority. A LEED-certified project is one that indicates proficiency in today's sustainable design, construction and operations standards.


Many AEC businesses today require their projects to follow LEED certification guidelines and have adopted these standards for their own processes, but choose not to follow through with the official certification. While the actual number of LEED-certified buildings increases, energy-efficient structures are becoming even more common today without the certification.


According to a five-year study by CBRE, “Green” office buildings in the U.S. are defined as those that hold either an EPA ENERGY STAR® label, USGBC LEED certification, or both. According to the report, 11.5% of all buildings surveyed are ENERGY STAR labeled, while 5.2% of buildings are LEED-certified.”


The official certification of these projects allows us to know that each qualification for the certification meets the standards of a LEED project. Some benefits to knowing that a project is 100% LEED-certified are having confidence that the project will fulfill the following goals:


1. LEED projects divert tons of waste from landfills.


Depending on the certification and size of the LEED project, these spaces utilize less waste and materials when being constructed and into its use.


2. LEED-certified buildings are energy-efficient.


LEED buildings ensure that the space can be comfortably heated and cooled with minimal energy usage, and are also designed to minimize both indoor and outdoor water usage. LEED spaces are estimated to use 30-60% less energy compared to a space that is built traditionally to the International Energy Conservation Code that buildings normally follow. These projects also generate lower rates of greenhouse gas emissions into the environment.


3. LEED projects provide healthier indoor environments for the space’s occupants.


LEED standards prioritize the cycling of continuous fresh air to dilute contaminants and chemicals in indoor spaces.


While LEED projects are extremely efficient, they are not required to utilize natural resources. The renewable energy usage of the project is one element in the point scale for the certification rating level.


Another speaker from the 2030 webinar, Jason Kitchel, who is the Business Development Manager at PowerSecure Distributed Infrastructure, described Green Power as being a ‘subset of renewable electricity that represents renewable energy resources and technologies.’ Different forms of green power can be implemented into LEED projects through electricity produced from wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and other hydroelectric sources.


These methods of harnessing energy provide structures with a lower carbon footprint and lower emissions, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that we produce. Transforming the grid to renewable energy using a combination of green power, investing in additional LEED projects, and decreasing our use of limited resources are all things that we can actively work on to provide people with cleaner spaces while conserving the Earth, one structure at a time.


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