These days, the nation’s capital city — and the federal government in particular — is not known for getting things done. But the city itself has bold plans, including Mayor Vincent Gray’s Sustainable DC initiative, to be the greenest, healthiest and most livable city in the U.S.
As part of Sustainable DC, the city’s energy and sustainability office launched Build Smart DC on Thursday to provide transparency and accountability for the municipal building stock, and then make it as energy-efficient as possible.
And after laying bare all of its daily energy information, Washington, D.C. has set a goal of reducing the energy use in more than half of its 30 million-plus square feet of municipal facilities by 20 percent in twenty months.
“We’re trying to embrace truly transparent data to create tremendous savings,” said Sam Brooks, associate director of the city’s Energy & Sustainability office. “Our hope is that it’s nothing less than a groundbreaking and transformational initiative.”
The city has already benchmarked its building stock with Energy Star scores, but “energy benchmarking is so 2010,” asserted Brooks. Instead, Build Smart DC will gather about 35,000 data points per building per year.
But getting access to interval data was not as easy as the city would have hoped. Although Pepco, the utility that serves the area, had deployed smart meters, it still took six to eight months of wrangling to get the data from the utility. At one point, the program administrators debated double metering the buildings to get the data, because every lost month was seen as lost energy — and money — savings. Washington, D.C. spends about $65 million annually in energy expenditures.
Some of the analytics will look for anomalies, such as schools that have heating or cooling systems staying on until 10 p.m. The data will also provide insight into which buildings need deeper retrofits. Brooks acknowledged that it’s a learning process all around. The administration has been engaging building stakeholders, and has asked each building to come up with an operational plan. Brooks said his team has engaged facility managers about the functionality of the website, but acknowledged they could have been brought in even earlier in the process.
Eventually, there will likely be competitions between buildings, which can be powered by Lucid, which partners with Honest Buildings. Ultimately, Brooks would like to expand the effort across the nation — and the globe. “In my utopia, there would be a Biggest Loser-type competition,” he said. The C40 Cities group would be the likely place to launch such an effort.
But for now, it’s a matter of cutting energy waste from the biggest offenders, all while documenting it online for the public to see. “Embracing something like this takes real guts,” Brooks said of Mayor Vincent Gray. “He’s the guy that allows us to swing for the fences.”
Tracking and taking action on interval electricity use, however, is just the beginning. The platform could someday bring in building energy management data, and there are already plans to include natural gas, recycling and water data in the future. “Better, more robust data will bring efficiency,” said Brooks. “Culturally, you have an immediate change when you embrace transparency.”