Overland Featured in National AIA 2030 Commitment Program: Firm Prioritizes Values For More Sustainable Outcomes Through Renewables


Key Takeaways

  • 1,405 projects were reported with renewable energy in reporting year 2021, an increase of 81.3% above 2020. In total, 6.8% of projects reported in 2021 included at least one kind of renewable energy.
  • Gross square footage reported in 2021 increased 108.1% from 2020, totaling 300,792,682 gross square feet. 8.3% of all gross square footage reported in 2021 included renewable energy.
  • 95% of projects that reported renewable energy in 2021 used on-site renewable energy and almost 89% used on-site solar photovoltaics.
  • 77.5% of the 292 net-zero projects reported in 2021 used at least one kind of on-site renewable energy and 6.8% used two or more kinds of on-site renewable energy.
  • 51 of the 292 net-zero projects reported in 2021, or 17.4%, used off-site renewable energy.
  • 9.9% of the 292 net-zero projects reported in 2021, 29 projects total, used both on and off-site renewable energy.

Renewable Energy

Use either on-site or off-site renewable energy

As the pEUI target of the 2030 Commitment has ramped up, the need to add renewable energy to projects has crystallized. Once projects have reduced predicted energy use intensity (pEUI)as much as possible, renewables are necessary to reach net zero or net positive terrain. And we’ll need more and more renewables as 2030, with its net zero target, approaches.

Additionally, buildings that have renewable energy paired with electric or thermal energy storage can actually help clean up the grid. That’s because they can reduce grid stress during peak times, preventing the need for utility companies to power up dirty “peaker plants.”

Even if a building owner isn’t interested in, or can’t afford, renewables right away, it’s vital to ensure they can be added later. A “renewable-ready” building has design elements that make it easy to add renewables after construction. For example, optimizing building orientation, roof design, and electrical systems can ease the cost of adding solar photovoltaics (PV) and can improve PV performance in the future.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to add and pay for renewable energy.

  • On-site options include solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind turbine, heat pump, geothermal, micro-hydroelectric, and biomass.
  • Off-site options include virtual power purchase agreements, direct ownership of an off-site system, purchase of unbundled renewable energy certificates (RECs), joining a long-term community renewable program, renewable energy investment fund, direct access to wholesale markets, and green retail tariffs. But buyer, beware! It’s important to verify additionality, meaning that the building owner is purchasing renewable power that would not have existed otherwise.

PV isn’t the only game in town, and the DDx also allows users to report on wind, micro-hydro, and several other renewable energy sources. Yet, today, solar remains the most commonly reported type of renewable energy, with on-site solar PV representing 88.7% of the projects reporting renewable energy in 2021.

In 2021, 1,405 projects totaling 300 million square feet reported using renewable energy, a 81.2% increase in the number of projects and 108.1% increase in gross square footage . Of these, 1,335 projects used on-site renewables, 143 projects used off-site renewables, and 87 used both.

Case Study

Sustainability for everyone: Overland Partners

“We didn’t know exactly how we were going to get there, but there was a values alignment,” said John Byrd, AIA, of Overland Partners’ decision to sign on to the 2030 Commitment in 2014. As director of design performance at the firm, Byrd takes the 2030 Commitment very seriously.

“The first couple years were very influential,” Byrd noted. “It forced us to adopt energy modeling across the office; this challenged our intuitions and made us better designers and architects all around.” – John Byrd, AIA, Director of Design Performance

But as the thresholds went up over time, “we realized that efficiency alone wasn’t going to get us there: we were going to need renewables in as many projects as possible.” Since that realization, the firm has pushed for net zero and net positive performance on a large number of projects.

Sometimes that has meant convincing clients whose values may not fully align with the 2030 Commitment.

On one residential project, the client expressed skepticism about climate change. “This was not the obvious client for pitching solar or any other traditional sustainability criteria,” said Byrd. “But if we believe it’s for everybody, it needs truly to be for everybody.” Thus, the conversation focused on things the client cared about—energy independence and return on investment. “We were able to make it one of the most sustainable private residences we’ve ever designed,” Byrd noted.

“With regard to sustainability, we truly believe there’s something for everyone,” Byrd added. “The earlier on you start, the better. Make it integral to what your clients are trying to accomplish.”


  • Explore the Architect’s Primer on Renewable Energy for a starter guide on how to leverage on-site and off-site renewable energy in your projects.
  • Learn how to employ renewable energy at the project and portfolio-scale in Course 8 of the AIA+2030 Online Certificate Program focused on the role of renewable energy.
  • Browse through the Framework for Design Excellence’s Design for Energy principle to understand how projects can integrate renewable energy and why renewable-ready design can be pursued for future on-site renewables.’


Read the original article on AIA.org.

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