Energy-efficient buildings wave of the future

While the top ideas in engineering new green technologies usually involve electric vehicles or recycling, President Barack Obama spoke of research initiative and energy-efficient buildings as a new way of cutting back on wasted resources during a speech at Penn State University Thursday.

Speaking to a gymnasium full of people, Obama spoke mostly to the engineering students in attendance, stating they hold the key to shaping the future of energy-efficient buildings and creating new jobs.

"I really feel he was talking to me as an architectural engineer because

while everyone puts an emphasis on cars, in actuality, buildings are really where the main loss of energy is coming from," said Paul Kuehnel, a senior architectural engineering student.

John Messner, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering, said there are a number of changes that can be made at a reasonable cost to increase the energy efficiency of a building, including replacing the climate control system, adding insulation and generating energy onsite with solar panels or wind turbines.

More energy can be conserved by using a green roof — made of earth and plants — to act as an insulator.

As part of this initiative to jumpstart energy efficient buildings, Obama introduced the Great Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings, also known as the Philadelphia Energy Innovation Hub, a vision to improve building energy efficiency in the U.S. by 50 to 80 percent.

A grant of $159 million over five years, including $129 million from federal sources and $30 million from the state, will fund the project.

It will be located on the 1,200 acre Philadelphia Navy Yard and will be a "virtual municipality" to test and validate technologies in better energy consumption.

Penn State is a lead partner in the project, which involves more than 90 organizations, including 11 academic institutions.

Obama said Thursday that he is currently urging Congress to cut money from the private oil companies and invest in new technologies. The Obama Administration also plans to provide tax credits and incentives to make businesses more energy efficient.

"You show us the best ways to change your game on the ground, and we’ll show you the money," he said.

By Thomas Leskin,