Mining for Energy Efficiency Opportunities in NYC Buildings

If markets thrive on information, then New York City recently unlocked a gold mine for the energy efficiency industry.

The city became the first in the US to make public how well (or poorly) each large, private building within its borders performs when it comes to energy and water use. A city website displays information about 2,065 large commercial properties, encompassing 530 million square feet.

Building owners were required by law to participate in the program, part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ‘PlaNYC’ goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030.

 “I know data isn’t always exciting, but the takeaway here is that a city even as large and sophisticated as New York knows almost nothing about its privately owned buildings and how those privately owned buildings use energy,” said Andrew Burr, director of building energy performance policy at the Institute for Market Transformation, a non-profit working with New York and several other cities on green building plans.

The evaluation painted a sometimes surprising picture of New York (mostly Manhattan). For example, New York has more energy efficient buildings than the nation as a whole. Its newer buildings tend to use more energy than older structures. Larger office buildings are often more energy intensive than smaller ones. And neighborhoods with less efficient buildings tend to have higher asthma rates.

Found here, the information is valuable to building owners, government, real estate buyers and energy efficiency service companies.

Using the data, building owners are able to see how much energy – and money – they waste and take corrective action. City government gains a better understanding of programs and policies that will help improve buildings. Those buying or leasing real estate gain a more clear picture of the value a building. And energy efficiency companies, consultants, and energy technology providers have an opportunity to see where specific opportunities lie.

For building owners, participation was relatively painless, according to Burr. In a process that took 5 to 15 hours, depending on the complexity of the structure, owners gathered information on utility bills, building specs and other data and ran it through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a tool to track and assess a building’s performance for energy and water use.

New York City already had disclosed similar information for its 2,657 municipal buildings, which total 273 million square feet. All large buildings in the city will participate annually in the benchmarking exercise. Large residential buildings are slated to report next fall.

“New York has just taken a giant leap for transparency: this is the largest publication ever of metered energy performance data from buildings in a single city,” said Cliff Majersik, IMT’s executive director. “Markets need information to function, and this will let New Yorkers know how much energy the buildings around them are using. It will allow them to get crucial real-estate information that hasn’t been available until now.”

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer. Subscribe to her free energy efficiency newsletter at

Lead image: Manhattan buildings via Shutterstock

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Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry's top magazines and newsletters, among them Renewable Energy World and Platts. She serves as chief editor of Her work has been picked up by the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal online, Utne, USA Today and several other sites. She is author of the report "Think Microgrid: A Guide for Policymakers, Regulators and End Users." See more of her work at

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