Buildings Empire State Building

Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


Empire State Building Efficiency Retrofit Model Rolls Out Across US

July 2nd, 2013 by  

New York City’s Empire State Building is colloquially called “The World’s Most Famous Office Building.” But now, thanks to an exceptionally successful energy efficiency retrofit program, that title may have to change to “The World’s Most Famous Green Building.”

The energy efficiency retrofit project, begun in 2009 as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, has capped off a second year of exceeding project guaranteed energy savings, reducing utility costs for tenants and the building owners by millions of dollars.

Now, the project team that designed and conducted the retrofit over the Empire State Building’s 2.85 million square feet is rolling the same model out in nearly 100 major commercial buildings across the US, targeting the 75% of energy use in urban settings that comes from commercial buildings.

Guaranteed Energy Savings Via Innovative Upgrades

Three years ago, President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off the $550 million retrofit program to reduce costs, increase real estate value, and lower emissions. In 2011 the building beat its efficiency guarantee by 5%, saving $2.4 million, and in 2012 it surpassed efficiency targets by 4%

Energy savings were guaranteed by partner Johnson Controls through a $20 million performance contract that pays the cost of the retrofit project over the life of the contract – if efficiency goals aren’t met, the difference is paid by Johnson Controls. “When implemented under a performance contract, energy savings are guaranteed, ensuring a no-risk investment and smart business decision,” said Iain Campbell of Johnson Controls.

Building retrofits focused on eight improvement areas to make core building infrastructure, common spaces, and tenant suites more efficient. Upgrades included replacing all 6,514 windows, switching to all LED lighting, installing new building management system controls, creating a web-based tenant energy management system, and upgrading all 68 elevators to be 30% more efficient while sending excess energy back to the building’s grid.

Sustainable Office Space Draws A Crowd

After completing all core retrofits, the building is now LEED Gold and Energy Star Certified, and is more efficient than some of New York City’s new LEED-certified buildings. Some small remaining upgrades will be finished as new tenants build out their high-performance workspaces. Once all tenant spaces are upgraded, the building will save $4.4 million per year while cutting energy demand 38% and carbon emissions 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years.

It’s surprising to hear the building still has space left, considering the volume of new tenants flocking into sustainable new digs. Companies like LinkedIn, Shutterstock, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Skanska have all signed leases for new efficient office space since the retrofit began.

Empire State Building Model Rolls Out Across US

But beyond exceeding energy efficiency goals and making the building more profitable, the Empire State Building’s retrofit model is now being applied to large commercial buildings across the US.

Johnson Controls and Jones Lang LaSalle, two members of the project team, are partnering to apply the same approach to all 13 New York metropolitan-area properties owned by Malkin, the company that manages the Empire State Building. “The Empire State Building has conclusively proven the business case for deep energy retrofits of any building,” said Raymond Quartararo of Jones Lang LaSalle.

Individually, Johnson Controls has applied the model to 44 commercial buildings, and Jones Lang LaSalle has rolled it out in 25 commercial properties in the US. Another partner, the Rocky Mountain Institute, has used best practices from the initial project to work with properties owned by AT&T and the Department of Defense’s largest retailer.

Impact Could Be “Astounding”

Buildings consume 40% of all energy in the country, so as this new retrofit model rolls out across the country, it could prove to be a turning point in the transition to a clean energy economy. “While the Empire State Building retrofit savings are impressive, its impact if extrapolated over the US building stock is astounding,” said Victor Olgyay of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

To learn more about the Empire State Building’s energy efficiency retrofit process, check out this short video:[vimeo 50648455 w=400 h=300]

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • ww

    That is really cool.
    Well done project team and ESCO!
    Really impressed.
    Windows replacement gives so much savings. What was return on investment?

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Once all tenant spaces are upgraded, the building will save $4.4 million per year”

      $20 invested. $4.4 annual savings. 4.5 year breakeven. About a 16% ROI.

  • Mathtified

    If this retrofit cost $550 million and it saves $5 million a year, would it not take 110 years to recoup the cost, not counting any financial costs? How does a $20 million contact with Johnson cover that? How does this add up? I’m all in favor of it working, saving energy and so on, but how does it make sense?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Most of the money was for a general reworking of the building. When the project started in 2009 it was expected renovation would cost $500 million and the efficiency upgrade an additional $20 million.

