Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Greening the skyline

By Mira Oberman  /  AFP, Chicago

The Chicago skyline is pictured in this file photo. The city’s property managers are installing energy efficient tools in a project that officials hope will inspire changes across the US.

Photo: AFP

Chicago’s skyline is going green, as property managers install energy efficient tools like motion-detectors on office lights, in a project officials hope will inspire changes across the US.

At the riverside Sheraton hotel, chief engineer Ryan Egan cannot get over what his new thermostats can do — or the US$136,000 a year in savings they are producing.

First off, they’re tied into the booking management system, which means he can let the room temperature drift beyond standard comfort levels until the moment a guest checks in.

An infrared sensor means the savings don’t stop there. Once the guest leaves the room, the temperature starts to drift again, giving the heating or cooling system a break until it’s needed again.

It’s not a random drift — the thermostat is programmed to only allow the room to warm up or cool down to the point where it can get back to the pre-set temperature within 12 minutes of the guest’s return.

“The brains behind how much it can drift is really interesting,” Egan said. “If you’re on the shady side (in the summer) it’ll drift more because it knows it can recover faster.”

The Sheraton is one of 14 major commercial buildings that signed onto the Retrofit Chicago challenge to cut energy use by 20 percent over the next five years, for savings estimated at more than US$5 million a year.

If they succeed, it will be like taking 8,000 cars off the road.

“The fact that this is the city that built the first skyscraper, we love that we’re trying to green the skyline,” Karen Weigert, chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago, told AFP.

Some 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Windy City come from the electricity and gas used to heat, cool and power homes, businesses, schools and other government buildings.

In addition to the greening in commercial buildings, the city plans to cut energy use by 20 percent in hundreds of municipal buildings, for an estimated monetary saving of US$20 million a year and emissions savings equivalent to taking about 30,000 vehicles off the road.

It has also launched a program to help retrofit residential properties and expects more big commercial buildings to join the challenge.

“Fighting climate change can take all sorts of forms. This one happens to also save building owners a lot of money,” said Rebecca Stanfield, a senior energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We’re excited about the potential for big property owners who are in the Chicago initiative to use what they learn here in buildings across the country.”

A similar program is being promoted by the Department of Energy, which has racked up commitments from schools, cities and businesses to reduce energy use by 20 percent in 2 billion square feet.

AT&T — the first company to sign up for Chicago’s challenge — is testing out a host of new energy efficiency technologies at its downtown office tower.

It’s just one test kitchen for the telecom giant, as it searches for best practices in its quest to cut emissions company-wide by 20 percent by 2020.

The results so far have been impressive.

Ceiling lights have been swapped for more efficient bulbs linked to motion detectors so the lights aren’t burning when technicians and sales staff are away from their desks. Insulated shutters have been installed on the air intake system to keep the chill out in winter and the heat out in summer, while the airflow system around the building has been modified to operate only when needed.

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