Achieving efficiency from building retrofits has become one of the latest targets in the energy-reform movement, but so far, attempts have failed to pierce the bull’s-eye.

While most resources for building retrofits have been applied toward federal buildings, the results have been a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to what they could be if those same resources were directed at another class of buildings with far greater energy savings potential.

According to the Boulder, Colo.-based market research firm Pike Research, institutional buildings, especially federal buildings, have benefited the most from energy savings retrofits because of federal policy mandates and stimulus funding. However, these buildings account for less than 3 percent of the nation’s total commercial building space.

A recent Pike study, “Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings,” points out that commercial buildings account for 79 billion square feet of building space in the United States. Furthermore, approximately 80 percent of commercial buildings are more than 10 years old. Because of inefficiencies from outdated systems and materials, these buildings are one of the leading sources of energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The Pike study sees private commercial buildings as a vast untapped potential for energy savings from retrofits. It projects an annual savings in energy costs of about $41.1 billion if all commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program. Such programs would require an annual retrofit investment of $22.5 billion over the 10-year period, according to Pike Research.

In the current economic crisis, financing for retrofits in private commercial buildings has shriveled, and the pace of retrofits has not enabled energy efficiency to make a noticeable contribution to the nation’s struggling efforts to meet its voracious growth in energy demand.

On the other hand, Pike sees investment growing in the long-term. It projects private-sector retrofits to grow strongly in 2014 and beyond.