The Obama administration announced today that several federal agencies are banding together to make up to $129.7 million available over five years to make buildings in the U.S. more energy-efficient.
The funds would go toward creating a regional research center that would not only produce the necessary technology and install it, it would also send experts into the field to train builders and building residents to conserve energy every step of the way. This means some of the money will go toward consumer and contractor education.
With buildings consuming as much as 40 percent of the total amount of energy used in this country every year, this is a critical area for conservation and emission reductions. Building efficiency also presents an economic opportunity at a time when the American financial system could really use it. Using less energy will lower utility bills and allow companies to invest in progress rather than maintenance.
The upshot of the new initiative will be to fund what the administration is calling an Energy Regional Innovation Cluster (or E-RIC), employing a staff of researchers and other experts.
The initiative will be selecting an E-RIC to receive the funds from a pool of candidates. Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms are all eligible to become the E-RIC. Whatever organization is chosen will work with state and local governments to get in touch with and influence contractors, construction teams and even materials manufacturers.
Of course, the Department of Energy is taking a leading role in this effort, providing $22 million in its first year and up to $100 million more over the next four. But the Department of Commerce will also kick in more than $5 million to back the chosen E-RIC. The Small Business Administration will lend its expertise to the E-RIC. The National Science Foundation will make additional funds available through existing programs. The Department of Labor will help the E-RIC reach out to local workers to make the concepts it develops stick. And the Department of Education will provide grants and support for educational efforts geared at encouraging building efficiency.
This is the first time this many federal departments and agencies have teamed up to achieve green goals. It has yet to provide other criteria for potential E-RICs, but it’s promising to see the government taking such an expansive view of what is needed to fundamentally change how buildings are constructed and how people use them.