03/04/15 : Anna Hahnemann

Elevating Energy Efficiency

Boosting elevator efficiency can have a substantial impact on building energy use.

Building energy efficiency has been a hot topic of discussion for quite some time. Efficiency advocates are all too familiar with the fact that 40 percent of the nation’s energy demand comes from buildings. However, people seem to be less familiar with the significant impact elevators can have on buildings’ consumption.

While idle, elevators account for 2 to 5 percent of buildings’ total energy use. Five percent of building energy usage may not seem significant, but elevators in the U.S. consume enough energy annually to power Washington, D.C. for 5 years. During peak operational times, such as lunchtime and end of business day, their consumption can rise to as much as 50 percent.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for increased efficiency. A recent study published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) and United Technologies Corporation (UTC) shows we currently have the technology to cut elevators energy use by up to 75 percent. If we have the means to improve elevators efficiency, then why aren’t we taking advantage of these technologies? Before building owners start to consider modernizing their facilities’ elevators, there is a lot of work that must be done. At this time, the tools to measure efficiency savings and the information needed to help building owners find the most suitable technology for their buildings are not readily available — making the implementation of energy saving elevator technologies low or non-exist.

As the study highlights, the lack of standardized methods to measure energy savings and absence of ratings systems to identify more efficient models act as barriers. Without these structures in place, building managers may be skeptical or unware of the benefits of adopting a more energy efficient elevator system. Even relatively small and inexpensive upgrades, such as reducing standby power, can have a major impact in cutting total energy use. In addition to energy savings and reduced costs, adopting such technologies will result in improved performance, reduced sound, increased comfort and more.

History has shown that common standards are highly successful in pushing energy efficiency forward. Since 1974, the Department of Energy has issued minimum energy conservation standards for over 50 categories of appliances and equipment — including water heaters, refrigerators and freezers and HVAC systems. These minimum efficiency standards have produced savings of more than $55 billion in 2013 alone. Once standardized measures for evaluation are established, utilities and government agencies can offer incentives, such as rebates or tax credits, to drive increased adoption of more efficient equipment. Green building programs, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, could also help increase the market adoption of more energy efficient elevators by including them as part of the criteria for awarding certifications. Unfortunately, under the current LEED program, there are no direct credits for installing more efficient elevator systems.

In order to advance elevator efficiency, we must first acknowledge its potential. Thus, increasing the visibility of efficiency opportunities and benefits should be a priority within the government, energy and building sectors. These entities must acknowledge energy efficient elevators as means to significantly reduce energy waste and building operational costs and invest in initiatives that promote their adoption. Manufacturers, public programs, utility incentives, voluntary labels and government forces can work together and play an important role in creating public interest in energy saving elevator technologies and further innovation.