Citywide Benchmarking Update

In our last blog entry, we mentioned Philadelphia’s citywide benchmarking program, through which large non-residential buildings are reporting their energy and water usage using the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool. We’ll be releasing full results on this program’s first year in the next few weeks, but we wanted to give you a sneak preview today.

benchmarking Chart_highres

As of today, about 1600 buildings have benchmarked in the city. While this is a small percentage of the overall number of buildings, it’s around 20% of Philadelphia’s overall square footage and total energy usage. While the majority of large non-residential buildings in Philadelphia perform at or above national averages, hundreds fall well below this threshold. Raising the performance of these buildings (which can take the form of everything from operational improvements—that’s turning off the lights and the computers, which we’re sure everyone reading this is already doing—to comprehensive energy retrofits) to meet national averages for similar facilities would reduce energy consumption for benchmarked buildings by 23% and citywide consumption by 3.5%. To put that in context, the Greenworks Philadelphia Target for citywide building energy usage is a 10% reduction—just bringing the lowest-performance buildings up to average gets us a third of the way there.

Why does this matter? Take just electricity usage: per the Energy Information Administration, it cost commercial customers in Pennsylvania an average of 9.5 cents a kilowatt hour to power buildings in 2012. For those buildings that reported their 2012 usage, this works out to more than $390 million in annual electricity payments. By bringing the underperforming facilities up to speed, those costs fall to just over $300 million. That’s $90 million for Philadelphia’s businesses, hospitals, churches, and schools to spend elsewhere. Again, that’s just for electricity, and only for those buildings that are underperforming. There are energy-saving opportunities in high-performing facilities, too!

Saving energy in buildings is also a key part of Philadelphia’s climate action goals. Building energy usage accounts for more than half of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and these 1600 buildings specifically represent 10% of overall emissions. Bringing those underperforming buildings up to par mean for carbon emissions would be the equivalent of removing thousands of cars from Philadelphia’s roads each year.

But to be clear: the act of benchmarking alone will not save anyone money, and will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Benchmarking does give building owners, managers, and tenants the right information to make decisions and take action, though, which is why it’s so important as a first step. MOS is excited to continue working with its partners on plans to improve the performance of Philadelphia’s building stock. The city was recently selected as one of ten participants in the City Energy Project, a ground-breaking effort to collaborate on policies and practices to reduce energy usage in buildings, and we look forward to discussing more about what this means for Philadelphia in the coming weeks and months.

Questions? Join MOS (@GreenworksPhila) for our first-ever live Twitter Q&A forum on commercial benchmarking, Wednesday, March 19th at 12PM.

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