Cities and the Competition for Energy Efficiency

Excellent tools are available to monitor energy use across a community. Isn't it time for cities to be benchmarked against each other?
by | March 25, 2013

Nothing pleases a city leader like getting a high ranking on one of those "best of" lists that have become so common. There are hundreds of them, ranging from "best educated" and "most bike friendly" to "least expensive housing" and "lowest crime rates," and cities are quick to latch on to them to try to attract business, tourism, college students and even sporting events. One that I've never run across, however, is "best use of energy."

Such a list would be a true 21st-century creation, employing ever-improving technology to monitor and measure energy use--everything from electricity to natural gas to gasoline--for transportation, buildings, water and waste management. A fully integrated picture would consist of the energy flows in the entire city aggregated from data of its parts. Commercial buildings are starting to use these tools to track energy use, and it's already getting interesting.

Case in point: Charlotte, N.C., where a public-private collaboration, Envision Charlotte, aims to build awareness of personal energy consumption with the goal of achieving a 20 percent reduction in energy use across the community from a baseline level that takes into account fluctuations in the weather and building occupancy loads. Not only will data on individual building energy use be available, but public digital displays will show data on collective usage, and statistics now are online for the last 24 hours, seven days and 30 days.

Is there evidence that merely tracking energy use can result in less of it being used? Across the country, governments and utilities annually offer millions of dollars in incentives to decrease energy use. Government building codes enforce efficiency standards. But aside from incentives and regulations, will simply measuring and disclosing energy use increase efficiency?

A recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that it will. The three-year review of 35,000 buildings, using data from the EPA's interactive online Energy Star Portfolio Manager, showed annual savings of 2.4 percent.

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Bob Graves  |  Associate Director of the Governing Institute

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