We see it every day – from the electric car charging stations in public places to the “HE” tags on appliances in our homes. We have all witnessed the headlines regarding the detrimental impacts of emissions on the ozone layer and the protests calling for action to protect the world as we know it, but this might leave you wondering – what constitutes “clean energy” and what can we do to help save the planet without breaking the bank?


Clean energy, simply put, is energy that causes little to no pollution when being generated and consumed. Electricity and nuclear power are examples of energy sources that can be generated with little to no pollutants. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas produce large quantities of carbon dioxide, which can trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to climate change. 



Electricity can be generated from all sources of renewable energy, meaning the sources can be regenerated or naturally replenished. The main sources of renewable energy are wind, water, solar, biomass, and geothermal. These renewable energy sources can then be categorized by the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted during their operation. Wind, solar, and water energy are all zero impact sources, whereas geothermal energy is a low impact source, and biomass energy sources such as biofuel and biopower are neutral impact sources. 


Solar panels & solar tubes for Four Winds Alternative and Career Technology Education High School [Project Details]


The United States government has set a goal of reaching “net zero” emissions by 2050. This means we will be generating our electricity utilizing sources that leave zero carbon footprint on the environment. Although that may seem like a long shot, the U.S. has already reached approximately 38% usage of clean energy, and to assist in meeting this goal renewable energy sources are taking center stage. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources made up 11% of the primary energy consumption in the U.S. in 2019. For more information on energy consumption in the U.S. please refer to the chart below.






The data and statistics on energy consumption can be overwhelming because the tools used to measure this ever-changing market are also constantly evolving. Currently, commercial buildings make up approximately 20% of the overall energy consumption in the U.S. This number may seem large, but it means that there are so many things that can be done to improve and streamline our energy consumption to save you money! 


The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a breakdown of total carbon dioxide emissions from 2016 that categorized how emissions are released from both residential and commercial structures. Heating, cooling, and ventilating of commercial and residential spaces made up 30% and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions, respectively. Cooking, appliances, electronics, and lighting were not far behind, according to the chart below. 



Whether you are considering investing in upgrading your existing property or building a new business space, there are several alternatives you can consider that will put you ahead of the curve for the upcoming 30-year push to net zero emissions. 




If you are looking to upgrade an existing space and save some money on your electricity bill, perhaps consider retrofitting your existing lights with LED models. When building a new commercial structure consider utilizing natural lighting with photocell controlled interior light fixtures. Utilizing high efficiency windows will help control the thermal impact inside of your space and help reduce not only the number of lighting fixtures needed, but also your energy bill. LED bulbs use 70-80% less electricity to light a space than standard incandescent and florescent lamps. They also have an average lifespan that is 15-25 times longer than standard lamps.




Spray-foam insulation is a great option for both new and existing spaces. The application can be done in existing wall structures or at the time of new construction. There are many spray-foam insulation products available that can provide higher insulation factors with a better longevity than batt insulation. 




When selecting heating and cooling equipment consider the impacts of electric versus gas driven units. Which is more efficient for your space? Investing in high efficiency units can save you quite a bit of money in the long run when you consider the reduced energy usage and the longevity of the unit. When selecting a cooling unit, consider the unit’s SEER rating, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Energy, upgrading or properly selecting your HVAC System, properly air-sealing, and insulating your space can save you up to 30% on your energy bill.


In 2018 the average monthly kilowatt (kWh) consumption for a commercial space was 6,591 kWh, bringing the average monthly bill to just under $700.00. Imagine if you could make a simple modification to your space to reduce that by even 10%, then multiply that over the course of several months and years. Major energy suppliers are doing their part to work toward net zero emissions and provide residential and commercial properties with clean energy. All we need to do is figure out how to efficiently utilize the energy sources available to us.


Check out some of Shingobee's sustainable projects at http://www.shingobee.com/Projects/Sustainable-Construction.



Shanna Heard has been a project manager with Shingobee for two years. She has nine years of experience in various facets of the construction industry, with a background in underground, infrastructure, and utilities construction. She has managed several projects at Shingobee, including banks, convenience stores, restaurants, and retail.