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News & Views Curation

July 27, 2009

Flower Power Tour

Green Advertising Green



As part of Saatchi & Saatchi's marketing campaign for Toyota, five 18-foot Prius Solar Flowers were plopped onto a pedestrian plaza north of the Flatiron Building last week. The flower sculptures are "partially" powered by solar panels on the back of their petals — outlets are built into the base. Stop by, sit down, surf, plug in and recharge 'til August 2nd in NYC.


July 25, 2009

(Not) For The Birds

The Audubon's new NYC headquarters are a model of sustainable interior design. Visit

July 24, 2009

Travel Tips

Got vacation time? Why not visit top-rated high performance building destinations! Click and go

No Worries

India's environmental minister dismisses climate scientists' predictions of melting Himalayan glaciers as 'pre-conceived notions'. Dive in

China Jolts Clean Tech Energy Demand

China is investing heavily in western-made, high tech, clean energy power generation and transmission systems. Plug in

The Case Of The Missing Clouds

Scientists point to a trend toward less cloudy weather as a sign of more global warming to come. Look ahead

Corporate Green: Song Or Dance?

For all the corporate talk about going greener, look at the walk. Start here

What's A Microgrid?

Not on-grid, not off-grid, but microgrid could be this century's energy breakthrough. Connect

Boxed In

Questions are raised about Barbara Boxer's ability to move climate change legislation in the Senate. Spin or substance?

You Must Consider This

Starting in August, New York State will require all project plans undergoing environmental review to analyze their GHG emissions impacts. SEQRA that

Carbon Offsets-True or False?

What exactly do carbon offsets offset? is a key question in climate legislation debate. WSJ

July 23, 2009

On Tap: The Next Industrial Revolution

For the CEO of the UK Construction Industry Council, rising to the climate change challenge will mean tacking the next Industrial Revolution. Not your usual treehugger

US Investors In Minority On Climate Change

A Bloomberg poll finds a majority of European and Asian investors say climate changes warrants government action, but only a minority of US investors hold this view. US yoo-hoo

Building Support For Climate Bill

Buried in the bulk of the Waxman Markey climate bill is a section on a climate friendly federal building code. Learn more

July 22, 2009

A Concept For Copenhagen

Still searching for new international climate agreement? This proposal tackles the problems of binding international participation and leakage. Read on

France: Pay To Save

The requirement that a French energy efficiency firm pay money to the utility 85% owned by the government raises many questions. Get wired

White Is The New Green

Read the comments posted on a Dot Earth column about experiences with white roofs and saving energy. Join in

The Austrian Plug In

An Austrian utility has investors to build a network of battery recharging stations for electric vehicles. Get connected

Just Say No On Carbon Import Taxes

The UN's chief carbon expert condemns carbon import taxes as the wrong route for US climate legislation. Here's why

The Passage Process

What's the Senate process for considering the current climate bill and how is it different from earlier efforts? Start here

July 21, 2009

What's Under The Asphalt?

Brook Park and its Mill River in the Bronx could see the rebirth of what was there before the asphalt. Find out

Bumpy Road To Submetering

Change can be hard. Here's the story of a switch to electric sub-metering in one Bronx apartment building. On or off?

US To China: Pay Up

US Commerce Secretary Locke said China must 'pay' for cutting GHGs. Asked for clarification, his spokesperson explained the comment referred to global trade dynamics, not a carbon import tax. Clearer?

Fueled With Funds

An English university-developed hydrogen fuel technology raises $33 million to finance its commercialization. Forward

Captured & Competetive

Harvard researchers put a price on new and mature CCS technologies for coal-fired power plants. Start counting

July 20, 2009

Big Bucks For Electric Car Batteries in EU

Nissan will invest $700 million to make electric car batteries in the UK and Portugal. Plug in

A Bigger Better Battery

With a $43 million federal loan guarantee to an Albany-area utility, the prospects for a building a flywheel that acts as a giant storage battery grow brighter. Plug in

Footprint In Mouth

Every wonder about the carbon footprint for getting bananas and coffee on your breakfast table? Find out

July 17, 2009

State Senate Scotches Green Bills

E-waste and home energy efficiency, green jobs legislation failed to make it through the New York State Senate. Just saying no

Get Out Of Town!

Tips for top green US vacation destinations. All aboard

Who Will Be First?

