Around the world, urban leaders including university presidents, renowned architects, city mayors and financial managers are recognizing the need to manage explosive energy demand growth from rapid urbanization. But changing business-as-usual development is not an easy task.
Today, 12 new cities are committing to accelerate their efforts in making buildings more energy efficient by joining the Building Efficiency Accelerator, a coalition to achieve the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative’s goal of doubling energy efficiency by 2030. These cities—Belgrade, Serbia; Bogota, Colombia; Coimbatore, India; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Eskişehir, Turkey; Medellín, Colombia; Porto Alegre, Brazil; Rajkot, India; Riga, Latvia; Santa Rosa, Philippines; Shimla, India and Tshwane, South Africa—join 11 other cities already in the Accelerator. Together, they seek to reap the many benefits energy-efficient buildings produce, such as reducing energy demand in new and existing buildings by 25-50 percent.
These new cities will work with WRI and more than 30 international organizations in a multi-stakeholder partnership. Five of them—Belgrade, Bogota, Da Nang, Eskisehir, and Raijot—will join Mexico City as part of a “learning laboratory” for the Accelerator, and will work with a technical advisor from the partnership to help them prioritize, engage local stakeholders, develop local materials and initiate their policies and projects. Over the past year, Mexico City has been localizing the national building code and planning to retrofit a set of its municipal buildings.
All 23 cities will also work with BEA partners to pursue new policies and projects. WRI’s recent guidebook, Accelerating Building Efficiency: 8 Actions for Urban Leaders, offers a menu of options, including 8 policy actions to scale up energy-efficient buildings:
1) Enact building efficiency codes and standards to require minimum levels of energy efficiency in building design, construction and/or operation. This can decrease energy expenses throughout the lifetime of the building.
Brussels, Belgium has met great success with multiple Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings projects. Starting off as a response to a European Directive on buildings occupied and owned by public authorities, Brussels went above and beyond the requirements of the Directive to enact stricter standards at an accelerated pace for energy performance in new buildings.
2) Commit to efficiency improvement targets. Many communities set local goals for energy performance in publicly owned buildings. Governments can also introduce voluntary targets to incentivize private sector action and create “challenge” programs for city-wide action.
Tokyo, Japan has implemented a cap-and-trade program that limits emissions from large-scale industrial and commercial infrastructure. The program engages tenants and owners to reduce emissions 17 percent between 2015 and 2019.
3) Collect energy performance information on buildings. Understanding building energy use and benchmarking that information against other similar buildings is a good way to decide where investments can be made for the lowest-performing buildings. Having data allows decision-makers to track energy performance against improvement targets.
New York City has made progress on this action, passing a benchmarking law that requires owners of large buildings to report their energy use. Local Law 84, under which these policies were enacted, also spurred the development of a tool to predict energy savings at the building level, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation’s Energy Savings Potential (ESP) Tool.
4) Establish financial programs, incentives and other options to help efficiency projects overcome economic barriers such as upfront costs.
Armenia has been a pioneer in this arena. Its innovative R2E2 program created a revolving fund for efficiency and renewable energy projects.
5) Lead by example. Successful government policies and projects undertaken on government buildings can create greater demand and acceptance for building efficiency technologies and approaches.
Buenos Aires, Argentina has launched its Energy Efficiency Program in Public Buildings in order to help meet its goal of reducing its overall emissions 30 percent below 2008 levels by 2030. The initiative has taken off, with more than 20 public buildings undergoing energy audits and implementing best practices for improved efficiency and building performance. City leaders are implementing energy management tools, as well as new standards for environmental sustainability in new public buildings, bringing the city closer to its emissions targets.
6) Engage building owners, managers and occupants using partnerships, competitions and awards.
Singapore has created a Green Leasing Toolkit, which equips both tenants and landlords with information about monitoring and improving building efficiency. This tool boosts building performance from the ground up, and provides tenants and owners with the knowledge to take action.
7) Work with technology, equipment and other service providers to develop skills and support business models to meet and accelerate building efficiency demand.
Bainbridge Island in Washington State is working with efficiency service providers on capacity-building by hosting workshops on technical improvements to buildings, such as air leakage control. Bainbridge Island has also increased standards for contractors’ certifications, better educating the technicians who make decisions about buildings’ features.
8) Work with utilities to improve access to energy usage data and support efforts to reduce customers’ energy demand.
Brazil’s “Intelligent Energy Program” has mandated that utilities make annual investments in building efficiency projects. It has spurred programs like Conviver, which installs more efficient fixtures in lower-income communities, increasing performance of buildings for more vulnerable populations.
Cities are seizing the transformative opportunity that building efficiency best practices can provide—a chance to meet the energy needs of growing communities by stretching each kilowatt hour to more people. Building energy efficiency also helps cities reach their climate goals, reduce costs and improve productivity. With cities growing rapidly, their leaders face a myriad of infrastructure investment requirements – energy efficiency is one of the smartest investments they can make.