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Solar shading and other heating and cooling technologies have made Harvard University’s Science and Engineering Complex one of the world’s most energy efficient. 

Solar shading and other heating and cooling technologies have made Harvard University’s Science and Engineering Complex one of the world’s most energy efficient. 

Photographer: Brad Feinknopf
CityLab
Design

It’s Time for a Net Zero Building Boom

A mix of high-tech and old-fashioned energy efficiency tactics can deliver carbon-neutral buildings, right now. But the U.S. needs to pick up the pace. 

Is it too much to ask Americans to take their foot off the gas and reset their thermostats? On March 18, the International Energy Agency released a 10-point plan for reducing oil use, arguing that advanced economies can readily cut demand by 2.7 million barrels a day in the next four months, an amount large enough to avoid major supply shortages as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roils the energy market.

The plan’s major prescriptions will look familiar to anyone who recalls the OPEC shocks of the 1970s: reducing speed limits to improve gas mileage, boosting transit use, and discouraging non-essential car and air travel. But its exclusive focus on the transportation sector overlooks the substantial efficiency gains to be had from the built environment: Buildings consume about 40% of the energy used in the U.S. every year.