In the race for global market dominance in the renewable energy, Asian nations could come out ahead. Find out more

Catching Up With China

Senators hear testimony on Chinese climate action at climate legislation hearings. Efficiency's key

July 16, 2009

A Hellish Climate

Every wonder what a warmer Hell might be like? Come on down

The Debate Goes On

Senators spar at committee hearings over costs of proposed climate legislation. News?

UK: Energy Investment Plan

"There is no high carbon future" Count on it

No Sun, No WInd, No Problem!

The traditional problem facing alternate power from sun and wind was intermittence. New battery technologies and micro-grids related may lick it. Learn more

Siting US Reactors in India

With an end to a US ban on nuclear trade, US firms will build new reactors at two selected site selected by India. WSJ

July 15, 2009

Labeling Theory

Walmart launches a label program to educate consumers about the environmental costs of making the products they buy. Tag it

Smarter In Baltimore

Baltimore's power utility has plans to install smart electric meters in customers' homes and offices. Nifty & thrifty

Attracting Attention

By voting for the Waxman climate bill, the re-election bid of a first term House Democrat from Virginia has become a hot contest. Stay tuned

Smart Meters Socked By Credit Crunch

As with many industries, access has shrunk in the UK for financing smart electric meter growth. Plug in

Lease It Green

What everyone needs to know about green leasing and solving the split incentive problem. Legal eagling

July 14, 2009

Hansen's Climate

Climate scientist Jim Hansen calls the Waxman-Markey climate bill a "Ponzi-like cap and trade scheme. Who's the victim?

Oil Prices Could Languish

With the US recession cutting energy use, the price of a barrel of oil could sink below $45 a barrel and stay there. Stay tuned

Watch Palin Run

Sarah Palin's op-ed in the Washington Post decries "President Obama's cap and trade energy plan". Golly

Tension Over China's Energy Efficiency Plans

By designating energy efficiency as a strategic industry, China could heighten international trade tensions. Learn more

Sino-American Climate Talks

US Energy Secretary Chu travels to China on a climate mission that could include open access to energy efficiency software. Plug in

July 13, 2009

Hearings On Federal Green Buildings

With GSA's track record for commissioning high performance buildings, Congress will hold hearings July 16 on how well federal government's portfolio is performing. E&E Daily [Subscribers only]

Who Owns The Ideas?

An international fight is shaping up over access to patents for climate change technologies. UN meets

What Britain Needs: More Nuclear Power

A McKinsey report finds that the UK needs at least ten more nuclear power plants to meet its GHG reduction targets. Look into it

Climate Scientists At Work

For scientists, climate change data makes sense on a decade scale. A pause in global warming is not a sign of global cooling. Fine print

More Than A Bright Idea

Investors and builders look into solar thermal power projects. Plug in

July 10, 2009

New Money!

The US Department of Energy issues guidelines to apply for for a pool of $3 billion to directly fund renewable energy projects and job growth. Follow up

Senate's Climate Slowdown

Senate committee hearings on climate change legislation have been pushed back to late September. Stay tuned

July 09, 2009

G8 Won't Set Emissions Targets

The apparent failure of the G8 to agree on specific cuts to GHG emissions does not bode well for the year-end Copenhagen climate meetings. Get the latest

On Thin Ice: The Q&A

An interview with scientists about the significance of rapidly thinning polar ice. Dive in

Memo To Copenhagen

A new global climate agreement should use a carbon cap equivalent to define a country's entire emissions portfolio and measure its emissions reductions. Look into it

Global Oil Production & Projections

Does the latest EIA data on current and projected oil see a peak? Get the graphs

What NOAA Needs To Know

With a marine biologist heading NOAA, what tops her top science research list? Read the interview

July 08, 2009

The M&A Angle

While certain business sectors like utilities would see substantial costs if climate legislation is passed, others could see growing revenues. Get an account

Cap & Trade & Reactors?

Support for nuclear power expansion could be the political price for a Senate climate bill. Stay tuned

A Bill Of Goods

Investigate website ProPublica finds the energy industry misleads Congress on the risks of 'fracking' near drinking water supplies. Look into it

G8 Summit Falters On Climate

An agreement to cut GHG emissions 50% by 2050 eludes G8 and emerging nation negotiators at the summit meeting it Italy. No! Yes!

