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600451-00067-1 Report Abstract

Life-cycle Energy Implications of Different Residential Settings:  Recognizing Buildings, Travel, and Public Infrastructure

Brice Nichols and Kara Kockelman, August, 2013

The built environment can be used to influence travel demand, but very few studies consider the relative energy savings of such policies in context of a complex urban system. This analysis quantifies the day-to-day and embodied energy consumption of four different neighborhoods in Austin, Texas, to examine how built environment variations influence various sources of urban energy consumption. A microsimulation combines models for petroleum use (from driving) and residential and commercial power and natural gas use with rigorously measured building stock and infrastructure materials quantities (to arrive at embodied energy). Results indicate that the more suburban neighborhoods, with mostly detached single-family homes, consume up to 320% more embodied energy, 150% more operational energy, and about 160% more total life-cycle energy (per capita) than a densely developed neighborhood with mostly low-rise-apartments and duplexes. Across all neighborhoods, operational energy use comprised 83 to 92% of total energy use, and transportation sources (including personal vehicles and transit, plus street, parking structure, and sidewalk infrastructure) made up 44 to 47% of the life-cycle energy demands tallied. Energy elasticity calculations across the neighborhoods suggest that increased population density and reduced residential unit size offer greatest life-cycle energy savings per capita, by reducing both operational demands from driving and home energy use, and from less embodied energy from construction. The results support the notion that transportation and the built environment are strongly linked, and improving urban energy efficiency must come from policies and designs targeting embodied sources, not just a household’s travel and daily energy consumption.

Keywords:  Life-cycle Energy Use, Urban Systems, Neighborhood Design, Built Environment, Vehicle-Miles Traveled, Land Use Patterns, Sustainability Levers, Smart Growth

ENTIRE REPORT (Adobe Acrobat File – 817 KB)