Building Sector Is “Off Track” for Emissions Goals, New Report Finds; DOE Needs a Robust Clean Energy RD&D Portfolio
Life cycle GHG emissions of buildings 23
WASHINGTON—The building sector accounts for more than one-seventh of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, not counting its electricity consumption, yet progress in eliminating those emissions has been hampered by research gaps and chronic underfunding for clean energy innovation programs at the Department of Energy (DOE), according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.
The report concludes that the building sector is not on track to meet President Biden’s goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the nation needs a robust research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) portfolio to address the problem.
“Clean energy innovation in the building sector is underfunded, which hinders DOE’s ability to execute a strategic pivot towards energy efficiency improvements,” said ITIF senior policy analyst Hoyu Chong, the author of the report. “This is likely leading the building sector to underperform in emissions reductions relative to the economy generally.”
The report examines the residential and commercial building sectors and identifies the major gaps in DOE’s current RD&D portfolio, including:
- failure to address emissions from hydrofluorocarbons in heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigerating;
- failure to cover the full scope of fossil fuel combustion emissions from smaller appliances, like water heating and cooking;
- insufficient programs to address emissions from major waste disposal activities; and
- a lack of a life cycle approach to embodied carbon.
Buildings are the only energy-related end-use sector in which greenhouse gas emissions are rising and is the largest energy-consuming sector in the U.S., accounting for 39 percent of total energy consumption and 75 percent of electricity use. Consumption trends—increasing emissions, modest efficiency gains, and slow electrification—mean the buildings sector is far off track to reach net zero.
To address the challenge, ITIF offers five recommendations:
- The United States should significantly ramp up investment in building technologies RD&D.
- DOE should accelerate RD&D efforts to electrify buildings, integrate them into the power grid, and retrofit them.
- DOE should gradually aim to increase funding for GWP-free projects under its Building Technologies Office (BTO).
- DOE should phase out RD&D that aims to advance fossil-fuel-fired appliances, expanding support for RD&D on appliances currently not covered, and improving the energy efficiency of these appliances.
- DOE should initiate, scope, and expand collaborative RD&D efforts across offices within DOE and between DOE and other agencies on topics not addressed by existing programs and subprograms, such as waste activities and embodied carbon.
“The nation needs a robust RD&D portfolio to tackle emissions from the building sector—today, it is falling short of the key hurdles of decarbonization,” said Chong. “Besides agriculture, buildings are the only sector bucking the trend.”
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The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized by its peers in the think tank community as the global center of excellence for science and technology policy, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress. Learn more at itif.org