+ What is the City Energy Project?

The City Energy Project (CEP) is a national initiative to create healthier and more prosperous American cities by improving the energy efficiency of large buildings. Working in partnership, the Project and participating cities support innovative, practical solutions that cut energy waste, boost local economies, and reduce harmful pollution. The pioneering actions of the cities involved in the City Energy Project are helping to shape and define next-generation energy efficiency efforts in communities nationwide.

The first 10 cities selected for the program in 2014 were: Atlanta,; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Houston; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; and Salt Lake City.

The 10 communities selected for the second phase of the program in 2016 are: Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; Miami-Dade County; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I. Reno, Nev.; San Jose, Calif.; St. Louis; and St. Paul, Minn.

The City Energy Project is a joint initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). It is funded by a partnership of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation.

+ How does it work?

The City Energy Project empowers participating cities to implement locally designed energy efficiency strategies and fosters peer-to-peer sharing of knowledge and best practices. Each city receives technical and strategic assistance to design, plan, and implement a suite of solutions that advance local sustainability goals, with the assistance of staff working onsite. The various measures promoted by the Project work in concert to create benefits greater than any single policy or program could achieve. Each CEP city develops its own plan and goals regarding sustainability. The Project augments these existing efforts, working with each city so strategies maximize benefits to the local building sector and local economy. The 20 CEP cities also learn from each other and share best practices, ensuring economies of scale and better results.

+ Why cities?

Across the country, cities have been leading the way on sustainability and resiliency. Cities have the ambition and political will to pursue innovative initiatives to increase energy efficiency in buildings. Furthermore, the majority of big buildings are concentrated within cities and account for a significant portion of each city’s energy use.

+ Why large buildings?

In nearly every major American city, buildings consume more energy and are responsible for more carbon pollution than any other end-use sector—even more than their transportation or industrial sectors. If cities want to be more competitive and more resilient against energy and climate-related crises, they must boost the energy efficiency of their building stock.

Across the country, buildings account for more than 40 percent of total energy consumption and $400 billion in annual energy bills.i In addition, commercial buildings account for 16 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions.ii

And in our largest cities, the relative impact of buildings is even higher: in major American metropolises, buildings account for between 50 and 75 percent of citywide carbon pollution.

By focusing on the largest buildings first, cities can capture a considerable portion of the square footage of their built environment while working with a more manageable number of buildings. Improving the energy performance of these buildings yields significant results.

Studies have shown significant potential to save energy and money in America’s buildings. A 2012 study by the Rockefeller Foundation showed an investment potential of $279 billion with energy-bill savings of more than $1 trillion over 10 years.iii

Fortunately, we have the knowledge and technology needed to make our buildings vastly more efficient. Doing so will not only save energy and reduce costs, but also provides countless positive non-energy benefits, from job creation to higher property values. The City Energy Project works with cities to identify and activate this potential.

+ How much energy can my city save?

Potential savings vary by city. Multiple variables affect overall savings including the number and size of buildings and the carbon content of the city’s energy supply mix (e.g., coal, hydropower, etc.) By pursuing thoughtful, well-designed programs and policies that address the largest buildings, cities may be able to reduce their building-based energy consumption by 5%-10% or more, saving their residents and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year.iv v For example, New York City’s benchmarking and transparency policy alone resulted in cumulative energy savings of 5.7% or more than $267 million and carbon emissions reduction of 9% during the first four years of the policy, according to the Department of Energy.vi Similarly in San Francisco, the City’s benchmarking policy resulted in a 7.9% cumulative reduction in energy use.vii

Participating cities in Phase I of the Project are on the path to achieving strong results from the policies and programs they are adopting as well. For example, in Atlanta, the City’s energy efficiency policies and programs are projected to drive a 20 percent reduction in commercial building energy consumption by the year 2030, create more than 1,000 jobs per year in the first few years of the policy, and reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent from 2013 levels by 2030.viii

More than half of the carbon pollution in our largest cities comes from the energy used in buildings. For example, in Chicago, buildings account for 70 percent of the City’s emissions.ix Cutting that energy use has the potential to reduce the emissions and hazardous air pollution generated by power plants, making cities healthier. It will also reduce the peak load pressure on the grid, when energy consumption is highest and energy supply is the most expensive to procure. High peak loads result in the need to fire up additional power plants, often fossil fueled and highly polluting.

+ What are the non-energy benefits?

Economic Benefits
With energy and water costs accounting for on average 26.8 percent of office building operating costs,x efficiency improvements can help building owners and tenants to significantly cut their utility bills. These savings can be put toward other needs, such as the purchase of goods and services, which in turn drive local economic activity.

Making cities’ buildings more efficient will also create jobs at all skill levels—and free up money currently being spent on utility bills to flow back into the local economy. Moreover, investments made to improve building performance support local, highly skilled jobs that cannot be outsourced. Working with the City Energy Project to catalyze robust local markets for energy efficiency will also spur innovation and help attract new businesses and entrepreneurs. Competitive cities want to retain and attract innovators, and innovators want to live in the best cities in the country.

