What the Windy City can tell Kansas City about Benchmarking

The City of Kansas City, MO is considering a benchmarking ordinance that would require large buildings to measure and share their energy usage, based on a goal of using increased transparency and awareness of energy use to drive additional cost-effective energy reductions. This ordinance has many similarities to an ordinance passed by the City of Chicago in 2013.

We sat down with Amy Jewel, Senior City Advisor for the City Energy Project in Chicago to learn more about Chicago’s

Amy Jewel, Senior City Advisor, City Energy Project

Amy Jewel, Senior City Advisor, City Energy Project

experience. The City Energy Project (a project implemented by two nonprofit organizations, NRDC and IMT) is a partner to the City of Chicago on various programs and policies relating to energy efficiency. The City Energy Project is also a member of the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Working Group, made up of the City and its benchmarking partners and supporters; the Working Group collaborates on implementing the benchmarking and transparency ordinance in Chicago.

Chicago passed its benchmarking ordinance in September 2013, and the first set of buildings (commercial and municipal buildings over 250,000 square feet) were required to report data in June 2014. “Between ordinance passage and the first reporting deadline, the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Working Group set up a number of benchmarking support resources for buildings,” Jewel noted, “including extensive trainings that covered the ordinance background, policy goals, and requirements, as well as how to utilize ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The trainings were free and were facilitated by the USGBC-Illinois (IL) chapter, and were led by volunteer trainers from USGBC-IL, ASHRAE-IL and AIA-Chicago.”

“In addition, Chicago created a Benchmarking Help Center to field questions from building owners and managers,” Jewel reported. The Help Center is operated by Elevate Energy, a nonprofit organization that is also part of the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Working Group. According to the Elevate Energy 2014 Annual Report, the Help Center responded to more than 800 calls and messages from building owners, managers, and service providers.

Whole-building energy consumption data was also available from the local utilities, which helps to facilitate the benchmarking process.

In December 2014, the city reported results from the first year of reporting in the 2014 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report. In total, 348 buildings spanning 260 million square feet reported in 2014, which represented a 92% compliance rate.

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Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Photo credit: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. (Photo taken from the 2014 City of Chicago Building Energy Benchmarking Report)

In several instances, Chicago buildings that benchmarked found there could be significant savings with little capital investment. Take, for example, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, one of five featured buildings in the report. The hospital is working to reduce energy use in portions of the building that are unoccupied during nights and weekends – a total of 40% of the building. Hospital officials were surprised to find they could achieve large savings with little costs– estimated to reduce 5% of electricity and 17% of natural gas consumption.

The hospital was not alone. The Auditorium Building of Roosevelt University, located on Michigan Avenue, was built in 1889. Officials from the University note in the benchmarking report that “Roosevelt University’s iconic Auditorium Building represents innovation in showing that buildings of any age can work toward energy efficiency.” With support from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity, and utility incentive programs, and by applying insights from energy benchmarking, the University is developing an Energy Master Plan to reduce the Auditorium Building’s consumption by 20% within 5 years.

Auditorium Building of Roosevelt University. Photo credit: Roosevelt University. (Photo taken from the 2014 City of Chicago Building Energy Benchmarking Report)

Auditorium Building of Roosevelt University. Photo credit: Roosevelt University. (Photo taken from the 2014 City of Chicago Building Energy Benchmarking Report)

These types of insights into savings have a potentially huge economic impact. Jewel notes that “one of the key findings in the 2014 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report is that there is an enormous opportunity to save money, reduce emissions and create jobs by improving all buildings’ energy intensity to the 50th percentile (average) and 75th percentile (above-average), by sector.” Such an effort would lead to a 13% to 23% total energy reduction, which would translate into $44 million to $77 million energy cost savings. In addition, the energy reductions would lead to 460,000 to 840,000 tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent to removing 95,000 to 175,000 cars from the road.

All that work would be a huge job creator. More than 1,000 jobs would be created from the investments needed to achieve these savings.

There were several other interesting findings. Up to 37 buildings achieved a score of 75 or above on the 1-100 ENERGY STAR score scale, and may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification, which can distinguish high-performing real estate in the market. Also, the median ENERGY STAR Score in Chicago was 76 out of 100 for buildings eligible to receive a score.

In another finding, the age of the building had little impact on its energy intensity, defined as the energy use per square foot of area. More specifically, the Chicago results showed a weak correlation between building age and source energy intensity, and newer buildings actually reported a slightly higher energy intensity than older ones. (Source energy intensity accounts for on-site energy consumption, as well as the energy used for generation, transmission, and distribution of site energy.) As the report noted, future data availability and additional research could shed more light on the relationships between building age, energy intensity, and other energy performance factors.

Chicago is now moving into the second phase of their benchmarking ordinance, in which commercial and municipal buildings over 50,000 square feet and residential buildings over 250,000 square feet will be required to benchmark, verify, and report in 2015. “We look forward to continued partnership with the City to implement energy benchmarking in 2015 and 2016,“ Jewel said.

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