How Philadelphia is leading in energy innovation

The Philadelphia region is poised to become one of the nation’s leaders in fostering a more energy-efficient building stock. While President Barack Obama's comments in last month's State of the Union speech highlighted the administration’s commitment to energy efficiency as an important strategy to mitigate climate change, public and private stakeholders in Philadelphia have already joined together to contribute scalable solutions and provide leadership for this challenging problem.

Philadelphia's emergence as a sustainability leader began with the election of Mayor Michael A. Nutter in 2008. During his campaign, Nutter pledged to make Philadelphia the "Greenest City in America," and he followed through with his commitment by creating the city’s first Office of Sustainability and releasing Greenworks Philadelphia, the city’s first sustainability plan, during his first year in office.

Greenworks contains targets and metrics in 14 major areas including two very important energy efficiency goals: one to reduce the city’s own energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015 and one to reduce energy consumption in all buildings within the city by 10 percent by 2015. Now led by a small but highly capable staff managed by the mayor’s sustainability director, Katherine Gajewski, the Greenworks framework galvanized interest and support from business leaders, neighborhood organizations and city residents and provided the momentum necessary to foster a true partnership approach to measuring progress and success.

With Greenworks laying the strategic groundwork for initiatives throughout the city and region, Philadelphia was poised to compete for newly available stimulus funding from the Department of Energy. The region was successful in securing two critical investments in our energy-efficient future. The first was a $25 million pool of retrofit finance funding awarded to the Metropolitan Caucus, a partnership of elected officials created by Nutter from the five major southeastern counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia. This award enabled the region to accelerate retrofit activity among the commercial and residential building stock. The second major investment was a $200 million smart grid grant awarded to PECO, the region’s electric utility, that financed upgrades for critical system infrastructure as well as the installation of smart meters so that consumers can better understand how to manage their energy use.

This successful network of partners and supporters that had already come together to participate and support Greenworks, EnergyWorks and PECO’s Smart Grid award were already established and therefore ready to participate in the region’s most ambitious energy efficiency opportunity to date — the creation and successful launch of the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub.

A public-private partnership led by Penn State University, the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster — now EEB Hub — came together to successfully compete for the nation’s first Energy Regional innovation Cluster, a $125 million federal grant opportunity with the dual purpose of accelerating the adoption of energy-efficient building technology and fostering economic development opportunities and job growth through the creation of a new sector and industry in greater Philadelphia. Established at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched in February 2011, the EEB Hub is leveraging the region’s previous energy efficiency activities and investments by pursuing scalable market solutions for the retrofit of average size commercial and multifamily buildings in Greater Philadelphia.

Next page: Market demand for energy efficiency