Chicago: Four Paths to Energy Efficiency

December 22, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

ChicagoChicago, the third most populous city in the United States, is host to at four significant energy efficiency initiatives.

Three of the projects focus on buildings: The city of Chicago is assessing energy use in large commercial, institutional and residential buildings; the Archdiocese of Chicago is tracking energy use in its buildings; Retrofit Chicago has passed a milestone in its efforts to reduce use in existing structures and The Chicago Infrastructure Trust announced plans to update the city’s lighting infrastructure.

The City Energy Project: Last week, Chicago released the results of the second assessment of building energy use. The press release said the group found that as much as 24 percent of energy – valued at about $184 million – could be saved. Other benefits cited by the release include the creation of 2,000 jobs and cutting carbon pollution equal to the taking 306,000 cars off the road.

This is the second year of the assessment, which is conducted by the city and supported by The City Energy Project, The Institute for Market Transformation, The Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups. Katie Weeks, the Director of Communications for IMT, said that the parameters of which buildings were included changed between the first and second year of the study. The change was in the commercial and institutional building sector. Last year, buildings of 250,000 square feet were required to report. This year, that footage dropped to 50,000 square feet. A roundup of the program is available at WegoWire.

Since a full apples-to-apples comparison is impossible, the progress being made is best assessed by comparing buildings that filed both years. “[W]hile the year-to-year comparisons are limited, you can look at the multi-year data of buildings that reported both last year and this year to provide more context on that smaller subset of buildings,” Weeks told Energy Manager Today. “Those 212 properties (commercial and institutional buildings over 250,000 SF) saw a slight decrease (1.6%) in weather-normalized site energy use, indicating a slight increase in energy efficiency.”

The 2015 report – which uses data aggregated last year – covers more than 1,800 buildings with more than 600 million square feet of space. These structures, which use about 20 percent of the energy consumed in Chicago, had an Energy Star score of 58 (out of a possible score of 100). The national median was 50.

The Archdiocese of Chicago: Last July, Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich announced that the Archdiocese of Chicago would benchmark its 2,700 buildings. The Chicago Tribune reported that the archdiocese will use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track energy usage and building characteristics. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the archdiocese could save between $3 million and $9 million annually through best practices and an energy management program, the story said. In 2014, the archdiocese spent $13.5 million on electricity and $16 million on gas.

Retrofit Chicago: Retrofit Chicago this autumn reached a milestone, according to the NRDC. The group says that more than 50 buildings – which control almost 40 million square feet – have committed to improving energy efficiency in their buildings by 20 percent within five years. The organization began with 14 buildings in 2012.

The Smart Lighting Project: In September, the CIT released a request for information (RFI) on the Chicago Smart Lighting Project. The aim of the project is to transition city lighting to LEDs and update the lighting infrastructure. The press release announcing the RFI said that there are about 348,500 lights across the city. In addition to changing those, the project may use the upgraded infrastructure to deliver non-lighting goods and services. Responses to the RFI were due in mid-November.

In a move that is not tied to a larger program, the Merchandise Mart, in partnership with The Environment Defense Fund Climate Corps Program, said it will install battery and related distributed energy technology from Johnson Controls. The project at the iconic building was announced in October. Johnson Controls said that the technology could reduce energy costs by 35 percent. The building, which has 4.2 million square feet, is the world’s largest LEED EB (Existing Building).

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