      Like just about every construction project it looks like they ran over on the non-energy efficiency part.

      “Owners of the New York City landmark announced on Monday that they will be beginning a renovation this summer expected to reduce the skyscraper’s energy use by 38 percent a year by 2013, at an annual savings of $4.4 million. The retrofit project will add $20 million to the $500 million building makeover already under way that aims to attract larger corporate occupants at higher rents.”

      • No Longer Mathtified

        It all becomes clear. Thank you.

  • RobS

    Energy efficient lighting is the other low hanging fruit, even more so in high temperature regions because an innefficient light is not just a light but a radiant heater with as much as 90% of the energy it consumes simply going to heat, this means that A/C in buildings with innefficient lights has to first fight against thousands of little heaters before it can actually begin to cool. When you switch say from a 50W halogen downlight to an 8W LED about 40 of those 42w savings are in the form of reduced heat production. So for every kw saved on lighting you save an additional Kw of cooling. This is an oft forgotten benefit of lighting upgrades, I read a case study of a tropical resort who switched to LED lighting in their lobbies etc that essentially ran 24 hours a day, this resulted in a savings of something on the order of 20kw of continuous demand, their business case had them paying off the cost of the retrofit in 2-3 years, however what had not been accounted for was that the load on their A/C system to maintain the same ambient temperature also fell by almost 20kw, doubling the expected power savings, increasing comfort in the resort’s buildings and halving the payback period on the lighting upgrade.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “As part of his climate action plan,President Obama renewed his first-term commitment to efficiency standards with an ambitious, but achievable goal: reducing carbon pollution by a cumulative 3 billion metric tons by 2030 through standards for appliances and federal buildings.

    Although, as the president himself acknowledged, “these standards don’t sound all that sexy,” they can prevent a huge amount of carbon pollution. To put how much into context, preventing 3 billion tons would equal the annual emissions of 849 coal plants — greater than the total number in operation in the United States today. Or, as the president noted, preventing that much pollution is “the equivalent of planting 7.6billion trees and letting them grow for ten years, all while doing the dishes.”

    And thanks to progress made during Obama’s first term, this goal is well within reach: over half of those emissions reductions are already in the pipeline from actions taken during the first few years of his presidency.

    Despite these many benefits, when Obama took office, DOE was woefully behind on its deadlines to set new and updated efficiency standards, some by more than a decade. In a 2009 memorandum, President Obama urged Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to meet all deadlines going forward.

    The president’s clear commitment — combined with Secretary Chu’s leadership, the hard work of DOE staff, and court-ordered deadlines for along list of products — resulted in new standards that will save Americans a net $77 billion and result in almost 30 quads of cumulative energy savings by 2035, equivalent to about 30 percent of U.S. annual energy use.”

    Let me repeat for the “Obama has done nothing crowd” –

    And thanks to progress made during Obama’s first term, this goal is well within reach: over half of those emissions reductions are already in the pipeline from actions taken during the first few years of his presidency.

    • RobS

      The cumulative emissions is a slightly sneaky way of inflating the apparent size of the number, listing an annual savings would be more informative because then one can compare it against the annual output of various power plants. Given that the 849 coal plants worth of power is being saved over 17 years that is the annual output of 50 coal plants, there are about 500 coal plants in the US so this efficiency measure alone could see 10% of all coal plants made redundant. Of course other fuel switching will also occur so decreases in coal usage could easily be 30-50% even as a low case scenario.
      Renewables now produce about 15% of US electricity, this is growing rapidly, however the cheapest way to grow it even faster is not to build more but to reduce total consumption thus making what we already have a greater proportion of the total. Ay solar installer worth his wage will tell you the fist thing to do if you want to install solar panels to offset your home consumption is to invest heavily in reducing consumption and increasing efficiency, that is no different on a national scale.

      • Bob_Wallace

        We’ve got a bit over 600 coal plants right now. As much as 20% of them could be shut down in the next four years due to EPA regulations.

        We need to pour on the renewables and pull down demand with efficiency.

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