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Energy Efficiency Strides on the Farm and Beyond

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A view of the Inn at Serenbe, a family retirement site that grew into a mission for sustainability and building efficiency. (Photograph by UGArdener/Flickr)

In the early 1990s, Steve Nygren was a successful Atlanta restaurateur who was caught up in “life’s treadmill,” as he puts it, when he and his wife purchased a 60-acre farm in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. When Nygren noticed that his young children were more excited to leave their fancy city house with a pool in order to visit the country shack with no toys, it was a “value adjustment” for him, he says.

Nygren and his wife sold their city house in 1994 and grew the farm, dubbed Serenbe (“Serenity” plus “Be”), into a 1,000-acre community in Chattahoochee Hills focused on sustainable development and energy efficiency.

Nygren announced a partnership Wednesday morning with building technology supplier Bosch to build the Germany-based company’s first ultra-efficient homes in the United States. Nygren said builders were at work on custom homes that would feature tankless water heaters, solar thermal systems, hot water storage tanks and other energy-efficient technologies meant to showcase the possibilities for both new homes and retrofit projects. Serenbe also plans to open the Bosch Experience Center, a hub to showcase Bosch technologies, in May.

Nygren said he has brought people around to the concept of sustainability by emphasizing the concepts of well-being and improved living conditions.

“We’ve become so used to ‘the treadmill’ that we forgot what quality of life really means,” he said during a virtual press conference at the EE Global Forum, now under way in Orlando, Fla.

The Serenbe announcement was one of seven updates from the forum. The United Nations Foundation revealed a new energy-efficient buildings effort to support the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. The foundation plans to encourage the formation of public-private partnerships in developing countries to improve building efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is really unique among all the energy supply resources in that we have. [There are] a wide, wide range of available and cost-efficient technologies that we can deploy. Our problem is not that we lack the technologies; we don’t have them installed,” said Mark Hopkins, the UN Foundation’s director of international energy efficiency. He said that lighting, heat and air conditioning, appliances, ventilation and controls for energy management were among the areas the partnership would be focusing on, calling commercial buildings in particular “an area of great, great potential.”

Kateri Callahan of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), the forum’s co-host, also joined League of Green Embassies chair Bruce Oreck in sharing results of a top-to-bottom upgrade  of U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman’s residence in Brussels last year. Over the 10 months since the renovation, the improvements have led to a 31-percent savings in electricity costs. Upgrades to the residence included insulating windows, installing energy-use controls, and upgrading the heating equipment, lighting and kitchen appliances.

The project was so successful that Oreck secured $500,000 in funding from the U.S. State Department to upgrade U.S. embassies in 10 additional European cities. “In Rome, for example, the energy efficiency technologies are expected to slash energy costs almost in half, saving $30,000 a year,” Oreck said in an online release about the effort.

Further announcements and details about the forum are available here.