Be Prepared

The Big Apple studies what it could be like to become the Baked Apple. Start adapting [1.7MB]

July 07, 2009

Passive On The Cutting Edge

Passive houses are the ultimate in ultra-energy efficiency. Get active

Wind & Taxes

Historically, wind power investment was tightly linked to federal tax policy. What's happening now?

Pickens Passes On Wind

Boone Pickens dumps his plan to invest in Texas wind power, citing transmission constraints. See ya!

The 12,000 Megawatt Plan

Two companies announce plans for 3,000 miles of transmission lines to carry up to 12,000 megawatts of wind power from the Great Plains to US cities. Very moving

It's Debatable

Follow the debate, the vote and the responses on the motion "This house believes that sustainable development is unsustainable". Join in

Income Distribution Is The Key

Researchers propose that income distribution targeting "high emitting" individuals instead of national wealth should be the global strategy for combating climate change. "Many of the lowest-cost opportunities for CO2 emission reduction over the next few decades in all countries, especially in the developing countries, will be found in the middle of the emission distribution, associated with billions of people of modest means. Many of them will be moving into cities for the first time and, in a CO2-responsive economy, would be housed in well-built apartment buildings equipped with efficient appliances and served by efficient mass transit systems." Fine print

Yahoo Trades Offsets For Efficiency

Yahoo switches from buying carbon offsets to investing in energy efficiency. Learn more

July 06, 2009

Germany: Earlier Retirement

After problems at a twenty-five year old nuclear reactor, Germany's environmental minister calls for a faster shut down of the nation's aging atomic power plants. Plug in

NY Coke Plant Goes Co-Gen

With $2 million in NYSERDA funding, a New York-based Coca Cola bottler will install two fuel cells to generate both heat and 800 kW of electric. Bottoms up!

Follow The Pipeline

Tensions in western China, with its oil pipeline to Kazakhstan and the country's largest natural gas reserves, will not be easy to resolve. Learn more

Let There Be Lights

Reports of the imminent death of incandescent light bulbs may be premature. On off?

Green Jobs For Green Eyeshades

Based on European carbon market experience, major US accounting firms are counting on federal cap and trade legislation to bring good times to their industry. Climate Wire [For subscribers]

July 03, 2009

Trap That Carbon

Scientists work on devising porous solids to trap CO2 emissions. Rockin!

Wind, Waves & Jobs

By 2020 Britain could become the leader in wind and wave power and gain 250,000 jobs. Look forward

Aging Gracefully?

Spain okays continued operation of a forty-year old nuclear reactor slated to shut down. Plug in

Neutralizing Acid Oceans

A US effort to regulate ocean acidification linked to climate change could be on the way. Dive in

Same Old Exxon

British researchers find Exxon funding trails still lead to climate skeptic organizations. Look into it

Useful Knowledge For Greener Cities

Enter the EPA's green building portal and discover a wealth of useful on-line information. Just click

July 02, 2009

We The People

After long months of bill drafting, meetings and more drafting, the City Council held hearings on Mayor Bloomberg’s green building legislative quartet in late June. Supporters, ranging from the expected — environmental and environmental justice advocacy groups — to the less expected — labor unionists and affordable housing activists, made their case and offered their proposals for legislative improvements. Opponents, particularly of Intro 967, the energy audits and efficiency retrofits bill, ranged from the Real Estate Board of New York to the New York Council of Cooperatives and Condos.

The Administration made its broad case for its four-part “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan” in terms of the City’s commitment to combating climate change already codified in local law. That law requires New York to cut its carbon footprint 30% by the year 2030. It also framed the quartet as a powerful stimulus suited to these difficult economic times. Focusing in on the specifics of the bills, the Administration set out to make the case “we know that because of the way energy prices are set, citywide efficiency measures save every New Yorker money — so there is a compelling public purpose, even aside from climate change and air pollution, for achieving energy efficiency” in the City’s existing stock of buildings, 85% of which will still be standing in 2030. Making an effort to acknowledge that out-of-pocket costs would be a burden for some, the Administration proposed to use $16 million in federal stimulus funds for a pilot revolving loan fund to assist “financially distressed” buildings meet new legal requirements. Testimony stressed that the legislation preserved property owners’ discretion about what energy efficiency measures to undertake. The legislation would neither dictate particular actions nor set specific energy reduction requirements. The only germane legislative stipulation is that an owner’s selected course of action would be limited to those options calculated to repay the owner’s initial investment within five years. As a practical matter, this stipulation excludes capital-intensive building work like boiler replacement or upgrading the building façade from Intro 967 obligations.

