Philly Enters Top Ten in ENERGY STAR Rankings

(This post is adapted from a recent opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

On Thursday, April 10th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its sixth annual ranking of metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star certified buildings. For the first time, Philadelphia placed in the top 10, moving up to the number-nine spot.

In 2008, only 28 buildings in the city were recognized through the Energy Star program. Today, there are 210 in the region, which collectively saved $29 million in 2013 alone. And that is only a fraction of the opportunity in the city’s building stock.

Philadelphia’s big buildings are the key to cutting carbon emissions and putting millions of dollars back into the local economy. Nationally, commercial buildings represent about 20 percent of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions. In cities, these numbers are much higher. In Philadelphia, more than half of all the energy used in buildings goes to the commercial sector, and 62 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings. When it comes to buildings’ energy performance, though, information is scarce.

Imagine buying a car with no fuel economy label. It might seem absurd, but in commercial real estate transactions, it’s the norm. That’s starting to change now that Philadelphia and eight other U.S. cities have mandated annual energy benchmarking for large commercial buildings. In 2013, more than 1,700 buildings in Philadelphia tracked and reported energy performance using Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Starting this summer, energy ratings for all of these buildings – including schools, churches, office towers, and municipal buildings – will be publicly available.

By using the EPA’s free Energy Star tools, owners can see how their buildings stack up to their peers and track the impact of their investments over time. Buildings that score a 75 or higher (out of 100) can earn the Energy Star, just like appliances and lightbulbs.

Mercy Philadelphia HosMercy_Philadelphia_400pital earned the Energy Star in 2013 for its commitment to reducing energy use and costs. In addition to installing qualified lightbulbs, the staff started a simple, effective “Turn It Off” campaign. Each Saturday, one team member checks the lights and air conditioners. If they’re still on, the team member turns them off and leaves a reminder for colleagues to “Turn It Off.”

Success in energy efficiency is increasingly important. Every summer, heat waves mean higher operating costs in a region that already pays 20 percent more than the national average for energy. Earlier this year, extreme cold set all-time records for energy demand and sent bills through the roof for many commercial customers. Efficient building systems and operations are the best way to insulate against price spikes while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment.

To achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions in an increasingly urbanized world, cities have to lead. And buildings, which are our primary source of carbon emissions, are the key.

This Earth Day Help Make the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability Permanent

Last fall Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Jim Kenney proposed a Charter change to create a permanent Office of Sustainability. This proposal is a testament to the great sustainability work happening all across Philadelphia and to support from residents and businesses of our shared goals. As outlined in the 2013 Greenworks Progress Report, Philadelphia has made tremendous sustainability progress over the past five years, but we have much more work to do. The Charter change would be an important step toward keeping the momentum going strong!

City Council’s Committee on Law and Government will hold a hearing considering Resolution No. 130884 and Bill No. 130878 on Monday, April 28, at 10:00 a.m., in Room 400 of City Hall.

If you’d like to voice your opinion, you can:


About Last Winter . . .

As most Philadelphians noticed, the weather the past few months was a bit outside the norm.  This winter brought nearly 68 inches of snow to Philadelphia, cementing its place in history as the second snowiest on record.  It also had the highest heating degrees days (a measurement designed to reflect the demand for energy needed to heat a building) in the past decade.  Now that we’ve had our last cold streak for the season (at least we hope), we thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at a few of the major winter weather events.  Sustainability and resiliency are intrinsically related and here at MOS, we were left thinking how the initiatives Philadelphia is pursuing as part of Greenworks can help to lessen the impact of extreme winter weather.

The Polar Vortex

During the peak of the polar vortex in early January, the regional electricity grid was experiencing one of its most challenging times, as heating demands stressed the regional electricity grid.  The local grid operators, PJM, recorded their all-time winter peak use at 141,312 MW on the evening of January 7th.  During that time energy prices were 6 times the monthly average for natural gas and 3 times the monthly average for electricity.  Individuals and organizations that purchase directly from Pennsylvania’s real-time energy markets saw a sharp increase in energy costs.  For the City of Philadelphia, long-term energy management purchasing strategies and energy efficiency investments helped the City avoid the largest increases in its monthly utility bills.


The Winter of 2013-14 hammered our city with extreme snowfalls–and extreme cold (Source:

The Ice Storm

In February, a cold streak of ice and snow followed by heavy winds resulted in record-breaking electricity outages throughout the region.  The events left millions without power, caused the closing of schools and workplaces, and severely disrupted day to day life.  One of the best defenses against storms is smart grid technology, which allows utilities to find outage areas and deploy remote or on-site solutions to restore service quickly.  Over the past several years PECO has been deploying its advanced meter infrastructure throughout Philadelphia, with plans to complete smart meter installation for residential customers by the end of 2014.  While smart grid technology will never replace the service crews that pull a tree limb off of downed lines, they will enhance resilience in our electricity grid.


There’s no forecast for what type of weather future winters in Philadelphia will bring. However, investments in energy efficiency, infrastructure and strong energy management practices will help all Philadelphians better manage winter events.  We’re still crunching the numbers to see just how the winter affected the City’s energy bills, but we’re confident that the investments we’re making today will help reduce our cost burden—and our environmental impact—in the years to come.