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New York City Builds a Case for Energy Efficiency
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August 06, 2012

New York City Builds a Case for Energy Efficiency

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

Buildings “of a certain age” in New York City are more energy efficient than others, according to an analysis of the first benchmarking data collected under Local Law 84 (LL84) of 2009, which covers the power profile of 1.7 billion square feet of office and residential space in the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

That certain age? About 100 years old. Newer buildings in the Big Apple (News - Alert) tend to use more energy per square foot than older ones. This trend is generally true for buildings dating back to the early 1900s, with each 20-year group using more energy per square foot than the prior group.

And that’s just one of the fascinating facts to come out of the first-ever compilation of energy data under the law, which requires all privately owned properties comprising individual buildings over 50,000 square feet — or encompassing multiple buildings with a combined square footage of over 100,000 square feet — to annually measure and report their power and water usage. 


The energy efficiency effort really began on Earth Day in 2007, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg (News - Alert) launched PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan for the sustainable growth of New York City through 2030. PlaNYC established ten long-term goals—among them, achieving the cleanest air quality of any big U.S. city., ensuring that all New Yorkers live within a ten-minute walk of a park, improving the reliability of New York’s energy system, decreasing water pollution in the city’s waterways, and reducing citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 30 percent by 2030 from a 2005 baseline.

To put some strength and statistics behind all of those good intentions, in December 2009, the City Council passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed into law the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP), a suite of four laws that constitutes the most comprehensive policy addressing energy efficiency in existing buildings that has been enacted in the United States. In addition to the legislative components of the GGBP, which require mandatory benchmarking for large buildings, the plan also includes programs to finance energy efficiency retrofits and to provide workers with the skills needed to implement the GGBP.

"Buildings account for 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in New York City, yet many property owners and managers do not know they can be a part of the solution and save money by making their buildings more energy efficient," said Mayor Bloomberg. "This benchmarking report will help us understand where we can act most quickly to significantly reduce GHG emissions and achieve our PlaNYC goals."

Key Findings

Overall, the first year’s findings indicate that, if all comparatively inefficient large buildings were brought up to the median EUI (energy use index) in their category, New York City dwellers and workers could reduce energy consumption in large buildings by roughly 18 percent and GHG emissions by 20 percent.. If all large buildings could improve to the 75th percentile, the theoretical savings potential would increase to roughly 31 percent for energy and 33 percent for GHG emissions.

For the most part, buildings in New York City are in line with Northeast averages– but use less energy than the national averages, perhaps due to the high quality of the region’s older building stock. Specifically, Big Apple buildings achieve a median ENERGY STAR (News - Alert) score of 64 out of 100.

One of the most striking findings is the wide variation between the most- and least-efficient buildings. The least efficient buildings in each category typically use three to five times more energy than the most efficient buildings that house similar activities with similar levels of lighting, heating, and so on.

Sector-by-sector analysis suggests the most promising targets for efficiency improvements. Multifamily buildings make up the majority of both number of properties and area, comprising 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Their proportional energy use is not as pronounced (slightly less than 50 percent of all consumption) because multifamily buildings are not nearly as energy intensive as office buildings and other space types, such as hospitals or retail. Their portion of GHG emissions, however, is significantly higher (58 percent) than their proportional energy use because most multifamily buildings use fossil fuels for heat and hot water, which accounts for the majority of their energy consumption.

Office buildings are the second largest sector. Because they are large and energy intensive, they account for just 11 percent of the number of benchmarked properties, but almost a quarter of square footage and over a third of building energy use. In terms of GHG emissions, office buildings contribute 27 percent, because the predominant fuel type used is electricity, which is less GHG-intensive than the fossil fuels in which dominate the multifamily buildings.

All the other sectors combined (including industrial buildings, schools, hotels and retail) encompass a smaller square footage and energy impact than either the office or multifamily sectors.

Targeting the office sector for energy reductions makes strategic sense, because so much energy is used in relatively few buildings. Achieving more efficiency in the residential sector will be more challenging because the buildings are so numerous—but their impact is far too large to ignore, specifically regarding GHG emissions.


Compliance with LL84 was relatively high, particularly for a new program. Approximately 75 percent of covered properties complied with the benchmarking requirement by the extended deadline of December 31, 2011 – indicating that an extensive outreach and education effort was successful in increasing property owners’ awareness of this new law. We expect that familiarity with the program and enforcement will drive compliance higher in future years as the program becomes a more routine part of doing business. High participation also suggests that benchmarking will start having its ultimate intended effect: engaging property owners to evaluate the efficiency of their buildings.

This benchmarking law is a significant piece of our environment portfolio and is the largest effort in the country to measure energy and water usage," said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. "Buildings are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and this information will lead to significant energy savings throughout our city. I want to thank the administration for their work on this issue and for helping make New York City even greener."

"Improving the energy performance of our nation's buildings is good for our environment, our health and our future," said Jean Lupinacci, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program.

The GGBP is projected to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 5 percent, have a net savings of $7 billion, and create roughly 17,800 construction-related jobs by 2030. A full copy of the benchmarking report is availablehere.

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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo

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