US builds energy efficient embassy in Addis Ababa

President Obama in his State of the Union address challenged America to get 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2035.

Optimistic? Perhaps. But look at it this way: Many of the heavyweights in corporate America already have jumped on the energy efficiency and sustainability bandwagon. GM, GE and Procter & Gamble are among recent professed converts. And U.S. government agencies have been going all out with the concept, doing more with less energy as far away as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The site on the African continent is rather exotic and about 7,000 miles from the nation's capital. But a new building there -- that integrates green building techniques and was one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, registered facilities in Ethiopia -- provides a glimpse of evolving building trends regardless of location.

The facility, the $157 million U.S. Embassy, features high-efficiency mechanical chillers; variable frequency drives, or VFDs, for all pumps, fans and motors over 5 horsepower; instantaneous water heaters; and a building automation system, said Christine T. Foushee with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, in an email.

"The automation system allows the facility manager to view equipment consumption, schedule equipment run-times, and shut down systems when they are not required," Foushee said.

The embassy, which was completed last fall and dedicated this week, measures about 205,000 square feet and covers several buildings at the foot of Entoto Mountain, according to officials. The complex provides about 1,000 jobs. The builder was B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Ala., and the architect Page Southerland Page of Arlington, Va.

Other energy-saving features at the embassy include occupancy sensors that automatically turn off lights, automatic daylight dimming illumination for fixtures adjacent to windows, energy efficient compact fluorescents and light-emitting diode, or LED, lamps and electronic lighting ballasts. Energy saving is estimated to be 14 percent lower than the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard established in 2004.

And more State Department buildings like the embassy are coming. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has seven projects in design or construction in Africa.

The energy efficiency movement and push to incorporate renewable energy and alternative fuels are well on their way. In the just released "State of Green Business 2011" report, Joel Makower and the editors of write that a dramatic shift is occurring in business despite the lingering effects of recession.

"Companies are thinking bigger and longer term about sustainability — a sea change from their otherwise notoriously incremental, short-term mindset," the report says. "And even during these challenging economic times, many have doubled down on their sustainability activities and commitments."

The Obama Administration directed $3.2 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, targeting inefficient lighting and electrical systems across the country for retrofits. Once completed, the program will enable local governments and others to reap huge saving on utility bills. And it will no doubt provide a further example to businesses and residents that they can do the same thing.

Likewise, domestic security efforts by the U.S. military to ween itself from imported fuel offer a high-profile example to consumers. Last month for instance, the Navy said at a symposium that is moving forward with aggressive targets, including reducing petroleum use in its commercial fleet by 50 percent by 2015 and getting half its energy from alternative sources by 2020.

Obama said: "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all."

Just what technology will win out or if all alternatives will be embraced remains a question. The report says great transformation is taking place. But its authors ask whether the public take notice and whether political leaders will "position themselves at the front of this parade?"

That of course depends on many factors. Economics will play a big role. Renewable energy remains a premium, but parity is coming closer with technological advances. And there's the price of oil, which is trading in the $91 per barrel range and is forecast to climb to $105 in the next year by