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The Chicago Housing Authority Collects, Monitors and Reports Big Data for Energy Benchmarking Compliance

Ellen Sargent, Director of Sustainable Initiatives, Chicago Housing Authority

The Chicago Housing Authority Collects, Monitors and Reports Big Data for Energy Benchmarking ComplianceEllen Sargent, Director of Sustainable Initiatives, Chicago Housing Authority

In September 2013, Chicago’s City Council adopted a Building Energy Use Benchmarking and Transparency Ordinance (Chicago municipal code 18-14-101-3) to accelerate awareness and action on energy efficiency in large buildings across the city. This Ordinance was a milestone for energy efficiency in Chicago, and it challenged the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to meet the task of managing and reporting annual energy usage data for over 50 public housing properties.

The Ordinance included a schedule for staggered reporting, based on the square footage and the use of the building. The first phase required owners of buildings that have 250,000 square feet or more with less than 10 percent residential occupancy to report first, followed by building owners of the same size with more than 10 percent residential occupancy. Then, it applied to buildings that contain more than 50,000 square feet with less than 10 percent residential occupancy and again followed by buildings with more than 10 percent residential occupancy.

To comply with the Ordinance in Chicago, building owners must submit utility information through the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager (ESPM) free software tool. The ESPM software program compares energy usage of buildings by separating them into categories of similar predominant use, (i.e. office or residential building) to establish a benchmark for energy efficiency. The benchmark can then be used to rate the energy efficiency of one building against the efficiency of another building of a similar size and usage.

At the time, the CHA was not using this software and had not budgeted any funding to hire a professional services company to set up accounts and populate all of the information for the over 50 properties owned by the CHA, which fell within the requirements of the new Ordinance. 

One annual report is 77 KB of data, with 201 possible data points every month at 50 properties; the CHA was ascending into the management of big data!

The CHA’s Department of Sustainable Initiatives and Projects decided to tackle this new unfunded mandate by looking for assistance from the coalition of stakeholders formed during the development of Chicago’s benchmarking ordinance. Two of the leading groups, the United States Green Building Council -Illinois Member Chapter (Illinois Green) and Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) agreed to partner with the CHA to assist in establishing these new Energy Star Portfolio Manager accounts. In addition, representatives from ASHRAE IL agreed to voluntarily participate and share their experience.

An event was planned to bring together representatives from the USGBC, Illinois Green, MEEA and volunteer industry professionals with CHA staff that knew the building characteristics well. We formed teams using a few people from various backgrounds so that combined, each team held all necessary skills and experience. Each team was assigned multiple properties and were provided 12 months of energy usage data, …... then we turned on the music! The event was aptly named a “Data Jam” since everyone inputted data into the benchmarking software while listening to some jamming music.

The Data Jam event focused on CHA high rise buildings and created thirty-nine new accounts in Energy Star Portfolio Manager. The CHA became the largest Public Housing Authority to collect and submit energy usage data annually and our team was invited to present our experience at the Association for Energy Affordability Multifamily Buildings 2015 conference as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Conference in 2016.

In November 2017, Chicago City Council voted to update the existing benchmarking ordinance by adding a new Chicago Energy Rating System. The intention of the new rating system is to provide energy usage information for large buildings easily accessible to residents while encouraging energy savings.

This system uses a zero to four-star scale rating, visually aligning the rating with the four stars on the City of Chicago’s flag. The rating each building receives is based on the energy data from the past year, FY2018 was the dataset used for the initial rating. A rating of four stars indicates the highest energy performance, while a rating of one star indicates a poor performer. Properties that have not submitted required energy information will receive zero out of four stars. Any property that improves can earn an additional star, although energy efficiency improvements are not required by the Ordinance.

Each building is required to post its rating in a prominent location on the property, and share this information at the time of sale or lease listing. Chicago is the first US city to assign buildings an energy performance rating and to require properties to post their rating.

Within the CHA’s 44 properties with high rise apartment buildings, 60 percent rated in the top half of energy efficiency for all similar buildings in Chicago. The CHA is excited to share these results with our residents and neighbors across Chicago, as it validates our hard work to operate and maintain energy efficient homes that provide thermal comfort and beneficial indoor air quality for our residents.

The CHA has leveraged over USD 15 million in the past three years from outside funding sources for a USD 31 million energy efficiency program that has replaced outdated systems within our public housing portfolio. This program has optimized operations, decreased energy costs, and maximized taxpayer dollars by leveraging funds through partnerships.

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