Understanding LEED v4’s Energy and Water Use Prerequisites and Credits

When it comes to green building, LEED v4 is the new standard. As of October 31, 2016, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) will only accept new LEED registrations under LEED v4. Although the registration date was extended, the last day projects can submit for v3 certification — the sunset date — is still June 30, 2021.

The latest version of the LEED rating system features more rigorous standards, and while some of the credits and prerequisites are essentially the same as the 2009 version, there are some significant changes.

I outlined those changes in a previous post, but now let’s take a closer look at some of the new prerequisites and credits ushered in by LEED v4, specifically those involving energy use and environmental impact.

New LEED v4 prerequisites for energy and water use

The main focus of the changes and updates in LEED v4 was on building performance and environmental impact. Once criticized for lacking mandatory prerequisites for energy and water use, version 4 takes the management of these issues much further.

In LEED v4, there are several new prerequisites, as well as former credits that are now prerequisites, specifically addressing energy and water use.

Building-level energy metering prerequisite

LEED v4 requires building-level energy metering as a prerequisite for certification. This means owners and operators must measure total plant capacity  and share that data with the USGBC. This provides insights into how much energy a building is using overall and is a good first step in making changes to increase energy efficiency. There are both low- and no-cost options for building-level energy metering that are relatively simple to implement.

Advanced energy metering prerequisite

LEED v4 also includes a new prerequisite that takes building-level energy metering one step further. The new version now requires permanent metering that records energy use at intervals of at least one hour, and preferably more frequently. This provides far better data to building owners and operators regarding how and when energy is being consumed — and makes it easier to pinpoint where operational changes can have the most impact on energy efficiency.

At Stellar, we are also recommending that clients consider adding sub-metering to new builds or renovations as well. These are additional meters that monitor the energy used by specific components such as lighting, processing equipment, refrigeration systems and HVAC.

As with overall metering, sub-meters provide much more usable information that can inform operational changes to improve energy efficiency. Using sub-metering may also qualify a building for a design innovation credit and possibly boost the overall “grade” received under LEED.

Two new water usage prerequisites

There are also two new prerequisites in LEED v4 regarding water usage:

  • Building-level water metering prerequisite. Building owners and operators must now monitor total water use and provide that data to the USGBC.
  • Outdoor water use reduction prerequisite. Buildings must reduce their overall outdoor water use by 30 percent and water metering data must be shared with the USGBC for five years. This was previously a credit but it is now a prerequisite.

New credits encourage improved energy efficiency

In addition to new prerequisites for monitoring energy and water usage, LEED v4 also introduced additional credits to encourage building owners and operators to  improve the environmental sustainability of their operations.

Pursuing credits is a way for buildings to earn additional points during the certification process, which go towards establishing the overall LEED rating (i.e. Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum).

Demand response credit

To earn a demand response credit, buildings must implement automated systems that flatten out peak energy use. This can be done either through load shedding or the use of renewable energy generated on site through systems such as:

  • Solar panels
  • Geothermal systems
  • Wind turbines

Load shedding is the most common way to level off the energy demand curve. If you know, for example, that energy use tends to peak at a certain time of day, you can use automated systems to switch off lights and unneeded machinery to reduce how much energy the building is pulling from the grid. Some plants also accomplish this by rearranging schedules to run certain processes during off-peak hours.

Plants can also draw on renewable energy stored in batteries to reduce what they need to take from the grid in times of maximum energy requirements. Again, automated systems can be set up to switch to stored renewable energy during peak periods.

In order to qualify for this credit, plants must commission these systems they have implemented and provide proof that they are actually working in reducing peak energy usage.

Renewable energy production credit

This renamed credit — previously known as On-Site Renewable Energy — has actually seen a slight decrease in the number of points available to a building for generating renewable energy.

Plants can qualify for this credit by integrating sources of renewable energy into operations. The exact type of renewable energy used will depend on where a plant is located, but can include solar, geothermal or wind. Purchasing renewable energy from a local utility will also qualify for points under the Green Power and Carbon Offsets credit.

This is also likely a credit that plants would pursue for reasons other than cost-effectiveness, at least at this point. The ROI has not been very favorable from a strict cost analysis, but there are other possible benefits from using renewable energy. This includes potential marketing and PR advantages that may come from boosting a plant’s use of energy from sustainable sources.

A strategic approach to pursuing LEED v4 certification

There are many reasons to pursue LEED v4 certification for a plant. How building owners and operators go about securing this, however, must be done with a solid strategy in mind from the beginning.

For example, as noted above, credits are a way to earn points and boost a building’s overall LEED rating once certification is received. Before deciding to pursue any LEED credit, however, it is important to consider whether it fits in with the overall strategy for the project, as well as costs.

At Stellar, we regularly help clients pursuing LEED certification assess whether or not to pursue specific credits. This is done through a cost-benefit analysis that takes into consideration the LEED rating a client may want to achieve and what it will take in terms of credits to get there.

A client was recently concerned with how site selection would affect their LEED rating. We analyzed the various site options and made recommendations as to which would be the best from a LEED perspective. This included looking at the various credits that would be available (or not) at each site. (See an example of how we present this information at the bottom of this post.) Ultimately, the client was able to choose a site that both met its operational requirements and fulfilled its LEED goals.

By understanding our client’s goals, and the LEED process, we were able to develop a plan and strategy for pursuing certification that fit within the overall scope of the project. This is an approach we take with all of Stellar’s sustainable projects, including LEED-certified facilities.

Learn more about Stellar's LEED-certified facilities


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