Wide Differences Found in Buildings’ Power Use
The first comprehensive study of energy use by New York City’s largest buildings shows some to be power hogs, using up to five times as much electricity, natural gas, heating oil and steam as others of comparable size or purpose. And there is ample room for improvement.
The report, to be released on Friday by the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, estimates that if poor-performing buildings in the city improved their efficiency and reached just the median level of energy use in their categories, the city’s energy consumption would decline by at least 18 percent and greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 24 percent.
The Bloomberg administration deems such an improvement to be crucial to the city’s effort to reduce emissions associated with global warming: buildings, their heating and cooling especially, account for two-thirds of those emissions in the city.
But while lowering their utility bills gives building owners a major incentive to make energy upgrades, the initial costs have been a deterrent, and intense opposition from owners has staved off new city laws requiring some upgrades and retrofits.
Changes that could improve the energy consumption of a typical building range from simple fixes, like new light fixtures, to fairly expensive equipment, like solar panels.
The city and state offer financial incentives, like low-cost loans for such improvements, but co-op and condominium associations point out that they face an array of pressure for other spending.
The report is a preamble to assigning scores to individual buildings on their energy use and publicizing them to further encourage property owners to make necessary improvements, not unlike the grade system the city uses for restaurants.
The initial scores for nonresidential buildings will be released by the city next month and scores for all large buildings are expected by the fall of next year, officials said. The report offered a broad picture of how much energy buildings used in 2010, and found that the worst-performing, or bottom 10 percent, of more than 15,400 buildings reporting energy data used three to five as much energy as comparable buildings. At the ZIP code level, some areas of the city consumed as much as six times more energy per square foot as better performers, raising questions about whether income levels, the attributes of the buildings themselves or some other factor is at play.
Among the best-performing residential neighborhoods, defined by ZIP codes, city officials said, were Williamsburg (11211) in Brooklyn and Richmond Town (10306) on Staten Island. Among the worst were Roosevelt Island (10044) in Manhattan, Kew Garden Hills (11367) in Queens and Soundview and Clason Point (10473) in the Bronx.
The least-efficient residential buildings were found in neighborhoods that also reported high asthma rates, the report said, without identifying them, a finding that city officials said “deserves more analysis.”
The city began tracking or “benchmarking” buildings’ energy use under a 2009 law intended to help satisfy Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The law applies to individual buildings of over 50,000 square feet and multiple-building properties with a total of more than 100,000 square feet.
Although just 2 percent of the city’s one million buildings are covered by the law, they account for 45 percent of the energy used by all New York buildings.
The reason for the sharp discrepancies in energy use will not be fully identified until the buildings undergo required energy audits, starting next year, but the benchmarking data reveals some patterns. For instance, older buildings of every stripe, even those dating to the early 1900s, performed better than most structures from recent decades. Green-building experts say it is likely because they have fewer windows and thicker walls, which provide better insulation.
Adam Freed, the deputy director of the sustainability office, said the scoring would give the city a road map for understanding the characteristics that drive energy use and allow buildings to “make informed decisions” about spending priorities.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 3, 2012, on page A16 of the National edition with the headline: Wide Differences Found In Buildings’ Power Use.
- Study Finds Big Differences in NYC Building Energy Intensity (environmentalleader.com)
- Benchmarking of Energy Efficiency of NYC Buildings (timesunion.com)
- Canada could miss green ‘mega-trend’ (calgaryherald.com)