Everyone's going green, even Las Vegas is winning LEED ratings - on grand scale, says Jerry Yudelson of Yudelson Associates in Arizona

The world’s largest new green building, the 3,000-room, $1.9bn Palazzo Resort in Las Vegas received its LEED Silver rating and certificate in March.

Jerry Yudelson

The huge resort is more than four times bigger than any other LEED-certified building, according to the US Green Building Council, which presented developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation with a LEED plaque at a recent awards ceremony. Coming soon, the Las Vegas City Centre project, when completed in 2009, will boast the largest development of LEED Silver-certified projects, some 17 million ft² (1.58 million ft²), representing some $7bn of investment. If you’ve been there, you know that everything in Las Vegas is on grand scale, now even green buildings.

LEED project registrations topped 10,000 commercial and institutional buildings in March 2008 for the first time. New construction and major renovation projects represent about 80% of all new LEED projects, the balance coming from tenant remodels and existing building operations. In the certification derby, there are now about 1,325 fully certified projects, roughly equal to the BREEAM total in the UK (though in fairness, the BREEAM project certifications represent a much higher percentage of total construction, owing to the fivefold population difference between the two countries.)

LEED for Homes dwelling unit registrations topped 10,000 for the first time, though only about 5% of these projects have been certified to date. There is a hot race on between LEED and the National Association of Home Builders certification systems to emerge on top, though the current leader is in fact the national government’s ENERGY STAR program, which certified more than 130,000 homes in 2007 for their energy and indoor air quality characteristics. Other contenders include General Electric’s “Environments for Living” program and a number of well established local and regional certification programs.

President takes a green turn

Big news in the US this week was president George W. Bush’s announcement that the country should begin taking steps to reduce the growth in greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, sometime in the third Clinton Administration (counting the couple’s daughter Chelsea, who will be old enough to run for president in about the 2024 election). This is akin to a sinner agreeing to give up something for Lent in a dozen years or so, not nearly enough to have any discernible effect on salvation. Waiting until 2025 to stop growing GHG emissions is a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it’s sinking, isn’t it?

The good news on GHG emissions growth is that no one is waiting around for the US federal government to enact mandates on either the power industry or the auto industry. Companies of all stripes are aggressively moving toward zero net carbon emissions. I’ll wager that you’ll begin to see a large number of “net zero” GHG emission buildings going up in the US in the next two to four years, with the first generation of “regenerative” buildings following soon after that. Retail giant Wal-Mart announced this week the roll-out of its new generation “HE-5” high-efficiency prototype store for the Western US climates, promising to reduce energy use a whopping 45% over its current stores. We’ll see the first “net zero” energy retail stores, I’m sure, by 2010, both in the US and in the UK.

Finally, I’d like to relate a little from my attendance at the 12th Passiv Haus conference in Nuremberg, Germany, last week. The German Passive House concept shows clearly how to reduce energy use in housing by 90% without sacrificing comfort, health or safety. In fact, comfort is increased because those nasty draughts that ventilate most homes just disappear, replaced by a well modulated fresh-air intake via a whole-house heat recovery ventilator.

Windows are so well insulated that the temperate difference between the center of the room and the window surface is about two to three degrees Kelvin (Celsius), even when outdoor temperatures are minus five or more. The net cost add-on is about 2%, pretty much in the noise level for home building. Looks like Code 6 zero net energy housing in the UK could be quite feasible by 2016, with only 10% on-site renewables. There was a considerable UK and Irish contingent at the conference, most notably leading a rousing Friday evening banquet sing-along of “Sweet Molly Malone.”