NYC's Largest Buildings Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Eight Percent, According to New Energy Data Released Today by Mayor de Blasio, Urban Green Council and NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress

August 24, 2016

Between 2010 and 2013, emissions from 3,000 consistently benchmarked properties dropped by eight percent, energy use decreased six percent

NEW YORK––As part of Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious goals to create more energy efficient buildings – an integral aspect of the City’s OneNYC commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels from 2050 (80x50) – he along with the Urban Green Council and NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress today released New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report, a comprehensive analysis of data which focuses on 2013 energy and water usage of buildings in New York City reported in 2014. The report further establishes New York City as a leader among U.S. cities in building energy and water data collection. The report will serve future work that can lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the expansion of detailed benchmarking to improve the energy efficiency of buildings across the five boroughs.

The analysis in the report finds that between 2010 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from 3,000 consistently benchmarked properties with a 100 percent compliance rate – which includes zero gaps between benchmarking periods – dropped by eight percent, while energy use decreased six percent. This is an important step towards the OneNYC commitment to achieve 80x50. To continue progress on these encouraging data findings, the report identifies several opportunities for energy savings and builds upon the findings of the City’s One City: Built to Last Technical Working Group Report released in April – which include improving heating system efficiency, preventing energy losses from window and wall air-conditioning units, and updating lighting and installing lighting controls.

“Thanks to the data within this report, we can identify areas to reduce our energy consumption and continue this downward trend of greenhouse gas emissions, getting us closer to our 80x50 OneNYC goal. This is yet another tool that will create a more sustainable, equitable and resilient city. I’d like to thank the Urban Green Council and the Center for Urban Science and Progress for their partnership in completing this report,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“The facts are clear. Buildings that benchmarked consistently since 2011 used six percent less energy and contributed eight percent fewer greenhouse gases to our atmosphere,” said Daniel Zarrilli, Senior Director for Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer for the Office of the Mayor. “Our partnership ‎with Urban Green Council and New York University Center for Urban Science and Progress is demonstrating the power of data-driven policy. As we expand this effort and continue to upgrade our energy code standards, we are putting ourselves on the path to reach 80x50 as part of our OneNYC program to build a more resilient, more equitable, and more sustainable city.”

“Some owners have probably wondered whether all the new regulations on energy use was just a grand paper exercise,” said Russell Unger, Executive Director of Urban Green Council. “This report tells us ‘absolutely not.’ Hard data shows the new city laws are having their intended impact, and it’s substantial. With the active cooperation of NYC’s real estate industry we’ve cut building energy use. And thanks to the data trove we have from these new laws, every year we learn more and more about buildings and where to aim our future efforts."

"New York City’s Energy and Water Use Report represents another significant step forward in using rigorous data analytics to yield actionable insight that supports urban sustainability and long-term energy efficiency,” said Professor Constantine E. Kontokosta, Lead Researcher for the Data Analysis at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) and Tandon School of Engineering. “The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has once again demonstrated the value of a data-driven approach to reducing energy use and carbon emissions from buildings, and the potential for innovative, evidenced-based policies to drive real change."

“The City requires buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to perform annual audits of their energy use – and clearly, building owners are responding to the information they are receiving on their utility usage,” said Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler. “Small steps to increase the sustainability of buildings can make a big dent in the City’s carbon footprint – reducing emissions as well as energy bills. Expanded benchmarking will play a pivotal role in achieving Mayor de Blasio’s vision to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”

“I applaud this Administration’s efforts in ensuring New York City moves through the 21st century decreasing its carbon footprint. As new construction booms throughout the City, it is important that we keep in mind innovative ways to create energy-efficient and green structures, so that our children and grandchildren will inherit a City that is safe from environmental harm and pollutants,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, said, "This audit shows that benchmarking is an integral part of our efforts to decrease our carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. It will take these types of solutions, along with other upgrades such as efficient lighting systems and improved heating systems, to ensure that our buildings meet the 80x50 standard. I thank the Urban Green Council and NYU CUSP for working in partnership with our city on this important issue."

Six years ago, as part of its efforts to cut carbon emissions from New York City’s largest source – energy used in buildings – the City of New York launched an initiative to determine how much energy its largest buildings use. Since then, Local Law 84 of 2009 (LL84) requires owners and managers of buildings that occupy at least 50,000 square feet to report the amount of energy and water these buildings use each year. This information can be used to compare the buildings’ energy performance against that of similar buildings. This process of reporting and comparison, known as benchmarking, has since been adopted by many major cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

LL84 requires that roughly 15,000 City-owned and privately-owned properties benchmark their energy and water use each year. While these properties account for fewer than two percent of properties citywide, they comprise 47 percent of New York City’s total built square footage. Large, privately-owned buildings over 50,000 square feet in floor area make up 42 percent of the city’s built floor area, or about 2.3 billion square feet, an expanse larger than the land area of Manhattan and Staten Island combined. In 2014, owners and managers of about 10,000 properties submitted enough detail about their 2013 energy and water use to be included in this report’s analysis. Collectively, these buildings used 120 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy. That amount is slightly larger than the energy generated annually by four full-sized electric power plants.

