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Nerdy Energy Science Saves SLC Money and Pollution

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Salt Lake City’s Public Safety Building is the first Net Zero facility of its kind in the country. Even so, energy benchmarking and tune-ups helped us realize even more dollar and emissions savings.

Did you know that our buildings, homes, and small businesses contribute over a third of the pollution that obscures the valley during the winter?

Also known as “area sources,” this sector is the second-largest source of emissions and is forecasted to become the largest one in the coming years (as cars continually get cleaner due to federal regulations).

This is why everything we can do to reduce emissions from our homes and buildings can make a difference to our environment and public health.  It’s also why the City is focused on educating residents and businesses about the crucial role of efficiency to our airshed and to our carbon footprint. To this end, we provide guides for home improvements, including details on thermostat controls, home insulation and efficient appliances to help move residential buildings toward a cleaner energy future.

Our skyline’s largest buildings also have a role to play. While there is no “silver bullet” for wiping away all of Salt Lake City’s air pollution problems, the city’s commercial buildings can help simply by measuring their energy usage and making efficiency improvements where feasible.

We’re currently proposing an ordinance that would increase the transparency of energy usage in large buildings.  This ordinance would make information about buildings’ energy use available in the form of an Energy Star score from 0 to 100. The ordinance is in addition to the incentives, recognition and educational resources already available to support greater energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

But first– we need to walk our talk.

Salt Lake City has been measuring the energy consumption of our municipal facilities for a decade. While this data has mainly served our cost and energy savings goals, we’ve now begun to publicize it in the interest of community transparency and accountability. You can see our first annual municipal report here with the emissions and energy use data from 2015. We will publish annual updates each year.

The chart below shows emissions over the last several years, as well as internal city emissions goals for 2040. Because our emissions stayed relatively stable the last two years, this might not look like progress.

However, Salt Lake City’s attention to tracking our data and implementing efficiency efforts helped us offset the greater demands for city services due to a growing city population.

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The report breaks down energy use by building and by fuel type, including electricity, natural gas, and vehicle fuel. Highlights include:

  • In 2015, over 75 percent of city emissions came from electricity in buildings, while about 14 percent came from vehicle or equipment fuel and 10 percent came from natural gas.
  • Currently, the Airport, Public Utilities, and Public Services departments produce over 85 percent of all municipal emissions.
  • The report also includes an Energy Star rating for eligible buildings. (These are the same ratings that we’re asking commercial buildings to provide through the ordinance.)

Using this data, the city decided to recommission (or “tune-up”) five existing buildings, which means that inefficiencies were found and corrected through simple changes and repairs.

These recommissioning projects reduced emissions by 1.4 metric tons of CO2– as much as removing 301 cars from the road. They also saved the city over $180,000 in energy costs in 2016 alone! This is just a small sample from the dozens of total energy projects Salt Lake City worked on internally in 2016.

This is a promising start. However, Salt Lake City needs to do much better if we’re to meet the goals established in the Climate Positive initiative.

In the meantime, there’s one thing we know from years of experience: Energy benchmarking saves money, reduce emissions, and improves our air.

That’s something all of us– whether at work or at home–should get behind!

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