Unlocking Our Buildings’ Potential

Katie Weeks
Announcing the launch of the Denver City Energy Project, a voluntary program that aims to benchmark building energy performance across the city

Are your city’s buildings sitting on an untapped wealth of savings? The City and County of Denver think so, and they are now calling on local building owners to join them in unlocking billions of dollars (yes, with a B) in savings. How? Energy efficiency.

Last week, the City and County of Denver launched the Denver City Energy Project, a voluntary program that aims to benchmark building energy performance across the city. Denver is one of 10 cities participating in the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of IMT and the Natural Resources Defense Council. City officials including Deputy Mayor and Chief Financial Officer Cary Kennedy, Denver Environmental Health Executive Director Doug Linkhart, and representatives of project partners BOMA Denver Metro Chapter, the Energy Efficiency Business Coalition, IFMA Denver Chapter, and Xcel Energy officially kicked off Denver’s program in a launch event at the historic Brown Palace Hotel.

DCEP launch attendee's low res

Attendees of the DCEP launch event at the historic Brown Palace Hotel.

The Denver City Energy Project encourages building owners of commercial and multifamily structures over 10,000 square feet to commit to measuring their buildings’ energy use in order to identify opportunities for improvement. And there certainly is room for improvement: Research has shown that Denver’s large commercial and multifamily buildings are sitting on $1.3 billion in energy savings*.

Measuring energy use and investing in efficiency is a win for building owners because it identifies and informs strategies that owners can use to establish a continuous cycle of improvement to benefit both the bottom line and the environment. Commercial and multifamily buildings currently account for more than 64 percent of Denver’s carbon emissions, and the Denver City Energy Project is projected to reduce those emissions by 18 percent. In addition, research has shown that building owners who benchmark their buildings are more likely to make energy efficiency improvements and, on average, benchmarked buildings reduce energy use by 7 percent over three years. The city also wins from these voluntary efforts, too: Energy efficiency projects generated new jobs—the Denver City Energy Project is expected to create 4,000 jobs—and those building owners who opt to share their ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager score or energy use intensity (EUI) with the city can help drive citywide investment in the most effective programs and solutions.

We’re off to a good start: So far, 57 building owners have benchmarked their buildings and shared their findings with the City through the Denver City Energy Project. (Access the full list of participants here.) In return, they are receiving training on how to benchmark and improve building efficiency, as well as assistance in engaging building occupants in improving building performance.

DCEP Launch enrolled buildings group shot

Representatives from DCEP enrolled buildings.

However, benchmarking isn’t just for the private sector. The City and County are leading the way in the Denver City Energy Project, having committed to reducing the energy use of city-operated buildings—which represent more than 6 million square feet of space—by 20 percent from a 2011 baseline by the year 2020. Benchmarking building energy use is critical to reaching this goal.

It was appropriate to launch the Denver City Energy Project at the Brown Palace Hotel, a historic building that has saved 26 percent on its electricity costs and 24 percent on its natural gas costs per occupied room through various energy efficiency projects over the past two years. These include a guest room lighting retrofit initiative that’s set to provide a 167 percent return on investment and a new laundry system that’s projected to save 54 percent in energy use and provide more than a 200 percent return on investment over less than six months.

Also recognized at the event was 1670 Broadway, a local building that is projected to save more than $128,000 per year in energy costs thanks to a new energy-management system that monitors, controls, and optimizes building performance. The project is anticipated to pay for itself in less than three years, and just six months into the year from its completion this past January, the property was seeing a 20-percent reduction in overall electrical use, as well as a 25-percent reduction in overall district steam energy use.

When Denver joined the City Energy Project last January, it was already a leader in sustainability. The Denver City Energy Project aims to solidify and grow that status. Are you ready to participate?

* Savings estimates are scaled to the City and County of Denver based on models published in “United States Building Efficiency Retrofits: Market Sizing and Financial Models,” from the Rockefeller Foundation and Deutsche Bank Group, March 2012.

Note: This article is co-authored by Katrina Managan, Senior Advisor, Denver City Energy Project, Department of Environmental Health, City and County of Denver.

Katie Weeks
Director of Communications, Institute for Market Transformation