The testimony of advocates and opponents sometimes appeared to be a discussion and other times a shouting-match over how to address the costs imposed by the Greener, Greater Building Plan, particularly, although not exclusively related to Intro 967. The Real Estate Board maintained that the long-term nature and renewal options typical of commercial leases would leave owners unable to recoup the costs of energy audits and efficiency retrofits. The typical short-term nature and extremely challenging current market for commercial mortgages would only add to this burden.

The testimony of the Environmental Defense Fund sought to tackle and allay concerns of property owners. “By tying the obligation to make energy-related improvements to returns projected to accrue as a result of such improvements, the bill encourages energy efficiency improvements that make sense for owners as well as for the planet. In addition, by allowing owners to perform alternative retrofits that yield the same energy conservation outcomes, the bill accords to building owners discretion to act based on different cost judgments than the auditors’ own, provided equivalent energy efficiency improvements can be achieved by such alternative means”. In a follow up reply to a Council member’s question about the impact of long-term commercial leases and automatic renewal clauses, EDF questioned what proportion of current leases would run for fifteen years starting from 2009 and emphasized that the provisions of commercial leases can be drafted differently in response to legislation like the audits and retrofit bill, which give landlords an incentive to ensure that the benefits and costs associated with energy efficiency retrofits would accrue to the same party.

The Council of New York Cooperatives and Condos voiced strong objections to both the audit and retrofit bill and the energy benchmarking bill, Intro 476A. “Our experience is that using the online benchmarking tool is neither simple nor cost-free, and we are not convinced that the major utilities will take the necessary steps to provide this information directly to the City.”i Turning to Intro 967, “Perhaps most troublesome is the absolute requirement that a building implement all measures deemed to have a payback of seven years or less.ii This removes from the Board its discretion to run its cooperative or condominium.”

This conclusion ran counter to the Administration’s emphasis on the choice retained by property owners as to what specific energy efficiency investments they must make. From a housing activist perspective, the testimony of Enterprise Community Partners, a hands-on organization involved in financing and building affordable homes added credibility to the aspirations of the legislation and could help allay the fears of the Condo and Co-op Council. Through its Green Communities program, Enterprise has created more than 3000 green affordable homes for low-income New Yorkers. Based on its real-world experience around the nation, Enterprise testified that, “new and existing properties that achieve 20 percent to 30 percent greater energy efficiency generate substantial cost savings from lower energy and water use”.

Then there was the toothless tiger problem. At least two union-related witnesses who supported the overall intent of the legislation raised concerns about the lack of explicit enforcement provisions applicable to violators. This should ring a bell with Torchlight readers, where I wrote

The benchmarking bill’s explicit enforcement language is unique among the four pieces of legislation. It spells out that failure to file mandatory benchmarking reports by the stipulated due date makes building owners subject to a Buildings Department notice of a “lesser” violation, which could entail a Commissioner’s Order to correct the problem. Property owners are also required to retain relevant documents that must be available for inspection and audit by the Department. Curiously, there is no language that addresses the filing of false, misleading or incomplete data.

And now I want to go one step further. The final version of the benchmarking bill should include a provision requiring building data to be provided to prospective buyers and lenders as a necessary part of any lease, sale or financing arrangement. Since benchmarking data will be collected by the City, comparing the energy consumption data across similar property categories becomes a real possibility and this opens the way for property markets to become better informed about salient building cost and performance characteristics. Just what makes this data so important now? That’s easy. First, the recent, short-lived swoon in energy prices appears to be a thing of the past. Then, in June 2009, the US Green Building Council announced that, “As part of LEED v3, the latest version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s program for green building design, construction, operations and maintenance, buildings seeking LEED certification will begin submitting operational performance data on a recurring basis as a precondition to certification.” This new USGBC policy shows that performance data can be captured. Last, but hardly least, should the US get a climate change law this year, energy consumption and costs will become a permanent part of the nation’s day-in and day-out considerations and calculations. New Yorkers can only benefit by getting ahead of the carbon-control curve.

