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First Public Data from Chicago’s Energy Ordinance Show Both Strong and Weak Performers

First Public Data from Chicago’s Energy Ordinance Show Both Strong and Weak Performers

By June 1, owners or managers of essentially all buildings in Chicago larger than 50,000 square feet were required to submit their 2015 energy usage data to the City. This is the third year that some have had to report their data; for others, it is their first year of compliance. Back in September 2013, Chicago joined a handful of other U.S. cities when it became the latest to adopt a building energy benchmarking ordinance. Through the impact of the ordinance, the City of Chicago hopes "to raise awareness of energy performance through information and transparency, with the goal of unlocking energy and cost savings opportunities."

In December 2015, the City of Chicago made public the 2014 energy usage data and ENERGY STAR scores (for those buildings that can receive scores) for commercial and institutional buildings larger than 250,000 square feet. The spreadsheet, presenting data for 243 buildings (predominantly offices, hospitals, K-12 schools, and colleges/universities), can be downloaded from the City's Data Portal.

The owner or manager of each of these 243 buildings also had to submit 2013 energy usage data in 2014, but that data was not made public. Since data for buildings covered by the ordinance is released starting with the second year that they must comply, owners/managers are essentially allowed one year to improve their energy performance before anyone can see how well their buildings are performing. Some may be surprised by how they stack up against similar buildings.

For owners/managers of investment real estate, who might compete for tenants with certain demands for efficient, sustainable operations, their benchmarking results may pose a business risk—if their performance is poor—or opportunity—if their performance is superior.

Public disclosure of energy usage data is a critical piece of the ordinance. Without it, building owners/managers who have never sought to reduce their energy usage have no compelling reason to change their behavior.

One of the popular myths that the public data has already dispelled is the notion that older buildings are less efficient and offer fewer opportunities for improvement. Among the 243 buildings, those that date from a century ago tend to be no less efficient, on average, than those that date from the last decade. Chicago's landmark Art Deco buildings clad in stone can perform just as well as—if not better than—modern steel-and-glass skyscrapers. Every building has opportunities to improve energy performance. Sieben Energy Associates has generated value through energy efficiency for owners/managers of old and new buildings alike.

Diving into the data set for the 243 buildings, interesting trends and lessons emerge. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the 25 most energy-intensive large commercial and institutional buildings are laboratories and hospitals. But in terms of building type, offices comprise the bulk of the set, accounting for 153 of the 243 buildings. Only 9 of the 153 offices have an ENERGY STAR score lower than 50. (For a particular building type, the EPA has defined a national median score of 50. Only buildings of the same general type are compared to one another.)

Among the 25 K-12 schools in the set, however, almost half (11) have ENERGY STAR scores below 50, and all of those 11 are Chicago Public Schools. And 12 of 18 hospitals in the set have ENERGY STAR scores below 50, although large hospitals in major cities admittedly have unique demands and characteristics that may render performance comparisons on a national basis somewhat misleading. Overall, that data set reveals that Chicago has some buildings that are excellent energy performers, and others that are awful energy performers. The ordinance will ultimately prove its value if a number of those awful energy performers demonstrate progress over time.

Sieben Energy Associates has extensive knowledge of Chicago's building energy benchmarking ordinance. We have also led a number of building managers in Chicago through the process of submitting their energy usage data to the City to comply with the ordinance.

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