Targeting Customers’ Needs to Improve Building Efficiency in Milwaukee

The city of Milwaukee in the United States is improving energy efficiency in buildings by focusing policies and programs on individual sectors to meet their unique needs. Photo by Anne Helmond/Flickr.

For some building owners, renovations—including retrofitting heating, cooling, and lighting systems—can be a way to attract tenants. For homeowners, improving insulation can make for more comfortable as well as energy efficient homes. For industry, more efficient equipment means expanding production lines while saving money. After many years of learning, the city of Milwaukee in the United States has developed a comprehensive suite of building efficiency programs that benefit the general public while meeting the needs and motivations of each of these individual sectors.

Through initiatives like the US Better Buildings Challenge, Milwaukee, led by Mayor Tom Barrett and the Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO), has found that targeting individual needs and motivations is key to improving energy efficiency. Now, Milwaukee is poised to further accelerate energy efficiency in the built environment and share this message globally through new partnerships like Sustainable Energy for All’s Building Efficiency Accelerator.

Making Efficiency Easy and Affordable through Technical Assistance, Innovative Financing, and the Power of Volume Pricing

For Manufacturers

For manufacturing companies, Milwaukee created the ME3 Sustainable Manufacturing program.  The program helps small to medium sized manufactures diagnose and assess their production lines to make improvements that save energy and other natural resources. As these companies are motivated to make operations more efficient and economically competitive, the program is an effective tool for reducing energy use across the manufacturing sector.

For Commercial Building Owners

For commercial buildings, Milwaukee is part of the national Better Buildings Challenge to reduce energy use 20 percent by 2020 in municipal facilities and participating commercial buildings. By establishing clear goals for energy efficiency and creating a “join the club” mentality for commercial building owners, the city is driving renewed interest in energy efficiency. Milwaukee has set a goal of impacting 200 commercial buildings in three years and is providing comprehensive tools to help building owners identify saving opportunities, benchmark their energy using EPA’s free Portfolio Manager energy tracking tool, and finance improvements through an open-market Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing system. PACE allows Milwaukee commercial building owners to get financing for energy saving improvements from private capital providers and repay it over up to 20 years as special charge on their annual tax bill. So far, the PACE program has been used most aggressively by developers who are renovating underutilized historic buildings and retrofitting them with new state-of-the-art energy efficiency equipment.

Milwaukee is also providing educational tools to train building operators and tenants to more efficiently manage building operations. The City is one of the first in the United States to implement the US Department of Energy’s Asset Score tool to identify energy efficiency improvements, and is also using the SEED data platform to track energy efficiency projects in a standardized format. But the key to bringing it all together for building owners is to provide an easy to navigate customer experience. And the Milwaukee Better Buildings Challenge is doing just that by creating a customer “charter” that tailors a program path based on the goals of the individual building owner, and then creating a customized path to achieve energy savings.

For Local Homeowners

For homeowners, the City created the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency (Me2) and Milwaukee Shines programs. The programs offer homeowners with affordable financing options for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. For Me2, that means homeowners can install for new insulation and heating and cooling equipment and pay for them over time as they save on their energy bills. Since 2011, thirteen hundred homes have been upgraded through Me2, creating local green jobs while reducing the average energy usage in those homes by 30 percent. Yet for most homeowners, the primary motivation for using the program is not energy savings—it’s replacing old heating systems and making the home more comfortable and less drafty.

Milwaukee Shines similarly makes loans available for solar energy systems. It also periodically offers “group-buy” efforts in particular neighborhoods, through which the City selects a single solar installer through a competitive process, who then provides bulk pricing on solar installations. This brings the prices of solar down for all participating homeowners and creates a sense of community momentum for solar in each neighborhood. Milwaukee has also reduced the soft cost of solar by streamlining the local permitting process for solar and city electrical inspectors on solar installations.

Connecting Building Owners and Cities to the Latest Solutions

Milwaukee is home to building efficiency companies like Johnson Controls and Franklin Energy, and its universities and other energy technology companies collaborate through the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC). M-WERC develops industry “roadmaps” that chart a course for additional university research and development. Its WERCBench Labs provide coaching and development for young start-up companies. Through the Better Buildings Challenge program, Milwaukee will deploy the latest energy efficiency technologies by educating building owners on these technologies and identifying opportunities to install them in commercial buildings locally. This approach can improve the local building stock, drive the innovation economy, and help the City at large reduce its carbon footprint.

Going forward, Milwaukee looks to partner with other leading cities around the world to accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency programs, policies, and technologies. We are proud to be a founding city partner of the Sustainable Energy for All  Building Efficiency Accelerator, a public-private collaboration to speed adoption of building efficiency policies and projects that now includes over a dozen local jurisdictions from five continents and over 30 global businesses, NGOs and funders. The Accelerator provides an excellent opportunity for shared learning as cities chart a new course for sustainable economic development.  And, as Milwaukee’s experience shows, the road to energy efficiency will require a range of targeted strategies.

Erick Shambarger is Director of Environmental Sustainability and leads the City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office. 

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