House with solar panels
(Photo credit: Mulad / Flickr)

From lighting to heating and cooling, buildings consume almost a third of the energy used in the U.S. That means they produce a lot of carbon pollution.

Chioke Harris is with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In a recent study, he and his colleagues found that within 30 years, the U.S. building sector could cut its energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by almost 80% over 2005 levels.

But getting there requires major changes.

“One big one is really driving energy efficiency in all buildings – residential and commercial,” Harris says.

For example, high-performance windows and insulation can greatly reduce the need for heating and cooling.

Harris says it’s also important to have buildings run as much as possible on clean electricity. That means shifting the grid to renewables, and then using that clean electricity to run systems that were previously powered by natural gas, such as heating and cooling.

“We have to have this sort of combined strategy: moving towards electricity, and moving that electricity towards zero carbon sources,” he says. “When those happen together, then we get to the point where we can actually achieve our targets.”

And that’s critical for avoiding dangerous levels of global warming.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.