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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