Pittsburgh up to the challenge to save energy
By Jim Sloss
Up until the 1970s, Pittsburgh was a steel town, with mills dominating the skyline. This created air pollution on hot summer afternoons and cold winter mornings that brought heavy, hazy fog over the city that turned days into nights.
During the past few decades, Pittsburgh has seen a transition to a cleaner economy and environment. Many steel mills have moved out and renewable green economies have moved in – cleaning up the city and creating new jobs.
Under guidance from the mayor, the Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency was created in 2008 with funding through savings achieved in the utility budget.
Savings are now rolled into the Green Trust Fund that funds green initiatives each year to help power strategies such as solar installations, high performance HVAC systems, and the installation of new LED streetlights across the city’s more than 40,000 existing streetlights.
In the spirit of sustainability, energy efficiency and collaboration, we joined the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge to help us manage and increase our work to make Pittsburgh more sustainable. We’ve pledged a portfolio-wide energy savings goal of at least 20 percent over 10 years for more than 200 buildings, or 1.77 million square feet, across Pittsburgh and developed an organization-wide plan, schedule, and milestones to meet this goal.
Meeting our milestones
There are numerous ways we are meeting milestones for the Better Buildings Challenge.
First, we work closely with the DOE through the auditing of all of our facilities. The software that the DOE provides allows us to benchmark our retrofit work, look at the savings, see increased efficiencies and look for the highest return on investment. This audit also allows us to better plan our Green Trust Fund money each year and plan for energy-efficient retrofits for older buildings across the city.
Second, through our commitment to the DOE’s program, we’ve increased our goals to upgrade our already aging infrastructure. Many of the buildings across Pittsburgh are heavily used by the public, yet they are aging and underperforming. These buildings have survived a time when there was little investment in their well-being. The DOE has allowed us to get a better grasp on specific retrofit strategies needed in these buildings to make them more energy efficient and perform better.
Buildings in our DOE portfolio include facilities, rec centers, public works facilities, offices and courthouses. Strategies to retrofit and upgrade them include the installation of new roofs, air handlers, boilers, air conditioning, new windows and completely new electrical wiring throughout each building.
Third, as part of our participation in the Better Buildings Challenge, we are featuring a showcase project: The City County Building. Built a hundred years ago for less than $3 million, the building has intricate artwork throughout, such as parapet walls and parapets around the roof. Each piece of concrete has the city and county logos carved into them that goes completely around the entire 800,000-square-foot facility.
The building has a penthouse and a law library. The elevators have copper-like doors with metalwork design, and ornate woodworking and granite floors. To increase the efficiency in the building to match the charming aesthetics, we’re retrofitting the lighting floor-by-floor, repairing the original, drafty windows, insulating the basement’s tunnel system and are currently preparing to completely retrofit the roof with solar panels.
The biggest takeaway for our involvement in the Better Buildings Challenge, however, is that it helps hold us accountable to continuously strive toward effective and transparent energy management. The energy to operate buildings across the U.S. costs about $200 billion annually, and on average, 30 percent of this energy is wasted.
Our work with the DOE increases the performance of our buildings and is helping save once-wasted energy. The work also helps increase the quality of the air and water in cities and communities across the U.S., including Pittsburgh. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, we will continue the commitment we’ve made to make Pittsburgh an even more green and sustainable city – and one that is creating jobs.
Sloss is Pittsburgh’s first Energy & Utilities Manager, project manager for the city’s solar energy program, and helped create the Western Pennsylvania Energy Consortium. Click here to learn more about Pittsburgh’s sustainability efforts.