Columbia engineers map energy use in NYC buildings

Jan 31, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cities across the globe are trying to develop plans to cut down their energy consumption and lower their carbon footprint by reducing the associated greenhouse gas emissions. While initial efforts have focused on individual buildings by incorporating more energy efficient lighting, windows, and building systems, deeper reductions will call for changes beyond individual buildings, requiring a rethinking of how future infrastructure and energy policies should evolve.

A new study by Columbia Engineering School will help , policy makers, and engineers understand the local dynamics of building in —where over two-thirds of the energy consumption is from buildings—and help jumpstart the exchange of ideas.

"The lack of information about building energy use is staggering," said the study's lead author Bianca Howard, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Columbia Engineering. "We want to start the conversation for the average New Yorker about energy efficiency and conservation by placing their energy consumption in the context of other New Yorkers. Just knowing about your own consumption can change your entire perspective."

The study, which Howard conducted with Mechanical Engineering Professor Vijay Modi, was published in the November 7, 2011, online edition of Energy and Buildings and is featured in the February 2012 print edition. The research team included collaborators from Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

"This is a critical issue," said Modi. "While discussions frequently focus on electricity use, homes in New York City, whether a townhouse or a large apartment building, use far more energy in form of heat rather than electricity. Nearly all of this heat is obtained from heating oil or natural gas. In addition, current electricity distribution infrastructure in many urban areas relies on large amounts of electricity brought in from outside the city, making it difficult to support increased future use without requiring significant investment of resources and funds. We are looking at ways we can address both these issues—reducing our heating bills and increasing local electricity generation capacity."

Modi's team performed a statistical analysis to estimate New York City-specific building energy use. Their statistical model utilizes zipcode-level data to estimate the average annual energy use for every tax lot—at practically building level—through all five boroughs of the city.

This energy use was further broken down into what the building uses for space heating, space cooling, water heating, and base electric applications such as lighting, and, with this information, the Columbia Engineering team created an interactive web map that shows what type of energy is being used, for which purpose, and in what quantity. "This map will enable NYC building owners to see whether their own building consumes more or less than what an average building with similar function and size would," said Professor Modi. "This is the first time anyone has provided an estimate like this for New York City and the first time anyone has offered information to the public in the form of an interactive map."

The researchers plan to use their understanding of the distribution of energy to estimate where various distributed energy systems, such as photovoltaic, solar thermal, or combined heat and power systems, could have the largest impacts. "What is perhaps the most valuable contribution of this map," Modi said, "is that it enables New York City owners and energy services providers to explore the possibility of two or more buildings, or an entire block, or even a neighborhood, to share resources and , and thus save considerably on both and emissions."

"And," Modi added, "Information is the first step toward sustainability."

Explore further: Researchers achieve 'holy grail' of battery design: A stable lithium anode

Related Stories

Pay-as-you-go approach to powering the world

Oct 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Vijay Modi, a professor of mechanical engineering, is working to create sustainable energy models for cities, such as New York, where current infrastructure will not be able to support future ...

Heating oil phase-out part of NYC clean-air plan

Apr 21, 2011

(AP) -- The city will phase out the use of polluting heavy oils to heat buildings and will begin building solar power plants on capped landfills, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday in his first update to a 4-year-old ...

Keeping cool using the summer heat

Jan 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- While most Australians are taking care to shield themselves from the harsh summer heat, scientists from the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship are working on ways to harness the sun’s warmth ...

White roofs to make for cooler Melbourne buildings

Jan 25, 2012

The research assesses the benefits of white roofs and aims to help residential, commercial and industrial building owners determine if white roofs are suitable for their buildings and guide them through the best materials ...

Recommended for you

Economical and agile offshore construction ship

Jul 25, 2014

Siemens is currently installing the power supply and propulsion systems into a new multi-purpose offshore construction ship for Toisa Ltd. The ship, which is being built by the Korean company Hyundai Heavy ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Telekinetic
not rated yet Jan 31, 2012
What they don't tell you in this article is that Columbia University is a marauder and destroyer of whole city blocks and neighborhoods to amass real estate holdings on an unprecedented scale. They are the most deceitful real estate organization in the guise of a learning institution. Warning: Don't let them through your door- it will only be a matter of time before they steal your building through eminent domain.