Individual Efforts Are Not Enough: Implementing District-Scaled Energy Efficiency Measures
Around the world, there are consistent conversations regarding the importance of energy efficiency and its global effect on climate change. We hear that if each of us changes to more energy efficient light bulbs, or if we undergo individual housing energy efficiency measures, we can reduce our ecological footprint – and “save the planet.” Of course, there is no arguing that individual efforts can be impactful, but what about district or regional-scaled energy efficiency measures?
Business Improvement Districts (BID) are areas which assess a tax to the residents and businesses in order to advocate on behalf of its members’ best interests in the areas of public safety, beautification, promotion, maintenance, economic development, and more, within the community. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 BIDs across the United States and Canada, and an additional 145 within the United Kingdom. The amount grows even more from there. One such BID, The Wilshire Center Business Improvement District, in Los Angeles, California, began implementing measures to become the first “Cool District” in North America. By providing district-wide existing building energy audits and conducting residential and commercial deep building retrofits, the Wilshire Center BID is simultaneously reducing energy consumption, cost, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Wilshire Center Business Improvement District in Los Angeles, California
Simply put, deep building retrofits incorporate an integrated and whole-system, or holistic, building design approach. These projects positively affect multiple building systems and assemblies, including the building envelope, lighting, plug and process loads, and HVAC. Therefore, these collaborative and iterative deep building retrofit approaches yield much larger energy and resource savings than an average, ‘non-deep’, or standard energy retrofit. Through successful case studies of residential and commercial deep building retrofits in North America (Empire State Building, Vance Building, Beardmore Block, and a residential home on Shirely Avenue and HilltopDrive: Millbury, Massachusetts) one can summize the importance of existing building deep building retrofits for energy savings, a household or businesses’ bottom line, and the environment.
Using Age to Our Advantage
It is estimated that in the United States of America alone there are ’80 billion ft2 (7,432,243,200 m2) of commercial space that needs to be [retrofitted] over the next 20 to 30 years …;’ providing great opportunities for energy cost-savings within the commercial real estate market. Private-sector commercial building owners and businesses are recognizing the effects of existing building, deep building retrofits. They are realizing that in conjunction with an approximate 50% reduction of energy costs, they receive reduced operation and maintenance expenditures, extended equipment life, increased rental value, and improved occupancy rates. Overall, commercial building and business owners are noticing that deep building retrofits are good for business and their bottom line.
Furthermore, there are significant opportunities for residential sector building retrofits. There is significantly more residential floor space when compared to commercial floor space. The United States, alone, has approximately 279,861,670,830 ft2 (26 billion m2) of residential floor space, providing plenty of opportunities to retrofit an aging building stock. While commercial building owners are benefiting, so are residential building owners. They benefit from insuring their house and bills against future energy price increases, increasing the homes’ value, comfort for the residents, and additional physical and mental benefits.
The existing building stock, on a whole, accounts for 39% of the United States’ energy use, with 21% residential and 18% commercial building stock consuming the nation’s energy supply. The most significant energy consumers are heating for residential buildings, and lighting for commercial buildings. By reducing energy consumption through deep building retrofits, the existing American building stock has the opportunity to consume less energy, while producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, through implementation amongst the roughly 1,000 Business Improvement Districts across North America, and 145 within the United Kingdom, greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced through collaborative and iterative actions that also appeal to building owners and the real estate sector. By collaborating with public and private entities that provide incentives and rebates for energy audits and building retrofits, it is very likely that the WCBID’s model can be implemented in neighborhoods and/or business improvement districts around the world, greatly reducing harmful global warming generating greenhouse gas emissions.
Have you given any thought to approaching your local Business Improvement District to offer such a solution? What opportunities do you see in district-scale energy efficiency improvements? What limitations?
Renée van Staveren is the Founder of Global Site Plans. She holds a M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Environmental Planning and Policy from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She also holds a B.S. in Sustainable Community Development from Prescott College. Prior to establishing Global Site Plans and The Grid, Renée van Staveren was an Assistant Planner ...
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