A Block-By-Block Look At The Energy Consumption Of New York's Buildings

City buildings use massive amounts of energy, but no one really knows exactly how much. A new interactive map pulls the curtains off New York’s electric bills.

Like any dense city, New York City consumes a lot of energy—midtown Manhattan, for example, sucks up more power than the entire country of Kenya. Over two-thirds of the city’s energy use comes from buildings. In order to make any sort of dent in the city’s energy use, the city needs to know which buildings are consuming the most electricity. Power meters can do that on a micro level, but researchers from Columbia University have figured out how to do it on a larger scale, with an amazing interactive map that reveals the energy use of almost every building in the city.

The map is based on statistical analysis that uses zip-code-level energy consumption data, fuel use data, and building type (residential versus commercial) to estimate annual building energy consumption. Color-coding allows users to see which parts of the city are the biggest energy hogs.

As expected, midtown is the worst. Zooming in on 1285 6th Ave., we can see that the skyscraper uses 40,137 kWh of power each year—not an unusual amount in the commercial building-filled area. Compare that to Rutledge St. in Brooklyn, where a sample residntial building uses just 11 kWh of power each year. Again, that’s typical for the area—and the building type.

This doesn’t tell us anything new. Of course skyscrapers use more energy than residential lots, and it should surprise no one that Manhattan uses more energy than less densely packed boroughs. But that’s not entirely the point. "The lack of information about building energy use is staggering," said Bianca Howard, lead author and Columbia Engineering PhD student, in a statement. "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."

Knowing which areas of the city consume more energy could also inform future decisions about local energy generation. Maybe a landlord with some glaringly inefficient buildings will want to install some solar panels, or perhaps building tenants will band together to work on other energy-efficient options (i.e., capturing and reusing building waste heat). The map may not prove immediately useful, but rest assured it will be a valuable reference tool for the city.

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  • Howard Freeman

    Stephen: thanks for posting. It would be interesting to get an analysis of kWh/person/sqft.  It's conceivable that more energy is wasted in office/shop spaces in lower density areas of New York's outer boroughs than in high-rise office buildings where workers are packed in cubicles.  In other words, perhaps Columbia could individualize this data down to the worker level, at least by taking some samplings.

  • tw

    This is really interesting.  Its nice to see the web integration which doesnt always happen with energy planning.

    The Canadian Urban Institute in Toronto has been doing this kind of consumption mapping for canadian cities for a couple of years.  The project is called Integrated Energy Mapping or Ontario Communities (IEMOC) Its hard to get customer level consumption data and harder still to get permission to publish it.



  • Kraines

    This doesn't tell us much about building efficiency. The building use and occupancy should be accounted for if we want to be able to compare one building to another.

  • Audrey Desiderato

    The Environmental Defense Fund has produced another interactive map of NYC which allows you to see which buildings are burning No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil: 
    The availability of this information is crucial in ensuring NYC buildings switch away from dirty heating oil and towards no. 2 heating oil or even leapfrog to natural gas. 
    I think Dr. Modi's map is going to prove very useful to those working in clean energy development. Information is the first step in helping us reduce transaction costs, identify opportunities for scale and engage rate payers in moving towards a low carbon NYC. 

  • lngtrm1

    I was really hoping someone had broken the code on getting real meter data...sigh. I am not sure what the issue is but it really hard to get meter data on water, gas, electricity etc on anything other than what's in your name including a property for sale. In my view, shedding a little light on the usage of others would do a lot.

  • Hubert Savelberg

    Very confusing at first, because only in the graphic I discovered that the energy used is not for the building, but calculated per m2 ....

  • Brad Fowler

    I'd be curious to see these stats on more of a per capita basis.  Comparing the Midtown building to the one in Brooklyn probable doesn't reflect the higher density of the Midtown building vs. Brooklyn.