The many months that passed from the time Mayor Bloomberg announced his green building bill quartet to the day of the City Council hearing, combined with testimony that conveyed the strenuous objections to the legislation, which remained after months of “stakeholder” meetings, signal that legislative action and comprehensive compliance will be no easy thing. In reflecting on House passage of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, David Brooks wrote, “Democrats were able to pass a politically treacherous cap-and-trade bill out of the House…This was an impressive achievement…But the new approach comes with its own shortcomings. To understand them, we have to distinguish between two types of pragmatism. There is legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass. Then there is policy pragmatism — creating programs that work. These two pragmatisms are in tension”. From my perspective, there’s a tension in New York City as well, but failure to enact smart and effective green building legislation would be a shame on We the People.


[i] It’s worth noting that the Council puts together a detailed annual listing, based on information provide by its members, of buildings’ income and expenses. For example, members have access to annual comparative data energy expenses per square foot.

[ii] Different versions of Intro 967 have circulated. Some have five-year paybacks, others seven year. A five-year payback is the current Administration version.

Germans Lose Their Green Groove

GHG emissions in Germany are rising and its alternative power sector is falling behind. Learn more

Peak Carbon

The Group of Eight gets US buy-in on an agreement that GHG emissions should not rise after 2020. And then?

High-End Green

Luxury label marketing targets young, affluent spenders with eco-promo. WSJ

Science At Work

Roger Pielke's attacks on current climate science rebutted. Join in

Can't Blame The Cosmic Rays

Recent astronomical research does not support the hypothesis that fluctuating levels of cosmic rays hitting the Earth causes climate change. Fine print

July 01, 2009

2009: More Inconvenient Truth

The recent government report on climate change impacts in the US makes for scary reading. In NYC, the once-in-100 year coastal flood could occur every decade Summary here

Transparency & Innovation: Open Data For Green Buildings

I'm not old enough to have enjoyed the first hey-day of energy-efficiency and alternative power back in the 70's and 80's, but I do love chocolate and have a vivid recollection of the classic Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials from those days. There were several variations, but basically, a person holding a chocolate bar runs into a person holding a open jar of peanut butter, causing the chocolate bar to drop into the peanut butter. They exclaim in dismay:

— "You got peanut butter in my chocolate!"
— "You got chocolate in my peanut butter!"

But, as the slogan goes, they discover that "two great tastes that taste great together", and candy lovers everywhere rejoice in the finding.

Not unlike the chocolate-peanut butter collision, two transformative movements of our time are poised to slam together into a concoction no less delightful than the Peanut Butter Cup (particularly to green enthusiasts of geekly tendencies): the Open Data movement and high-performance green building.

Smart Machines and Smart Data

This section gets a little geeky, perhaps even a bit Sci-fi, but bear with me.

You might think of the Open Data movement as a key piece of the next iteration (Web 3.0) in the evolution of the information technology that brought us email, hypertext and the World Wide Web (collectively Web 1.0), Youtube, blogs like this one, and iPhone apps (Web 2.0).

There are literally shelves of books written on this topic, but to boil it down to a few sentences: Web 1.0 arose from open access at the physical and networking levels (the laying of cables, and TCP/IP and an alphabet soup of its friends that allowed networks to find and talk to each other). Web 2.0 is about open access to Web-based applications (via Application Programming Interfaces - APIs) and some data via data feeds (the RSS feed of this blog, for example). APIs and data feeds allow folks other than those who came up with a particular tool (say, Google Maps) to tap into its capabilities and combine it with some other set of information (say, tweets) about the passing of Michael Jackson), and output something entirely new and unanticipated by the original authors (The Michael Jackson Tributes Twitter Map).

According to the gurus (and who's more guru than Tim Berners-Lee, the "father of the World Wide Web"), Web 3.0 will be about getting machines to smarten up and give us useful, actionable information by "understanding" vast amount of data and how they relate to each other.

As much as I love my computers, they're really not all that smart at the moment. When I google "building", for example, what the computer "sees" is 'b-u-i-l-d-i-n-g'. It doesn't know if I mean the verb or the noun, and if I were to say "green building", it doesn't know that those two words together connote a particular paradigm in construction and management. When it shows me ads on LEED exam prep courses, that's because a person somewhere told it to display those ads when the text "green" and "building" appear next to each other in a search request, and if the top search result happens to be USGBC, it's only because that's the one most clicked on by other people who searched for "green building".

The amazing thing that Web 3.0 (or Semantic Web) proposes to do is to let computers "understand" meaning, not just "see" text. In the 3.0 world (year after next?) the computer would know that "buildings" are things that take up space and have attributes that distinguish them from other things that take up space, like cats or shoe boxes.

