Tuesday 21 May 2013

The City of Chicago, (my all time favorite US city and one that is well worth visiting), is a leader in the US and the world on promoting energy efficiency and sustainability generally. Chicago has a unique history in buildings, the skyscraper was invented there, and as well as many historic buildings it still has some of the tallest buildings in the world in the form of the Willis Tower, (formerly and still to most people the Sears Tower,) and the John Hancock tower.


The city, whose official motto is ‘Urbs in Horto’ or ‘city in a garden’, has the aim of being more liveable, more competitive and more sustainable. It has had sustainability programmes for a number of years and has achieved the following:


  • been voted ‘most sustainable large community’
  • number 1 in number of LEED certified buildings
  • has the largest urban solar capacity (10 MW on brown field site)
  • number 1 in green roofs, with more than 5 million square feet
  • has the 3rd largest concentration of green jobs in the US
  • has recently shut down two urban coal fired plants, thus improving air quality.


The city’s sustainability efforts have been accelerated under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the city has 24 goals for 2015 in 7 key areas (‘24/7’) with 100 specific activities being monitored. Number 2 in the 7 key areas is ‘Energy efficiency and clean energy’. It is refreshing to see that the order is energy efficiency first, rather than clean energy. Energy efficiency also clearly links in with number 1, creating jobs, and number 7, addressing climate change.


The city undertook a study of energy use split into census blocks and the numbers show that there is $3 billion a year spent on energy in 600,000 buildings and that 71% of Chicago’s carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. This realization led to the creation of the Retrofit Chicago programme which has three sub-programmes, one for public buildings, one for commercial buildings and one for the residential sector.


In the public sector the City set a target of reducing energy use by 20% in its 10 million square feet of facilities. Recognizing that finance could not come from public funds the City created the Chicago Infrastructure Trust which is designed to bring in multiple, private sector finance partners to invest in infrastructure upgrades. Although less than a year old, and still, as the Deputy Mayor described it at the recent ACEEE Financing Forum, an ‘infant that has probably got too much attention’, it is working on financing energy efficiency retrofits in buildings, large pumping stations and schools.


The Commercial Buildings Initiative (CBI) was launched as a voluntary , opt-in, programme. It initially had 14 million square feet of buildings owned by major real estate companies signed up but now has 32 buildings with 28 million square feet. It both “makes it easier” for building owners to have a retrofit and provides recognition. Interestingly enough finance is not considered a barrier in the CBI as these are major buildings owned by large real estate companies.


The Residential Partnership used the data on energy use at a census block level to identify twelve zones with a high potential for energy efficiency. This information is available through the city’s information portal and the city is encouraging people to come up with new ways of using the data. After less than a year 1,300 retrofits have now been undertaken with a total of 2,600 across the city (including areas outside the twelve zones). As in other residential retrofit schemes a critical issue is accelerating demand and the city uses an out-reach team using various techniques including house parties.


For more information on Chicago Retrofit see here.


Many US cities are doing really interesting and effective things to improve energy efficiency but ‘the windy city’ is definitely up there amongst the leaders and worth studying.

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Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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