The Perfect Storm: Green Light New York Releases Report on Retrofitting Daylight Controls in NYC Office Buildings

“Let There Be Daylight” hopes to lay the foundation for increased daylighting controls in New York City office buildings, which could provide the city with up to $70 million in annual energy savings.

At an event held yesterday at the New York Times Building, Green Light New York released “Let There Be Daylight,” a 40-page report sponsored by NRDC and written by Adam Hinge of Sustainable Energy Partnerships and Yetsuh Frank and Richard Yancey of GLNY. The report discusses the opportunities and challenges presented by retrofitting New York City office buildings with daylighting controls. GLNY also lays out a series of next steps at the conclusion of the report, designed to assist the industry in capturing an increasing amount of the proverbial low hanging fruit that daylighting controls promise in the form of increased energy savings.

In terms of those opportunities, the city’s Lighting Upgrade Law will ultimately impact over 1.25 billion square feet of office space in New York City, which by itself accounts for over ten percent of the country’s total commercial real estate. Noting other pending city legislation – like the benchmarking and auditing laws – and an environment where a relatively small handful of sophisticated owners and corporate tenants control a disproportionate amount of that real estate, Mr. Hinge called the implementation of daylighting controls a “perfect storm of opportunity for market transformation in the world’s largest office environment.”

During his presentation, Mr. Hinge also emphasized that interior office lighting is the largest end use for electricity. It also has a direct bearing on air conditioning use during summer months – which is the second largest end use of electricity – so the potential impact of energy savings from daylighting strategies is significant. Indeed, GLNY projects that broader deployment of daylighting controls could save enough electricity to power 16 Empire State Buildings annually, for $70 million in total energy savings. New York City, in fact, has over 540 million square feet of office space within what GLNY calls a “daylight zone availability” – where dimming, shading, and other daylighting strategies could have immediate and significant benefits. Notably, that figure is larger than the entire D.C., Atlanta, and Chicago office markets.

But there are challenges. The event’s second speaker – Stephen Selkowitz from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, who presented results of a post-occupancy study of the New York Times Building, where daylighting controls and strategies are pervasive – called daylighting “a moderately complex challenge.” And Mr. Hinge identified a disturbing lack of data about how daylighting systems are presently functioning. Compounding the problem: there are very few case studies (the New York Times Building notwithstanding) about the cost benefits of daylighting controls. Plus the systems themselves can be expensive, and operational problems have been persistent in those installations that have been documented. There are multiple moving parts to any daylighting system – from controls and shades to dimmers and ballasts – and educating tenants, landlords, and facility managers has been an ongoing challenge.

Despite these hurdles, both presenters seemed optimistic about harnessing the tremendous upside that daylighting systems promise. And the report is serving as the opening salvo in Green Light New York’s strategic plan for moving forward to address some of these challenges and, hopefully, capturing potential savings: the organization will use the Times post-occupancy study as a springboard in order to prove its concept. From there, it will work with the Mayor’s Office and other organizations like NYSERDA to craft financial incentives for daylighting controls. It will offer training and select demonstration projects. And, within three years, GLNY hopes to deploy a broader daylighting program across the five boroughs.

As you may know, GLNY is a non-profit organization founded by the Mayor’s Office to help implement the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan by promoting and advocating for energy-efficient lighting in New York City. You can download a copy of “Let There Be Daylight” directly from GLNY’s website here.

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  1. Urban Omnibus » Roundup — High Bridge Groundbreaking, Cleaning up the Gowanus, Slower Subways, Sunlit Buildings, Sandy Updates, Birders, Cinebeasts and Landmarks - Friday, January 18, 2013

    [...] GREENER BUILDINGS VIA SUNLIGHT Green Light New York, a non-profit formed by Mayor Bloomberg to support implementation of the City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, released a report Tuesday detailing a path towards increased use of daylighting controls in commercial buildings. The report estimates that strategic retrofitting of office buildings with daylighting controls, which help light interiors and regulate temperatures by controlling and manipulating sunlight, could save $70 million in energy costs annually across the city. And with the Lighting Upgrade Law requiring commercial buildings of a certain size to modernize lighting systems by 2025, now seems to be an opportune time to implement more efficient systems. These potential benefits — as well as some acknowledged challenges, such as cost, a lack of post-installation operational analysis, and concerns over training tenants and facility managers — were explored in an event launching the report, recapped here by the green buildings NYC blog. [...]