Public Health Benefits
Over 166 million people, roughly 52 percent of the U.S. population, still lives amidst pollution levels that are often too dangerous to breathe.xi Fossil-fueled power plants are responsible for much of the nation’s sulfur dioxide, which fouls the air. In many large cities, buildings are responsible for up to 75 percent of all energy consumption. Energy efficiency is a low-cost energy strategy that reduces pollution by reducing demand for existing and new energy production. Energy efficient buildings also support occupant health and comfort, leading to greater productivity and satisfaction in the space. The work of City Energy Project has direct public health benefits to individuals as well as the regions where they work.

Low-Income Benefits
Our urban centers account for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Low-income communities in our cities face the greatest exposure to aging and poorly constructed housing and coal-burning power plants, both of which can lead to health issues disproportionately impacting this portion of our communities. 

Many of the same things we can do to curb the effects of climate change can also make our cities healthier and economically resilient places to live for low-income residents. From daylighting better information on buildings to challenge programs to improve the energy use of affordable multifamily housing, the City Energy Project can provide solutions to improve housing and work conditions for underserved communities, while creating much-needed jobs and new economic opportunities.

+ How is a city’s CEP work different from its sustainability plan?

The City Energy Project helps cities better integrate energy efficiency solutions into their existing sustainability plans, so they can reach their own energy, climate, and economic goals with tested, effective strategies and solutions. CEP activities focus on energy efficiency whereas sustainability plans typically focus on a range of issues that may include energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, land use, and more.

+ What strategies does CEP use to cut energy waste?

The City Energy Project uses four main strategies to accelerate energy efficiency:

1.       Leading by Example: Implementing efficiency strategies in a city’s own buildings and encouraging the private sector to commit to leading in efficiency.

In every city, some real-estate leaders are poised to move quickly. CEP helps cities capture this potential by setting aggressive targets for municipal buildings and by creating challenge programs that motivate the private sector to match such commitments.

2.       Advancing Transparency: Helping building owners and operators understand energy efficiency opportunities and bringing building energy performance data to the market.

To reduce energy use, building owners and operators must first know how much energy their buildings are using and where potential waste is occurring. They can then use that data to make informed decisions on how to improve energy efficiency in their buildings. Simply put, building owners and operators can’t manage what isn’t measured.

Similarly, the market can’t value what isn’t known. When building energy performance is available, prospective building tenants can use that information to make leasing decisions and potential investors can factor that information into their investing decisions to improve their financial performance.

The City Energy Project works with cities to unlock this crucial information about urban buildings, clearing the way for retrofits that cut energy use and create local jobs.

3.       Removing Barriers: Making it easier to invest in energy improvement.

Even if energy efficiency projects make financial sense, building owners won’t pursue them if they can’t pay the upfront costs, or if they won’t benefit financially from their investments. CEP helps cities remove these barriers by improving building owners’ access to the capital they need and by addressing split incentive issues so that building owners and tenants alike accrue the benefits of energy bill savings.

4.       Raising the Baseline: Picking the low-hanging fruit.

Roughly half of all energy efficiency improvements can be made simply by improving how buildings are operated—with little to no capital investment. This means, for example, that lights are off and heating and cooling systems are turned down when no one is present. CEP assists cities in capturing this low-hanging fruit.

+ How were the cities selected?

We selected cities that demonstrated significant interest in being national leaders in energy efficiency and were poised to pursue that ambition. These are cities of various sizes from all parts of the country—proof that every type of city can pursue and benefit from energy efficiency.

+ What exactly do the cities do to achieve their goals?

Each city crafts a locally tailored plan that combines multiple policies and programs to advance energy efficiency and reduce wasted energy in large buildings. Examples of these initiatives include financing programs for building improvements, challenge programs for the private sector, building “tune-ups” (or retro-commissioning), and improved energy code enforcement. The mix of offerings depends on the city and the unique opportunities and barriers that exist in that market.

IMT and NRDC guide cities through the planning, design, and implementation process. The energy efficiency solutions that the CEP supports are flexible and advance the overall project goals.

+ Can my city participate in the City Energy Project?

The City Energy Project is concentrating its resources on a select number of cities in order to provide high-quality support and achieve success. That said, the success of these early adopters will be shared, making it easier for other interested cities to learn from their peers and follow suit.

+ How long will the project last?

The project is slated to run through the end of 2018.

+ Will the project grow to include more than 20 cities?

Two years after the launch of the first phase of the project that included 10 original cities, additional funding for the City Energy Project was announced in December 2015. This funding has allowed the program to extend for a second phase into 10 additional U.S. cities through the end of 2018. We have no plans to engage cities beyond that point.