Twenty American cities have collaborated with philanthropic foundations to slash the amount of energy used by buildings, which currently use more than transport and industry combined. The cities, which vary in size and character, developed bespoke programs so as to provide a range of models for other places. Strategies included retrofits, smart lighting and financing for energy-saving improvements.
Results & Impact
New York City’s policies cut carbon pollution by 9% during the project’s first four years. Atlanta's efficiency programs are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 2013 levels by 2030. Carbon emissions are expected to drop by 9.5 metric tons annually across all cities, which is equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road every year
20 US cities, the National Resources Defense Council, the Institute for Market Transformation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Kresge Foundation
The partners embed a technical advisor in each city to help stakeholders design tailored climate-resilient strategies. Strategies include retrofits to buildings, advanced lighting systems, energy-efficient motors and providing financing for energy saving improvements. The National Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation provided technical advisors for the cities, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Kresge Foundation provided funding
20 cities across the US
Cost & Value
Cities get $20 million over 5 years to implement energy-efficient policies in buildings
Running since 2013
Convincing building owners that it was worthwhile for them to introduce energy saving measures was a challenge. To address the problem, City Energy Project advisors and local officials convened stakeholder committees through which they worked with building owners to develop financially beneficial policies
The City Energy Project is slashing emissions and saving more than a billion dollars by teaching 20 cities how to make their buildings energy efficient.
The initiative is a partnership between the participating cities, two environment advocacy non-profits and three charities that provided $20 million in funding. The City Energy Project began in 2013 and is slated to run through 2018. In most American metropolises, buildings account for up to 75% of energy use – more than both transportation and the industrial sector.
“The project is unique in it has a centralised team that provides support to the cities by helping them create packages of programs and policies that are applicable to their city,” said Julie Hughes of the Institute of Market Transformation, who serves as the Co-Director of the City Energy Project and the Director of Building Performance Policy.
The truly innovative part of the model is the technical advisor embedded in each city, said Hughes: “It would be really hard to do this work effectively sitting in Washington, DC and trying to develop local policy that requires a buy-in from the private sector and members of city government. It really takes doing something nitty-gritty on the ground.”
City Energy Project advisors help city stakeholders design climate-resilient strategies tailored to their city, all aimed at reducing building-based energy consumption by five to ten percent in five years. The strategies vary per city, and include measures such as building retrofits, advanced lighting systems, energy-efficient motors and financing programs for energy savings improvements.
Across all cities, carbon emissions are expected to drop by 9.5 metric tons annually, which is equivalent to $1.5 billion in energy savings – or taking 2 million cars off the road.
The National Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation provided technical advisers for the cities, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Kresge Foundation provided funding.
Twenty cities were chosen through a number of different criteria, with a particular focus on how much impact the program could have in terms of energy and carbon emission savings. The City Energy Project considered factors like the number of buildings in each city and whether their main source of energy is “dirty,” like coal.
They also focused on political will, engagement from the business and real estate sectors, cooperation with local utility programs, and diversity in terms of geography and size, in order to encourage replicability. The intends to create publicly available resources and models to communicate best practices.
“We want other cities that are not in the project of various sizes and in various places in the country to have a model to look to. Boise, Idaho isn’t going to look to Los Angeles as a model that they can replicate – but they might look to De Moines, which has similar a building stock, size of city government and resources to dedicate to energy saving,” said Hughes.
One of the project’s most significant challenges was convincing building owners that it was worthwhile for them to introduce energy savings measures.
“Despite what commercial building owners think, a lot of the cost savings don’t even require capital investment,” said Hughes. “It was a matter of quantifying and bringing savings to the attention of building owners – and emphasising that it can save money and improve their bottom line.”
City Energy Project technical advisors and city officials directly engage with building owners by convening a stakeholder committee or task force, through which they meet with owners to discuss needs and goals. Most critically, they emphasise that energy saving measures can be financially beneficial.
New York City’s benchmarking and transparency policy resulted in energy savings of nearly 6 percent, which translated into $267 million in cost savings. Their strategy reduced carbon pollution by 9% during the project’s first four years.
Atlanta’s energy efficient policies are expected to cut commercial building energy consumption by 20% by 2030, and reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 2013 levels. The Atlanta program will also create more than 1,000 new jobs in its first few years.
Cities involved in the project include New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia, among others.
A 2012 study by the Rockefeller Foundation found that upgrading and replacing energy-consuming buildings is a capital investment opportunity: spending $279 billion on retrofitting could yield more than $1 trillion in energy savings over ten years. It could also reduce emissions across the country by 10% and create more than 3.3 million jobs in the US energy industry.
(Picture credit: Flickr /Guido Barberis)