Obama's Better Buildings Challenge Expands to Multifamily Housing

President Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge – which has generated $2 billion in private financing for commercial and industrial building energy upgrades – is now expanding to multifamily housing.

Under the Challenge, building owners pledge to reduce energy consumption across their portfolios by 20% within 10 years. They also commit to share best practice strategies that can be  substantiated with energy data.

After successfully delivering $2 billion in private financing since 2011, the program now turns to the 20 million families that live in rental apartments and condominiums, which are typically underserved by energy efficiency programs. 

Launched by the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 50 multifamily building owners have already signed on – representing 200,000 apartments in both market rate and affordable housing – about 190 million square feet.

Green Buildings Better Building Challenge

Three Better Buildings Accelerators Launch

Also launching are three "Accelerators" that support ongoing efforts by state and local governments to reduce energy use. They bring governments, utilities and manufacturers together to develop cost-effective, creative solutions and break down market and technical barriers that get in the way of investing in building energy efficiency.

  • Energy Data Accelerator: 30 cities and utilities will work together to make it easy for building owners to use low-cost, standardized approaches to measuring their buildings’ energy.  

    Participants include the cities of Boston, Cambridge, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, San Diego and Chula Vista, and utilities NSTAR/Northeast Utilities, Atlanta Gas and Light, Excel and San Diego Gas & Electric.

  • Contracting Accelerator: 16 states, cities and school districts – including Minnesota, Colorado, Washington State and Hawaii – will enter into $1.2 billion worth of performance-based contracts, where contractors do energy upgrades at no upfront cost. Customers pay over time based on guaranteed energy savings.
  • Industrial Superior Energy Performance Accelerator: 9 manufacturers and utilities will use an energy performance certification program to verify efficiency upgrades, including 3M, Schneider Electric, Nissan,  Cummins, Bonneville Power Administration and Northeast Utilities. Utilities will offer technical resources and training to help manufacturers pursue certification at their facilities.

Challenging Federal Agencies in Energy Efficiency

In 2011, President Obama also challenged federal agencies to enter into $2 billion worth of energy performance contracts within two years.

They came through with $2.3 billion in contracts for federal buildings and with the program set to expire at the end of this year, it is being extended through 2016. 

Led by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), some House members say that doesn’t go far enough to achieve Obama’s goal of doubling US energy productivity by 2030. They asked the administration to set a goal of $1 billion a year in performance contracts.

Although the program will exceed the original $2 billion goal, it’s not clear whether it will reach House members’ goal, says DOE.

Since the 2011 launch of the Better Buildings Challenge, more than 120 diverse organizations representing 2 billion square feet are cutting energy use 2.5% a year – on track to meet the 20% by 2020 goal, while saving $58 million a year.

Chicago, for example, is cutting energy consumption in 24 million square feet of public and private building space, and  California’s utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, is providing efficiency programs for 30 million square feet of commercial customer buildings by 2015 – equivalent to 11 Empire State Buildings.

Other big names signed on are Best Buy, Kohl’s, Walgreens, Alcoa, Nissan North America, major property owners such as Prologis, Cleveland Clinic and other health care institutions, and universities like Michigan State.

The American Council for An Energy Efficient Economy has released a report that identifies best practices for efficiency upgrades in multifamily buildings: 

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