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Remarks at APEC Conference on Green Buildings and Green Growth

Friday, March 4, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at APEC Conference on Green Buildings and Green Growth

Thank you.  On behalf of the Obama administration, it is my privilege to welcome you this morning. 

APEC is the preeminent forum for advancing commerce in the Asia Pacific region, and the United States is honored to be hosting it this year. 

And I want to recognize Japan for hosting the very successful and productive APEC meetings in 2010.

As APEC host for 2011, the United States has identified promoting green growth as one of our top priorities for the coming year.

Why?  Because energy may be the defining challenge of our time. . .

. . . the one issue, more than any other, that will shape the fate of our planet, our economies, and our nations.

It also may well be one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century. . .

. . . an opportunity that could help put millions of people to work in high-skill, high-wage jobs.

And one of the most promising areas, especially in the near term, is energy efficiency.

Efficiency is the “low hanging fruit” of the world’s energy challenge. 

The UN Foundation recently said that “governments should exploit energy efficiency as their energy resource of first choice because it is the least expensive and most readily scalable energy option.”

With efficiency, we don't have to depend on scientific breakthroughs or engineering miracles.  We're not waiting for economies of scale to get big enough so efficiency can compete with other energy alternatives.

It’s merely a way of maximizing the amount of energy you get from existing sources. 

An upfront investment in efficiency is on average five times cheaper than investments in new supply.  And it is insulated from many of the troubling vagaries of the energy market. 

Many efficiency measures can be cost effective when oil is at $20 a barrel and a great number pay off quickly at today’s price over $100 a barrel.

Efficiency investments are a boon for consumers as well.  If we can meet rising energy demand with increased efficiency instead of building new power plants, it will cost electric ratepayers less money.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the growth rate of worldwide energy consumption could be cut by more than half over the next few decades through more energy-efficiency efforts, and it could be achieved with current technology.

And the biggest source of untapped efficiency in the United States and around the world are our buildings.

In the U.S., buildings consume 40 percent of energy and 73 percent of electricity.  They are responsible for about 39 percent of carbon emissions – more than the transportation or industrial sectors. 

It's no surprise then that greening these buildings can create immense economic opportunity, with the overall green building market projected to reach as much as $140 billion by 2013. 

We have made great progress improving building efficiency in the United States.  In fact, U.S. organizations certify more than one million square feet of green buildings every day.

But in President Obama’s administration leadership on energy efficiency begins at the very top. 

For example, the president has signed an executive order mandating that the 500,000 U.S. government buildings across America significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2020.

Efficiency is one of the quickest and cheapest near-term solutions to reduce those emissions.

As part of the president's directive, the Commerce Department is also working with the State Department to “green” U.S. embassy buildings around the world.

And some of you may have seen the Washington Post story the other day about the “net zero” test house – which can produce as much energy each year as it uses – that we are building on the grounds of our National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST.

And President Obama has set a goal of all new U.S. government built after 2020 to have net zero energy use by 2030.

But as important as it is for governments to make their own buildings more efficient, the biggest impact we can have is in creating standards and incentives for state and local governments, homeowners, business owners and schools to do the same thing.

That’s why NIST is also playing a leading role in supporting the development of a national smart electric grid, an Obama administration priority.

Among the most important benefits of the smart grid is the added control it gives utilities and their customers to monitor and reduce the energy used in heating, cooling and lighting systems.

To ensure that emerging hardware and software for the smart grid is compatible, NIST has launched the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel. 

NIST has already collected input from 600 organizations and 1,600 individual members, and rolled out Version 1.0 of an Interoperability Framework that identifies, prioritizes and addresses new requirements for Smart Grid interoperability and security. 

And it's absolutely critical for NIST and its APEC counterparts to collaborate on these standards.

If smart grid standards develop in a piecemeal manner, countries may not easily benefit from the innovations developed in another. . .

. . . or technologies developed today may be rendered obsolete as countries with large market potential later decide on their standards.

Standards aren’t just important for the smart grid, they are also critical for an array of technologies and materials that impact building efficiency.

And at Commerce, we are working closely with the U.S. Trade Representative and our counterparts in Asia to ensure the Trans-Pacific Partnership makes important headway in standards development.

As always, APEC will be central to this effort, and I want to thank the several APEC economies and private sector organizations that are co-sponsoring this green growth conference.

The United States has an exciting APEC work program scheduled throughout the year, and I look forward to ambitious and concrete outcomes on this and other critical issues when APEC Leaders meet in Honolulu this November. 

Thank you for joining us today.