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Building Efficiency

Basics #

Question What can be done to increase energy efficiency in buildings?

Contest main page Submit proposals at

Deadline June 15, 2013, at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time

Rules All entrants must agree to the 2012-13 contest rules.

Prizes The contest winners will be invited to present their work at the Crowds and Climate Conference at MIT November 6-7, 2013, and at the event, a $10,000 Grand Prize will be awarded to one of the contest winners

Related contests2011 ENERGY STAR National Building CompetitionAmerica's Home Energy Education ChallengeBetter Buildings Case Competition

Guidelines from the contest Advisor(s) and Fellow(s) #

Opportunity/challenge #

The IPCC has estimated that increases in building efficiency could reduce greenhouse emissions by as much as 12 percent below the 2030 baseline at a cost of less than $100 per ton. And more than two-thirds of this potential mitigation is achievable through initiatives that will provide a positive return on investment.

Global emissions Building sector emissions Mitigation Potential<$100 per ton CO2-eq Mitigation potential<$0 per ton CO2-eq
2030 emissions GtCO2-eq 55.7 14.3 6.4 4.5
% of 2030 Global emissions 100.0% 25.7% 11.5% 8.1%

Gt = Gigaton (1 Gigaton = 1 billion tons)

CO2-eq = Carbon dioxide equivalent

Source: IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Table 6.4 and Table 11.1

A comprehensive summary of actions others have proposed to increase building efficiency, along with estimates of the amount these measures could reduce future emissions, can be found in IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 6: Residential and commercial buildings

For more see Building efficiency background

Key issues #

New technical approaches can represent an advancement from established methods, and proposals involving new technologies are encouraged in this contest. However, there is already a sizable potential for greenhouse gas mitigation in the buildings sector that is not being realized because of significant economic, cultural, political, and behavioral barriers.

The IPCC provides a taxonomy of those barriers in Table 6.5 of IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 6: Residential and commercial buildings.

Several specific barriers have been highlighted by the Climate CoLab advisor for this contest, Sean Penrith of Thetus Corporation.

Challenges to efficiency investments that yield positive returns #

Though many building efficiency investments provide a positive return on investment and thus would seem attractive even from a purely financial perspective, such investments are often not made. Why not? There are a variety of reasons.

For example, building owners are best positioned to make efficiency investments, but building tenants are often responsible for paying energy bills. There is thus a misalignment between the party in a position to invest and the one in a position to capture the returns on investment.

To take another example, the full return on efficiency investments is typically achieved over 15 or 20 years. But the relevant payback time for building owners is often shorter. The average homeowner, for example, only stays in a house for 7 years.

How can investments that yield positive returns be encouraged in the face of such obstacles?

Creating an efficiency brand #

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal are perceived by many consumers as pushing forward new technological horizons and representing the wave of the future. Efficiency, by contrast, is seen by many as a throwback that involves old technologies, since a key activity is retrofitting existing structures.

Given this reality, a central issue is: Can the brand image of energy efficiency be upgraded to increase awareness and create a more favorable public perception?

National standards #

In 2002, the European Union passed an Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which set standards for certifying buildings and established quality assurance procedures to ensure that upgrades were completed properly.

In 2012, Australia followed suit and released for review a draft National Building Energy Standard-Setting, Assessment and Rating Framework.

The United States and many other countries lack such a national framework. What would it take to establish efficiency standards at a national level in these countries? Action by the federal government? Or could a combination of state/provincial governments, along with industry stakeholders, put such a framework into place? What should such a national framework cover?

Financing models for homeowners #

A final challenge is developing financing mechanisms that help homeowners to borrow funds that can defray the up front costs of efficiency investments. Since such a large percentage of building efficiency investments yield positive returns, this is a particularly promising area.

Note on the contest #

You may wish to consult a list prepared by the IPCC of measures that can encourage adoption of building efficiency technologies and practices. See Table 6.6 in IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 6: Residential and commercial buildings.

Although the scope of this contest is anywhere in the world, conditions differ significantly between developed and developing economies, and much activity in building efficiency may be undertaken at the local level. Proposals may thus focus on a specific country or local area. If your proposal has a particular geographic focus, please make that clear in the description.

If you prepare a proposal with a specific geographic focus, you may wish to consult the IPCC's estimates of the mitigation potential of building efficiency initiatives in various countries and regions in Table 6.2 of IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 6: Residential and commercial buildings.

Judges and contest-specific prizes #

The Advisor for this contest, Sean Penrith, has recruited 5 experts to serve as contest judges.

In addition to any contest-specific prizes or events planned by the Advisor and Fellow, all teams that prepare winning proposals will be invited to present their work in person or virtually at an event to be held at MIT in 013, where all the winners from 2012-13 Climate CoLab contests will be featured. The Climate CoLab staff plan to invite a range of policymakers, business executives and investors and NGO officials to this event.

More details on contest prizes will be provided as they become available.

References #

If you'd like to suggest a new reference, you can add the reference yourself by:

Alternatively, you can send a message to Erik Duhaime