Empire State building retrofit lights the way for new projects

Energy efficiency upgrades to New York City's Empire State Building have been so successful that they are seen as a model for building retrofits being rolled out across the United States.

For the second consecutive year, the building exceeded its "guaranteed energy savings." In 2011, the Empire State Building beat its year-one energy-efficiency guarantee by 5 percent, saving $2.4 million, and in year two, it beat it by almost 4 percent.  

The core building retrofit is completed except for the build-out of high-performance space for new tenants. Once that's finished, $4.4 million is expected to be saved each year, about a 38 percent cut in energy consumption.

The Empire State Building upgrade focused on eight key areas: refurbishing all 6,514 windows; installing insulation behind all radiators; a chiller plant retrofit; new building management systems controls; new revenue-grade meters serving the entire building; and a web-based tenant energy management system. They also upgraded to 100 percent LED lighting, and each of the 68 elevators are 30 percent more efficient and can send excess energy back to the building's grid.

In total, the retrofit will cost $550 million. Johnson Controls guaranteed 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 has attracted new Empire State Building tenants during the past two years, including LinkedIn, Skanska, LF USA, Coty Inc., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Shutterstock. These tenants sought space that reflected their sustainability values, provided more comfort for employees and allowed them to monitor and control their energy use.

Malkin, who manages the building for investors, is entertaining two unsolicited acquisition bids, which would put the building and 17 others into a publicly traded REIT. The Empire State Realty Trust Inc would trade under the ticker "ESB" on the NY Stock Exchange, Reuters reports.

In 2009, the building was retrofitted under the Clinton Climate Initiative Cities program and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the climate initiative among U.S. cities chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

They assembled a coalition of leading organizations focused on energy efficiency and sustainability to develop the program, including the Empire State Building, Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle and Rocky Mountain Institute.

Johnson Controls and Jones Lang LaSalle developed a measurement process to verify 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.

NYC skyline image by Joshua Haviv via Shutterstock.

Next page: Rolling it out nationally