The de Blasio administration and the City Council are currently working together to expand benchmarking requirements to additional buildings.

The data collected in the report reinforces areas of improvement that were highlighted in the City’s One City: Built to Last Technical Working Group Report, such as:

  • Improving heating system efficiency: Approximately three-quarters of the city’s large buildings use steam heating distribution systems. Steam heating systems predominated throughout much of New York City’s history, but is rarely replaced and may not be well-maintained. Comprehensive upgrades to steam heating systems, which include tuning up the boiler, master venting pipes, and installing temperature sensors and controls, can yield significant energy savings.
  • Preventing energy losses from window and wall air-conditioning units: In New York City, at least half of audited multifamily buildings’ area is cooled by non-central air conditioners positioned in windows or walls. Openings between these units and the walls and windows they pass through allow hot air to slip in during the summer and escape in winter. In the multifamily sector, the leakage area associated with room air conditioners is equivalent to a 167,000 square foot hole – an area almost as large as a typical Manhattan block. On an annual basis, this gaping opportunity translates into an operating cost penalty of between $130 million and $180 million for owners and the discharge of 375,000 to 525,000 tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere. Sealing these openings can result in substantial energy savings. So can replacing current units with newer, more efficient cooling technologies during planned renovations.
  • Updating lighting: Approximately 40 percent of the lit area in audited multifamily buildings and almost 25 percent of audited office floor space is illuminated by inefficient incandescent lighting, or by older, inefficient fluorescent lamps. Upgrading these lights can lead to sizeable electricity savings.
  • Installing lighting controls: Almost all of New York City’s audited illuminated area is controlled either by manual wall switches or is lit 24 hours a day, without any controls. As a result, lights often remain on when spaces are not in use. Installing automated controls can save large amounts of electricity. Local Law 88 of 2009 (LL88) requires upgrades to lighting systems for large non-residential properties by 2025, and will eventually address some of these concerns.

While the previous three reports from 2012-2014 were required by LL84, the New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report marks the first time the City voluntarily released a report of this kind using analysis provided by both the Urban Green Council and NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. The report also details the steps necessary to make progress on the path towards 80x50, which includes expanding benchmarking to more buildings. In addition, the de Blasio administration has taken a series of steps to cut energy use in buildings across the five boroughs, catalyze a private market for energy efficiency and low-carbon upgrades, and create new energy jobs. These steps include:

  • Last year, the City launched the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, providing a service to help building owners and operators of large buildings navigate all the steps necessary to complete energy and water upgrades. The Retrofit Accelerator offers a team of efficiency advisors to provide guidance and customized advisory services, including assistance with local laws, interpreting audit recommendations, selecting projects and contractors, and identifying financing and incentives. More information is available at www.nyc.gov/retrofitaccelerator.
  • The City launched Community Retrofit NYC this summer, which provides free dedicated outreach and technical guidance, and financial assistance to small and mid-sized multifamily buildings in Central Brooklyn and Southern Queens to implement efficiency upgrades. Community Retrofit NYC also connects interested building owners to the City’s new Green Housing Preservation program. More information is available at www.nyc.gov/communityretrofit.
  • The Green Housing Preservation Program, launched in May 2015, provides no- and low-cost financing for efficiency and conservation improvements, along with moderate rehab work, for small- to mid-sized multifamily buildings. In exchange for financial assistance, properties enter a regulatory agreement to keep rents affordable. The improvements also result in lower overall utility costs, which help safeguard affordability. More information is available at http://on.nyc.gov/2aVgcMv.
  • The NYC Benchmarking Help Center, launched in partnership with CUNY’s Building Performance Lab, provides free technical assistance and support for all covered buildings that need help at any stage in the benchmarking process. More information is available at www.nyc.gov/ll84helpcenter.
  • The NYC Energy and Water Performance Map allows New Yorkers to understand the energy and waste efficiency of more than 26,000 buildings across the city, mapping data the City has collected via existing benchmarking laws. More information is available at www.nyc.gov/benchmarking.
  • The NYC Carbon Challenge is a voluntary leadership program for the private and institutional sectors to partner with the City and demonstrate their commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability. Since 2007, 17 of New York City’s leading universities, the 11 largest hospital organizations, 12 global companies, 19 residential management firms, and 19 hotels have accepted the NYC Carbon Challenge, pledging to voluntarily reduce their building-based emissions by 30 percent or more over the course of ten years. These participants represent more than 250 million square feet of real estate, and are projected to reduce their GHG emissions by more than half a million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. In exchange for participation, Carbon Challenge participants gain access to a platform for the exchange of information and best practices, simple tools and resource to track their GHG emissions, and recognition for their leadership in sustainability.

New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report can be accessed here.

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