Chicago sees progress, challenges with energy efficiency benchmarking

March 17, 2017

Chicago’s City Hall is part of the city’s energy efficiency benchmarking program that tracks large buildings’ energy use. Photo courtesy of Midwest Energy News

Large buildings throughout Chicago are getting more efficient, trimming energy costs and reducing emissions, according to recently released data from the city.

However, the early data also suggest several major properties are still struggling to improve their energy performance as measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

In some cases, a change in a building’s publicly reported energy performance data appears to be the result of accounting variability or errors as opposed to an actual change in energy performance, reports Midwest Energy News.

Chicago’s own City Hall saw its Energy Star rating decline more than any other building that reported data between 2014 and 2015, according to the city’s record-keeping. Officials say this decline is not the result of a change in energy usage, but instead how it measured energy use.

The energy-usage data are the result of a 2013 city ordinance that requires existing commercial, institutional and residential buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to collect and submit energy performance data to city officials. Taken together, those buildings represent just 1 percent of all Chicago buildings, but 20 percent of the citywide building energy use.

Major cities across the U.S. are leveraging newly available energy data on the power grid to identify and reduce inefficiencies in residential and commercial buildings. In 2015, buildings in those two sectors alone made up 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.Nineteen cities across the U.S. have implemented an energy benchmarking program, according to the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes green building initiatives.

Many buildings across Chicago have taken advanced measures to curb their energy consumption, leaning on communications and analytics systems enabled by a smarter, more connected power system. Efficiency improvements are planned, underway or completed in more than 23,000 homes and 132 large buildings as part of the City’s Retrofit Chicago initiative, in which buildings commit to reduce energy use by at least 20 percent within five years of joining the program.

The 2017 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report also highlights Wilbur Wright College, which uses real-time systems for energy monitoring and building automation. It has also added insulation and upgraded lighting in its library. Between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the college cut natural gas and electricity use annually by 17 percent and 19 percent respectively, according to the report.

The Monadnock Building, which was the world’s largest office building when it was completed in 1893, manages a near-perfect Energy Star score of 98. Over the past decade, the stately brick skyscraper has cut its electric and gas consumption by about one-third through improved steam-system automation, weatherstripping and gradual installation of sensor-controlled lighting, according to Claudia Daly, a Monadnock representative.

Like other old buildings, the Monadnock also benefits from some surprisingly low-tech energy-saving designs.

Topics: Architectural Firms, Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Energy Audit / Energy Management, Energy Saving Products, Great Commercial Buildings, Multifamily / Multiunit Residential, Office Buildings, Technology

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