Adobe Stock

Technological developments will have a significant impact on the future of decarbonization. These include existing technologies that have the potential to decarbonize much of the built environment and programs, such as Zero Energy Ready Home and Energy Star, being present in almost every state.

Additionally, incentivizing building professionals to use approaches that embrace zero-carbon emissions can help achieve the speed and scale required to meet climate goals, according to a panel during the 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase.

“We agree that we can decarbonize 90% of buildings with existing technologies. However, I would contend that today’s technologies may not meet the speed and scale to meet our climate goals,” Sven Mumme, acting Emerging Technologies Program manager for the Department of Energy, said during the “Decarbonizing the Built Environment for an Energy Efficient, Resilient, and Equitable Future” panel. “In addition, there have been studies that have shown that approximately 50% of emissions to meet our 2050 Net Zero economy goals will come from technologies that are in the demonstration or prototyping phase.”

Since 120-volt outlets are “ubiquitous” in most homes, Mumme said 120-volt heat pumps can make deployment more cost-effective without requiring electric panel upgrades or wiring new circuits to improve energy efficiency. He also highlighted the recently developed thin triple-pane window as a potentially transformational technological development for energy efficiency: The new product has the same efficiency as a triple-pane window but can be installed in the same sash as a double-hung window.

Eric Werling, national director of Building America and director of Zero Energy Ready Homes for the DOE, said the simple adjustment of putting ducts in conditioned space can reduce energy loads and save between 8% and 15% on air-conditioning costs for homeowners. According to Werling, almost half of the Zero Energy Ready Homes in the last decade have been built for affordable housing markets and the first-time buyer market, dispelling myths that energy efficiency is only attainable for higher income levels.

“The average square footage for the Zero Energy Ready Home program is lower than the average square footage for new homes sold in the country,” Werling said. “There are technologies that can get us to Zero Energy Ready right now on the market, and some of the technologies that we have been working on for a while are now getting traction in the market.”

Joan Glickman, Inflation Reduction Act program manager for the DOE, cited appliances such as refrigerators as an area where technology advancement has demonstrably influenced not only function but also energy conservation.

“Technology is about making [products] more exciting, more interesting, [and] more helpful while at the same time addressing carbon,” Glickman said. “The trick right now is taking all these great technologies that we have already developed and making them more user friendly and generally more accessible in terms of cost [and] installation.”

The panelists tempered the excitement for technological developments with the caveat that market demand and workforce capability must also support the growth of energy-efficient technological developments. Glickman said in addition to the workforce shortages present across the country, there is a further shortage of workers trained to complete tasks associated with certain energy-efficient installations.

Each panelist discussed the importance of training and recruitment efforts for the trades, integration of energy-efficient program activities with builders to increase market adoption, and increased communication with the end consumers so the demand can support growth toward a zero-energy future.

“It’s important to understand that it’s not just a training issue. If we spend all our resources training people on skills and the demand isn’t in the marketplace, then they won’t get the job and do the work,” Werling said.