Empire State Building Retrofit Serves as Model for All Commercial Buildings

It’s been a year since the Empire State Building completed its massive energy retrofit and it’s already saved $2.4 million, 5% more than expected.

When the final tenant spaces are upgraded, the building will save $4.4 million a year, a 38% reduction of energy use that will cut carbon emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years.

Earlier this month, they began the transition to LEDs. Philips is supplying the LEDs and a state-of-the-art lighting system that allows the building’s façade and mast to change lighting scenes in real-time.

In total, the retrofit will cost $550 million.

Management says the retrofit should serve as a commercial real estate model for reducing costs, maximizing return on investment, increasing real estate value, and protecting the environment.

"First and foremost, making the Empire State Building energy efficient was a sound business decision that saved us millions of dollars in the first year," says Anthony Malkin of the Empire State Building Company. "We have a proven model that shows building owners and operators how to cut costs and improve the value of their buildings by integrating energy efficiency into building upgrades."

"The savings achieved by the deep retrofit was due in large part to three factors: Tony Malkin’s vision and leadership, a team that could test traditional assumptions, and integrative design, which made bigger savings cheaper than incremental savings," says Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute’s chairman and chief scientist, which served as a partner.

The building was retrofitted under the Clinton Climate Initiative Cities program and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

It focused on core building infrastructure, common spaces and tenant suites, including refurbishing all 6500 windows, a chiller plant retrofit, new building controls, and a web-based tenant energy management system. All 68 elevators are 30% more efficient and able to send excess energy back to the building’s grid.

Johnson Controls, another partner, guarantees the energy savings through a $20 million performance contract – the retrofit is paid through the energy saved over the life of the contract. If the savings aren’t realized, Johnson Controls pays the difference.

The retrofit is attracting tenants that want to be in an efficient building that reflects their sustainability values. New tenants include LinkedIn, Skanska, Li & Fung, Coty Inc., and the FDIC.

Johnson Controls and the third partner, Jones Lang LaSalle, developed a measurement and verification process that verifies the energy used and saved. It includes energy model calibration; updating assumptions regarding weather, tenancy and operational improvements; and actual performance improvements attributable to each project. The annual savings for the project are calculated based on the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol – Option D, using a calibrated eQuest energy simulation model.

The 2.85 million-square-foot Empire State Building is both LEED-Gold Certified for Existing Buildings and Energy Star Certified.

In the US, 40% of energy is consumed by buildings, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. In dense urban settings like New York City, commercial buildings account for up to 75% of energy used.

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