ECW Study Identifies Strategies for Adapting Buildings to Climate Change

Marge Anderson
New study by the Energy Center of Wisconsin identifies specific strategies to adapt buildings to impacts of climate change.

The potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy use in the built environment is substantial. But is mitigation enough to expect of our building design when we can also design for resilience? A new study uses climate data and energy modeling to estimate location-specific building energy use over the next 40 years. The study identifies which strategies best adapt buildings to the projected impacts of climate change.

The Energy Center of Wisconsin studied the impacts of future climate variability on energy consumption, demand and cost at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. As NASA scientists and facilities staff attempt to understand the potential impact of climate change on their facilities, they are also interested in exploring various paths to mitigate the influence of these changes.

The study revealed some results that defy conventional wisdom for this particular location:

  • All scenarios indicated cooler winters.
  • One scenario indicated warmer summers with a counter-intuitive finding of lower cooling loads, because drier conditions reduced the need for dehumidification.
  • Off-the-shelf technologies addressed all of the significant adaptations required.
  • The study demonstrates the danger of averages, because conditions in the study location were significantly different than locations even 100 miles away, where a different suite of technologies may be required.

Under the scenarios tested, annual electricity consumption may increase 4% to 11%, while natural gas consumption may increase 24% to 36% due to colder winters. Peak annual electric demand decreased almost 4% in one scenario and increased by nearly 20% under the worst-case scenario.

Using a building energy model coupled to an optimization program, the Energy Center identified and prioritized the top three technologies to adapt the Stennis campus to projected impacts:

  1. improve roof insulation
  2. upgrade water-cooled chillers
  3. install energy recovery ventilation

We also identified four secondary strategies:

  1. increasing wall insulation
  2. installing high performance windows
  3. sealing air leaks
  4. upgrading condensing boilers

The study provides direction for long-term facility decisions, allowing staff to plan ahead and make cost effective decisions today that lessen the effect of future climate variations while increasing the resilience of their buildings. The results of this research are specific to the NASA campus and location. However, the approach developed in this study could be replicated for other building types, campuses and communities around the country.

This project was funded by NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (grant NNX12AG01G). The entire report can be accessed by clicking here.

Marge Anderson
Executive Vice President, Energy Center of Wisconsin. Chair-Elect, U.S. Green Building Council.

Related resources and references

Impact of Climate Variability on the Energy Use and Economics of NASA Facilities  Energy Center of Wisconsin