When my iPhone gets really smart and Semantic Web-enabled, it ought to be able to deliver user-centric, context-sensitive information, doing all the tedious correlation of information behind the scenes in its little machine brain, without any help from me, the user. For example, when I land in Almaty, Kazakhstan, it could present me with a map of the high-performance green buildings within walking distance of my hotel, show me who designed them, and let me send dinner invitations to the ones who aren't Sir Norman Foster.

When my iPhone goes looking for green buildings in Almaty, it needs to be able to access a source of data that identifies itself as representing buildings in the real world and gives the appropriate amount of detail so that the iPhone can figure out that I might be interested in it. Actually, today's machines are plenty smart. What's needed for Web 3.0 is smarter data, and a whole lot of it. For example, a publicly accessible semantic dataset published by the local university on the Almaty building stock might include an entry like:

<building>
	<building:name>Almaty Twin Towers</building:name>
	<building:heat-index>3 BTU/SF/HDD </building:heat-index>
	<building:designed-by>
		<person>
			<person:name>Norman Foster</person:name>
		</person>
	</building:designed-by>
</building>


Thus, when my iPhone finds this bit of information out in the Web, it can tell that the item relates to a Building, that it has a name, a heating performance index that is very low (and thus "green"), and that it is associated with an item of type Person, which in turn has a name of 'Norman Foster'. Let's assume that somewhere out there is another document that describes what attributes items of type Building or type Person can have, and that the iPhone knows to go looking for more Person information, like Sir Norman's email address. It's this ability to relate text to things and things to each other that makes Web 3.0 smart.

As you can see, for this kind of scheme to be useful, you're going to need a lot of data that is capable to telling machines what they refer to in the real world, and a lot of relationships linking one item to another. This is where the Open Data movement comes into play. As some clever contributor to Wikipedia phrases it, the Open Data movement is "a philosophy and practice requiring that certain data are freely available to everyone, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control." Here are the principles of Open Data in pithy verse form, thanks to Frank Hebbert of the RPA

Open data should be COMPLETE! Get that info out to the street.
TIMELY data is useful data. Think about sharing it sooner not later.
PRIMARY data are disaggregated, and have infinite potential to be re-tabulated.
Make your data ACCESSIBLE! MACHINE PROCESSABLE!
SHARE it baby! Be UNPROPRIETARY!
LICENSE FREE does not have to be scary!

There's a lot packed in there, but let's just sum it up by saying that the point of all this is to make available data that can be re-used in ways unanticipated by the original owner of the data, and that we want machines to be able to do the hard work, so that people can have real-time, context-sensitive information tailored to their specific needs.

Does this all sound a bit far-fetched? You may be surprised to know that our Federal government, and Obama's Chief Technology Officer Vivek Kundra, is already taking the lead: As of June 2009, Data.gov, is providing "public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government", including the Toxic Release Inventories from the EPA, H1N1 flu information from the CDC, Project-based Section 8 information from HUD, and hundreds of others .

To its credit, New York City is hot on the heels of the Feds and could become one of the first cities in the country (after Washington D.C.) to adopt a mandate for open data standards for public records. Also under consideration is Intro 476-A, a part of the package of four green building bills announced by Mayor Bloomberg on Earth Day.

So...What Does This Have To Do With Green Buildings?

Everyone's top 10 list of why don't we build more green buildings has on it some version of "we don't have enough data about green buildings". What data do we need? Why do we need data? Who will benefit? The short answer goes something like this: Knowledge makes profits, but sharing makes markets.

First, what kind of data are we talking about? Let's start with energy use in buildings, though you could just as well say empirical measures of indoor environmental quality, or measurable health impacts like number of asthma free days. Energy use should be easy because we already measure it and store it — or at least our utilities do.

One purpose of having publicly available energy performance data would be to verify performance claims. Today, for instance, "green buildings" are those designed or rehabilitated with the intent of achieving high performance, whether or not they meet those performance goals once they are occupied and operating.

Typically, the the incentive programs and certification schemes like USGBC's LEED , Enterprise Green Communities and many others use models to compare the expected performance two versions of a building: the one that could built according to code and the one as designed by the development team. This is a critically important exercise in designing for energy efficiency, but lacking empirical post-occupancy performance data, claims made about performance can be misleading.

