President Obama Announces Nearly $4 Billion in Building Energy Upgrades 

President Obama announced on December 2 nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades to buildings over the next two years. These investments will save billions in energy costs, promote energy independence, and, according to independent estimates, create tens of thousands of jobs in the hard-hit construction sector. The $4 billion investment includes a $2 billion commitment, made through the issuance of a presidential memorandum, to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long-term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers. In addition, 60 Chief Executive Officers, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders committed to invest nearly $2 billion of private capital into energy efficiency projects. They also pledged to upgrade energy performance by a minimum of 20% by 2020 in 1.6 billion square feet of office, industrial, municipal, hospital, university, community college, and school buildings.

The commitments were announced by President Obama and former President Clinton along with representatives from more than 60 organizations as part of DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge. The challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched in February by the president. President Clinton is spearheading the effort along with the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades to make buildings 20% more efficient over the next decade. Such improvements would reduce energy costs for U.S. businesses by nearly $40 billion. Last year, commercial buildings consumed roughly 20% of all energy used by the U.S. economy.

Among those pledging to reduce energy consumption were the District of Columbia, which is committed to a multi-pronged action plan to reduce energy consumption in more than 90 million square feet of city- and privately held buildings in the downtown core by at least 20% by 2020. And Prologis, a global leader in industrial real estate, has made it a key priority to work with its customers to reduce energy consumption in 100 million square feet by 20% by 2020. See the White House press release.

DOE announced on December 1 its $12 million in funding for the awardees of the Rooftop Solar Challenge. The Challenge supports 22 regional teams in 18 states to spur solar power deployment by cutting red tape. The effort streamlines and standardizes permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes, while also improves finance options for residential and small commercial rooftop solar systems. This project is part DOE’s SunShot Initiative, and is designed to make solar energy more accessible and affordable, increase domestic solar deployment, and position the United States as a leader in the global solar market.

Using a “race to the top” model, the Rooftop Solar Challenge incentivizes the regional awardees to address the differing and expensive permitting, zoning, metering, and connection processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems. The 22 teams bring together city, county, and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities, and other regional stakeholders to clear a path for rapid expansion of solar energy and serve as models for other communities across the country. The teams will implement step-by-step actions to standardize permit processes, update planning and zoning codes, improve standards for connecting solar power to the electric grid and increase access to financing. Non-hardware costs like permitting, installation, design, and maintenance currently account for up to 40% of the total cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic systems in the United States.

The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. See the DOE press release, a complete list of awardees, and the SunShot Initiative website.

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