New York City's iconic Empire State Building has been getting a lot of press lately for its energy efficiency improvements. Its latest achievement is receiving LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Several years ago, the Empire State Building's owners embarked on an ambitious program to prove that investing in energy efficiency makes good business sense for owners of older properties. The contract was won by Johnson Controls, which recently opened the largest energy storage R&D center in the U.S., and it involves $20 million in energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures that will pay for themselves in just a few years. One key takeaway: plan for "cascading" savings to get the most bang from your energy efficiency investment in an older building.
The Empire State Building and LEED Gold
Everything about the Empire State Building is massive - after 80 years it is still among the tallest buildings in the world - so the efficiency improvements were planned on a massive scale, too. One highlight was the removal of all 6,514 windows by high tech glass company Southwall Technologies, which then cleaned the glass, enhanced it with an energy saving film and gas mixture inserted between each double pane, and reinstalled them. To help reduce carbon emissions and expenses, the operation was conducted on site at the Empire State Building.
"Cascading" Energy Savings
Along with new windows, all of the building's 6,514 steam radiators were retrofitted with reflective insulation. Together, these two projects reduced the load on the building's heating and cooling requirements enough to reconfigure the existing chiller plant as a smaller operation. It's a clear demonstration that a well-planned retrofit starts with maximizing conservation before moving on to a building's operating equipment.
Less and Less Energy for the Empire State Building
The energy retrofits alone cost $13 million and will reduce energy use by 38 percent, chopping a huge $4.4 million slice out of the building's $11.4 million energy bill. Next up is the modernization of the building’s 68 elevators. They were originally installed by the Otis Elevator Company, and the firm will perform the upgrade. The new elevators will run smoother, faster, and use about 30 percent less energy.
Great Savings from Old Buildings
The Empire State Building is just one dramatic example of the significant savings that can be achieved even in very old buildings, using existing conservation technologies. While new high tech solar power innovations and other forms of renewable energy are still in the development stage, retrofits can serve as a new energy source. That fact has not escaped the notice of the Obama Administration, which launched the Better Buildings Initiative earlier this year to help promote energy savings in existing buildings as well as new ones..
Image Credit: Empire State Building by alistairmcmillan on flickr.com
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.