The AIA 2030 Commitment: The Right Baseline

We were stuck. If we were going to make the AIA 2030 Commitment work at Bergmeyer, we needed to know this Energy Use Intensity stuff cold. And we didn’t.

Dee, Bergmeyer’s LEED guru, was at the end of her very long rope. We signed the AIA 2030 Commitment and were beginning to collect Energy Use Intensity (EUI) data for our projects. Her first effort was to compare the energy use metrics of all our LEED Registered projects. But she saw no clear relationship between LEED Energy & Atmosphere points and target EUI. How could this be?

“See what you got us into?” she taunted me.

Remember that TV show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”? If you got stuck on a question you could do something they called “phone a friend”. One of the great things about the Boston Society of Architects is our huge network of professional friends. Some of them are engineers, too. We called Chris Schaffner (new LEED Fellow!) The Green Engineer, for help. Chris stopped by the office.

We talked baseline. The AIA 2030 Commitment asks us to compare our projects’ intended energy use to 2003 CBECS data. CBECS, the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey, prepared by the US Energy Information Agency, is a national sample survey that collects actual energy consumption data on privately owned commercial buildings. The energy use is expressed in kBtu/sf/yr and the AIA 2030 Commitment reporting tool has a pull-down menu with EUI’s by building type built right into it. Easy.

But comparing LEED Energy & Atmosphere points to CBECS Energy Use Intensity data is like comparing apples to pomegranates. LEED E&A points are a relative measure based on energy cost. EUI is an absolute measure based on intended energy use. Sure, there might be a rough correlation between the two, but there will always be “statistical outliers” (I love it when Chris talks like that). LEED E&A points vary depending on the cost of energy. EUI varies by fuel source: natural gas is a far more efficient fuel than electricity. That might be why our all-electric LEED Platinum building bombed when compared to CBECS metrics.

The answer? Use Energy Star “Target Finder”. Target Finder – which can also be used as a reference standard for AIA 2030 Commitment – takes the CBECS data and modifies it based on things like geographic location, hours of operation, and plug & appliance loads. Chris advised us to stick with Target Finder as a baseline and not beat ourselves up trying to reconcile things that were irreconcilable.  

Lesson: there really is a whole lot of variance in different approaches to establishing building energy use metrics. All those calculations are produced by people, and people have different opinions about what should be calculated and how. 

In the end, I think Chris enjoyed the conversation. “It’s good that you guys are doing this!” he said. ”It’s a lot more fun than work!” 

Shh. Don’t tell anyone . . .

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8 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: The Right Baseline”

  1. Great piece, Mike. I also find the AIA 2030 Commitment really helpful in establishing a common baseline that absolute, rather than relative (like LEED).

    But I’m surprised by your comment about the electric building being worse on an EUI basis than a gas building. That would make sense if you’re looking at Source energy, but using Site energy (which the 2030 tool does), the electric building should come out ahead.

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      Hey, Nadav. Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked it. I’m blogging “stories from the trenches” as we go through AIA 2030 in the hope that more BSA firms will sign on.

      Couple posts ago I wrote about discovering that the EUI on an all-electric LEED Platinum project we did came in at 110 kBTU/sf/yr vs. a baseline of 98 from the 2030 tool. We used site energy, too. Still scratching our heads on that one . . .

  2. Stephen Moore says:

    Great Blog post! As I look to push off the dock for another firm to commit to the AIA 2030 Committment these have been great to learn from.

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      Excellent, Stephen! Let me know when you’ve signed and I’ll give you props and a link on the next post.

  3. Peter Papesch, AIA, chair, BSA Sustainability Education says:

    Not having an active firm at this stage of my life, I can only admire the energy and wit that you bring to your campaign! Every little bit of incidental insight that practicing architects can glean for their firms brings the profession closer to actually practicing sustainable design.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      Thank you, Peter, but not being with a firm has certainly allowed you to contribute in many other ways! Your continued good work is much appreciated (and anticipated!), too.


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