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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, July 2010
WEB Exclusive story

Green Agendas
Meet Reality TV

In an energy efficiency battle for the
ages, the biggest loser wins.

By Adam Bruns
One of two office building contestants in the EPA competition, 522 5th Avenue in Manhattan is a 595,430-sq.-ft. (55,316-sq.-m.)  23-story property constructed in 1896 and last renovated in 1996. Managed by Hines since last year, the property is owned and occupied by a leading global financial institution and leased to a number of retail tenants on the ground level.
One of two office building contestants in the EPA competition, 522 5th Avenue in Manhattan is a 595,430-sq.-ft. (55,316-sq.-m.)  23-story property constructed in 1896 and last renovated in 1996. Managed by Hines since last year, the property is owned and occupied by a leading global financial institution and leased to a number of retail tenants on the ground level.
Photo courtesy of EPA

ill the first person to enter the room please turn off the lights?"

That sort of backward talk may sound funny at first, but could be just the sort of banter filling the day-lighted and slightly uncomfortable hallways of a chosen few competitors in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Building Competition. Among 14 buildings in 11 states, the building that reduces its energy use the most will be recognized as the winner.

The first "weigh-in" happens this Wednesday, July 21, with the winner and final results to be announced October 26.

The EPA labels all 14 contestants as commercial buildings, but the list (see below) includes two university residence halls at rivals UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State in North Carolina, and two elementary schools in New Jersey and Colorado.

Rabid followers of the sport of energy efficiency can track the competitors via their Tweets. On July 12, the crew at the Hines-managed building at 522 Fifth Ave. in New York reported that they'd water balanced their chill water systems in order to slow down the pumps and thus save kilowatt-hours (kWh). Their only other office building competitor, at

1525 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Va., responded on July 13 with an aggressive claim: "We've raised our ENERGY STAR score again this month —we're at 95! So far we have reduced over 2,000,000 kWh of energy during the competition!"

In facilities management locker rooms across the country, that's the equivalent of standing at home plate admiring your home run, or a prolonged end zone dance. But this game's a long way from over.

Find Your EUI

The contest started on April 27, when EPA announced the selection of its competitors from a pool of nearly 200 applicants.

"It's time for buildings to tighten their belts and we're happy to help them go on an energy diet," said Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation. "Cutting energy use will reduce their monthly expenses and their carbon footprint, showing that environmental protection and economic growth can go hand in hand."

The evaluation period is one year long, from Sept. 1, 2009, through Aug. 31, 2010. The energy use of each building is being monitored with EPA's Energy Star online energy measurement and tracking tool, called Portfolio Manager. The unit of measurement is each building's energy use intensity (EUI), which represents the energy consumed by a building relative to its size. The contestant with the best percent reduction in its EUI will win the competition.

EUI refers to source energy use intensity. "Source energy represents the total amount of raw fuel that is required to operate the building," the agency explains. "It incorporates all transmission, delivery, and production losses, thereby enabling a complete assessment of energy efficiency in a building."

Want to measure your EUI yourself? Here's how:

"A building's EUI is calculated by taking the total energy consumed in one year (measured in kBtu) and dividing it by the total floorspace of the building," says the EPA. "For example, if a 50,000-square-foot school consumed 7,500,000 kBtu of energy last year, its EUI would be 150. A similarly sized school that consumed 9,000,000 kBtu of energy last year would have a higher EUI (180) to reflect its higher energy use. Generally, a low EUI signifies good energy performance."

The agency goes on to list the following typical EUI values, expressed in kBtu per sq. ft., and drawn from the very useful Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Energy Information Administration:

Building Type Average EUI
Dormitory 151
Hospital 468
Hotel 228
K-12 School 169
Medical Office Building 134
Office Building 193
Retail Store 173

Contestants' starting EUI scores ranged from 318 at Cleveland Clinic's Solon Family Health Center in a Cleveland suburb to 105 at the Sears store in Glen Burnie, Md.

What Gets Measured Gets Adjusted

But when the percentage improvements are recorded, there will be adjustments. EPA says it will adjust the percentage "to account for changes in weather to ensure that no building is credited or penalized due to changes in weather over the course of the competition."

So will competitors who carefully evaluated predominant weather patterns in determining their facilities' existing sites, designs and equipment systems receive no head-start points for their pre-existing wisdom? That's not the intent, says EPA Energy Star spokesperson Lauren Pitcher, explaining that the EPA uses a model that "weather normalizes" utility data so that a contestant isn't penalized for, say, having to go through an especially cold December.

Alexandra Sullivan, technical development manager for the Energy Star Commercial Buildings program offers further detail: "For each building, we take the 12 months of data they have, and for each month we have an energy value and a temperature value. We use the 12 months to establish a relationship between energy and temperature for that buidling. Using this relationship, we ask what would happen if we had the 30-year average temperature instead of the actual temperature. So basically, for each time period we take the energy and restate it as the energy that would have been used if 30-year weather conditions had prevailed."

The 30-year average is a standard way of describing a climate zone, updated every 10 years by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The 2010 update has not yet occurred, so the 1970-2000 30-year average is the point of reference for this competition.

Asked if there were any results showing, for instance, unexpectedly strong performance from older buildings, Sullivan says it depends who's doing the expecting. But, she adds, that is a trend that's been noted in the Energy Star program in general.

"Older buildings can actually have very good and strong performance," she says. "There are buildings that are 50, 60 or 100 years old that have earned the label, in addition to buildings that are two to three years old."

Pitcher says that the original pool of 200 applicants for the competition included a huge variety of building types, among them an airport terminal in San Francisco and a baseball stadium. They also displayed quite a variety in their existing energy-use profiles.

"Some were doing pretty well and had energy efficiency programs in place," she says, citing Sears. "Others were not doing very well and didn't know where to start. What we decided was to try to represent that pool as much as we could."

There was also great diversity among the types of organizations.

"Some organizations have quite a few resources available," Pitcher says, "while school districts really don't. We thought it would be a great experiment to give this huge diversity of organizations the same task, and see what happens."

Below are the 14 competitors in the EPA's National Building Competition. You can also read full profiles and follow them online.

  • 522 Fifth Avenue , New York , N.Y.
  • 1525 Wilson Boulevard Building, Arlington, Va.
  • Morrison Residence Hall at UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Tucker Residence Hall at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
  • Van Holten Primary School, Bridgewater, N.J.
  • Crystal River Elementary School, Carbondale, Colo.
  • Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown, San Diego, Calif.
  • Sheraton Austin Hotel, Austin, Texas
  • JCPenney, Orange, Calif.
  • Sears, Glen Burnie, Md.
  • Maplewood Mall, Maplewood, Minn.
  • Memorial Arts Building at the Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Ga.
  • Virginia Beach Convention Center, Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Cleveland Clinic Solon Family Health Center, Solon, Ohio

Story in Pictures

Constructed in 1987 and managed by Glenborough, LLC, the 1525 Wilson Boulevard Building is a 316,959-sq.-ft. (29,446-sq.-m.) 12 story Class-A commercial office building located in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Glenborough’s corporate-wide energy management plan — in place since 2004 — incorporates comprehensive water conservation and cost-saving upgrades, and the firm is actively pursuing an energy reduction program for tenants.
Photo courtesy of EPA
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