New York City is racing to cut down the energy consumption of its aging skyscrapers. Traditional skyscrapers, with their huge glass fronts, extravagant use of air conditioning and heating, elevators, and escalators, since their beginning were never designed to be energy-friendly. While it is highly important these huge buildings reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions drastically, the task is equally daunting.
The Climate Mobilization Act
The Climate Mobilization Act passed recently in April by the City Council requires all buildings in New York that are more than 25,000 square feet to reduce their emissions by a massive 40% by 2030 from their emission levels in the year 2005. This covers approximately 50,000 buildings in New York that are responsible for emitting nearly one-third of greenhouse gases in NYC.
Obviously, the cost of renovating the buildings to conform to the new law could exceed $4 billion, and this has begun to worry the real-estate sector in NYC. However, the law has provisioned long-term borrowing facilities so property owners do not begin to feel the heat immediately.
Buildings that are Setting an Example
Some older buildings, like the Empire State Building, have begun to set an example already and made some major improvements in energy efficiency. It began renovation in the year 2009 to cut down its energy consumption and did so successfully by more than 40%, incurring a cost of $550 million. This was achieved by either replacing or renovating windows to improve the building’s insulation, and replacing more than 3 million light bulbs and 67 elevators. An ultra-modern energy management system was installed that serves to optimize energy consumption every hour of the day.
Even though buildings like the Empire State Building have set an example for others to follow, conserving energy will be a huge challenge for skyscrapers with huge glass walls that started mushrooming in the 1970s. The 202-meters tall Trump Tower, for example, has been criticized for being one of the most environmentally-unfriendly buildings in New York City, with an Energy Star score of only 44 out of 100.
Even though upgrading glass buildings to conform to the new law might seem a daunting task, it is not impossible and seems feasible when viewed over the long term. One solution could be to adopt a new type of “Green Lease”, which will enable the owners and tenants of a building to automatically share the energy savings that are achieved. This would motivate tenants to trim their energy usage, as opposed to the current situation where tenants are oblivious of the actual costs.
For now, even though there is some resistance to the new law, the market will adapt to it in the years to come and buildings will strive to achieve their place among the energy-efficient towers.