Take, for example, a fictional building called Efficiency Place, a Class A office building that claims to be 25% more efficient than comparable buildings. You might imagine that someone out there has a large set of data about the energy performance of Class A office buildings, and in fact, someone does — it's the Department of Energy's Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the data set that underlies the EPA's Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool . If Efficiency Place is making the claim based on past usage input into the Portfolio Manager calculator, then the 25% claim would be a fair and accurate one. If, however, the claim is based on comparing design-stage energy models, then a perfectly accurate statement would have to say something like "Efficiency Place was modeled to perform 25% better than if it had been built to meet code minimums, and actual performance may be better or worse than the model — no one can possibly know until we benchmark the usage at stable occupancy".

Ultimately, the data sharing question goes to the heart of what we mean when we talk about "green buildings". If you want "green buildings" to mean buildings that demonstrate (not just shoot for) high energy and environmental performance, you need to know two things: first, how other "like kind" buildings perform, and second, how the particular building performs. Knowing both these things will entail gathering and making publicly available empirical data.

The benefits of verifiable claims are obvious: First, just as the buyer of a used car would want the vehicle's history to inform how much money she's willing to pay for the car, potential tenants, buyers, or underwriters who are concerned about the impact of a building's energy performance on the bottom line would benefit from a verifiable performance claim. Indeed, this may be happening in places (like Europe) where performance disclosure is required at the time of property transfer. Second, if you are a portfolio owner of properties, knowing how your buildings are doing in comparison with each other and with other like buildings will allow you to make prudent decisions about where to invest in improvements. Third, if you are a public body that sets goals and monitors progress toward energy performance improvements, you need this data so you can set ambitious but achievable targets that ratchet up over time as improvements are realized.

Consider the proposed bill for benchmarking New York City's buildings, which would require buildings of 50,000 gross square feet or bigger to submit annual benchmarking information using a city-specified benchmarking tool. The city would then make the outputs of the benchmarking tool publicly available. This is a wonderful first step toward realizing the benefits of publicly available building performance information. It falls short, however, of achieving true Open Data status. Recall from above that Open Data entails data collected at the source of the information with as little aggregation and modification as possible, made available in formats that allow automated processing. If the information that is made available is limited to the outputs of the benchmarking tool (i.e. energy per square foot rather than total usage and gross square feet as separate quantities), any future analysis that requires knowing the values before calculation by the benchmarking tool would be hobbled.

If we have the tools to compare a particular building against other like buildings, why do we need the raw data? The act of aggregating and processing raw data into more generalized forms entails making assumptions about how that data will be used. Raw data is desirable specifically because it's assumption-free and easily manipulated to serve new, interesting analysis.

Take, as an example, a bank that wants to offer a building performance-tied loan product, one in which the availability and terms of the loan are directly influenced by the energy performance of a building. This bank must design an underwriting model and origination and servicing protocols that enable it to assess and price the financial risk associated with this product. In developing this framework, the bank will need data to feed into its model that allows it to slice and dice information about the anticipated energy performance of a building to suit its needs, and to do this, it may need to aggregate information from several sources.

Let's say the bank wants to know what reasonable expectations for performance improvements may be for retrofit projects addressing single pipe steam-heated residential buildings of 40 units. It may need to pull together information about building attributes from Department of Buildings and property tax records, match it against energy use data from the utilities, then filter that to find the projects that have done retrofit projects so that you have a control and a post-retrofit population. If the bank can access raw data, it can apply its own assumptions and arrive at conclusions that fit its needs. If it can access only information interpreted for other purposes, its efforts to provide a product may be stymied by the need to collect its own data from scratch.

The goal of Open Data is to enable innovation: to make available data that can be re-used in ways unanticipated by the original owner of the data, whether it's an iPhone app for locating green buildings or underwriting models for new financial products. It's anyone's guess to what uses publicly available data — collected as close to the source as possible, and made available in formats appropriate for automated processing — will be put. I would argue that if you let the data roam free, motivated souls will create products and services to make use of these resources. Given the pressing need to rapidly scale up our efforts to create sustainable urban environments, we need all the innovation we can muster up.


In 2002, Bomee Jung founded GreenHomeNYC, a non-profit that connects NYC residents with local experts and actionable information to help them improve the energy and environmental performance of the city's homes and buildings. She is currently the Program Director for Green Communities in the New York office of Enterprise, a national leader in greening affordable housing. Before turning her attention to green building, Bomee developed Web-based applications.

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