This week, Chicago officials released a progress report on its three-year-old energy benchmarking project.
The executive summary of the report says that almost 2,700 building are in the program. Of those, more than 1,200 properties have been tracked for either two consecutive or all three years. These buildings have saved about $17.8 million in energy spending.
The report says that last year, 2,695 properties occupying almost 750,000 square feet of space tracked energy use. That was a 45 percent increase from 2015 and a seven-time increase compared to 2014.
Properties reporting for all three years of the program reduced energy by an average of 4 percent and saved a cumulative $11.6 million annually. Energy Star scores for these properties have improved by 6.6 percent. There still seems to be room for the program to grow: Reporting properties, the summary aid, represent 23 percent of energy use in the city.
There are two rationales behind benchmarking. One is that it enables problems to be isolated and solutions put in place. The other is a bit more subtle: Letting people know that energy use is being monitored leads them to be a bit more judicious. The last person out of a room is more likely than before to turn the lights out and a worker more likely to power down his or her PC at the end of the work day.
Chicago is not the only large city aggressively benchmarking energy use or considering doing so. The Desert News reported last week on Salt Lake City’s Project Skyline. The goals are to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution. Part of the program requires buildings of more than 25,000 square feet to be benchmarked. Putting that capability in place is being proposed in an ordinance from Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
The goal is to help, not punish, building owners:
Benchmarking is free using Energy Star Portfolio Manager, and no penalty would be imposed if a building is not energy-efficient. But, like vehicle fuel-economy ratings, the data would provide owners, tenants, lenders and buyers with information they need to voluntarily improve energy efficiency and make informed decisions about building investments.
It is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. “Each municipal benchmarking ordinance has been tailored to local needs and what the specific stakeholders in that community feel will be the most beneficial,” wrote Ellen Bell, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Midwest Clean Energy Manager, in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today. “No two ordinances are exactly alike, but they are designed with sophistication to get the most out of their specific audience.”
Denver also is benchmarking. Facility Executive reports that last month the city council passed an ordinance, named Energize Denver, which aims to help achieve the city’s goals of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Benchmarking is growing. “[M]unicipal benchmarking continues to grow every year, with a recent example being the passage of benchmarking legislation in December 2016 in Evanston, IL,” Bell wrote. “These ordinances continue to prove that regular energy tracking and reporting helps buildings reduce their energy use, as demonstrated in the 2016 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report.”
The Institute for Market Transformation says that 21 major cities now benchmark. The key is that the dual benefits — generating data that can identify trouble spots and subtly pushing people to conserve – make it an obvious step for cities large and small.