Daniel Kammen is an internationally known energy expert, and former Chief Technical Specialist of the World Bank’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. Kammen is a professor at the University of California – Berkeley’s Energy and Resources group. His
Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) models low-carbon energy transitions from the regional to the household scale. Professor Kammen was educated in physics at Cornell and Harvard, and has more than 200 academic publications to his name. FuturArc US correspondent Jalel Sager caught up with him recently in his Berkeley office.
JS: If you could talk a little bit about your experience in the building energy sector and what kind of work you’ve done in the past.
DK: My lab at Berkeley is the Renewal and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. We model the transition to low-carbon energy systems from regional scales—western North America, China, and Chile—down to city, household level. We have tools to plan systems; look at the cost and reliability issues. Will certain technologies be ‘black swans’ that alter those systems, allow you to think about going carbon neutral? We develop household-level carbon footprint calculators, so we know the carbon budget of a home, a small industry—the ability to integrate with clean energy systems. And the ancillary benefits—do you get better or worse performance in terms of HVAC, do you change the water footprint?
We use these tools to understand whether our carbon policies lead to other areas of innovation. In California, where water is scarce, but water pricing is not done in a systematic way, there are interesting implications. The more you know about buildings and systems, the more you get concerned about water. We have municipal buildings that have infinite water availability, but also individual homes where if water consumption changes dramatically, you’ll be punished financially—very different signals as to water management. That’s where we spend quite a bit of effort—understanding how energy projects affect other areas.
JS: Green building standards chunk things up into discrete categories—water, energy—and look at building as a series of profiles. Is there a better way to look at buildings as whole systems?
DK: There are better ways to do buildings but it doesn’t mean they’re easier ways. Part of the challenge is the transition. When we look at buildings as systems, my lab is still myopic. We look at buildings largely as energy systems: can you manage and utilise waste heat, find ways to reduce demand through investment in insulation or daylight or other features? While we talk about the need to take a systems approach, we often don’t do it because it involves data in very different areas.
If you don’t measure the benefits of healthy buildings, then you’re not going to invest in making the indoor environment better. If you have a bad HVAC system spreading colds and various things, there’s an economic downside. If workers are sick, they’re less productive; if your model took into account health costs and lost days of work, you would capture that. We don’t, and so we fail in that we’re describing what you should do but don’t do it.
There are a couple of places where we do. California has a 2020 standard where new homes built after that date have to be zero net energy. Doesn’t mean all renewable, but they have to generate as much as they consume. All office buildings after 2030 have to be net zero energy in the same way. No one knows what the punishment is going to be if a building doesn’t fit that. But leaving enforcement aside, we look at the life cycle return on energy, on carbon, for homes that meet the standard. We consistently find savings on carbon translates into savings in other areas.
If you become more water efficient because you’re more energy and carbon efficient, that should show up. If your building is designed better, and so less susceptible to sick building syndrome, that should show up. Those decisions generally require data being exchanged freely between very different sectors: the human resources or health care part of a business budget versus the energy infrastructure. Few places do that.