23. Halfway to 100% 

This show will air at noon Friday September 27, 2019 on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 LP FM in Philadelphia. Hear the audio as a podcast. The script is below. Produced by Meenal Raval.

Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. 

On our last episode, episode 21, we talked about the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign reaching Philly. With the City’s recent commitment to transition to 100% renewable energy, we need to begin prioritizing our asks. 

News You Can Use 

A recent report dubbed “Halfway There — Energy Efficiency can cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050” caught our attention. Of course, we’d like to do this much before 2050, but were curious about how this could be! The report listed 7 broad areas: 

  1. Appliances and equipment 
  2. Zero Energy Buildings 
  3. Building improvements 
  4. Industrial efficiency 
  5. Vehicle efficiency 
  6. Driving, freight and aviation
  7. Electric distribution savings 

These are split between 3 sectors — buildings, transportation and the industrial, or manufacturing sector. 

The resultant emissions reductions, claims the report, could be 46% from transportation, 33% from buildings; and 20% from the industrial sector.

The hefty 46% emissions reduction from transportation efficiency are from transitioning to electric vehicles, driving less, flying less and moving our stuff around smarter. 

Let’s touch on electric vehicles, also known as EVs. Our City’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure & Sustainability (OTIS) of has claimed electric cars are only for the affluent, and investing in EV charging infrastructure across our city would be elitist. Yes, there are high-end electric cars, just as there are high-end gasoline cars. But there are also very affordable options. We hear that the Nissan Leaf (a large sedan) can be leased for under $200 a month; the lease downpayment of about $4000 gets reduced, since the state offers a $1750 rebate, even for leased vehicles. Plus PECO offers $50 for registering an EV with the state. The fuel costs (electric costs) seem to be negligible. 

Drilling down into the 33% emission savings just from building efficiency, there are 5 areas… efficient appliances, zero energy buildings, building improvements, smart buildings, and electrification of space & water heating. Let’s take each of these one by one… 

  • Efficient appliances – We know that when we’re replacing any appliance, we need 0072-energy-guide-labelto check that yellow EnergyStar tag, and select one within our budget, and one that uses less energy & water.
  • Zero Energy Buildings – This is for new buildings, whether residential or commercial, which can be built so that they don’t need much energy. How? Make ‘em tight, make ‘em electric, and what little energy they need would be electricity from rooftop solar panels. 
  • Building improvements — All the buildings currently in use could use some tightening, agreed? 
  • Smart buildings — You may know of thermostats that learn our patterns of coming and going, going into energy savings mode when we’re away. For commercial spaces, there are fancier tools to reduce energy use. 
  • Electrification of space & water heating — As with efficient appliances, when replacing heating systems, consider the electric option instead of the gas option. 

Personally, I sense these numbers are very conservative. Which I’ll explain with an example…

Last year we called in the PECO Smart Ideas team to look at the electricity used by our bike shop. Very quickly, the assessor pointed to our lighting, suggested we replace the fixtures, promising that we’d recoup the cost within a year from reduced electric bills. Now that a year has gone by, I can verify their claim, and add that our electricity usage (and resultant emissions), were reduced by over 30%.  Just from lighting. No appliances were replaced, no heating system replaced, and our building certainly doesn’t have rooftop solar. 30% reduction just from lighting changes. 

A friend who has worked on a building retrofit project for the Department of Defense remembers 50% energy savings from that project. 

Take it local

In light of the Halfway There report, we’d like to highlight a bill being discussed in City Council. A bill that many of us may not know about, or have a clue how it helps reduce Philadelphia’s emissions. 

The bill is focused on “building improvements”, the third on the list of 5 areas for building efficiency. As an old city, we can all agree that our existing buildings could use some tightening! 

The Building Energy Performance Policy, bill# 190600  requires owners of large buildings to tune-up energy & water systems in their buildings. 

You tuneup your bike each year, right? And your car? But our buildings? The larger buildings in our city use more energy, and could do with a regular tuneup. 

Regularly checking on thermostats, motion sensors, HVAC systems and more could save the owners money, use less energy & water, and reduce emissions. 

They also make the space more comfortable. How many times have you complained about an auditorium, a library or an office space being too warm or too cold? 

In Powering Our Future, a 2018 report, our Office of Sustainability suggests the energy (and resultant emissions) savings could be between 5 and 20%. And like the example of my bike shop, the upfront cost would be paid back quite quickly. 


The cost? We’re told the cost would be between 8 and 12 cents per square foot, less than the 20 cents mentioned in Powering Our Future! 

Our estimation, using the charts found at visualization.phillybuildingbenchmarking.com, is that we have about one thousand large buildings that are between 50,000 and 200,000 square feet. 

The Building Energy Performance Policy would result in requiring building owners to spend an estimated $14 million on efficiency — all on local labor. 

If you need more numbers, there’s another report just out — Energy Efficiency Workforce Grows to Over 2.3 Million — which claims that “Energy efficiency is the fastest-growing jobs sector in the energy industry, accounting for about half (76,000) of the entire energy industry’s new jobs (151,700) in 2018” 

So, save energy, save money, create local jobs. Nice, huh? 

What type of buildings might be required to do a tuneup? 

Well, what are large buildings? Office buildings, hospitals, college buildings, school buildings, retail buildings, and hotels are some types of large buildings, each with a large carbon footprint. If over 50,000 square feet, they would be required to do a tuneup. 

OOS needs help!

Reading the full text of the bill, it seems that our Office of Sustainability will have a lot of building data to review. We sense Council may need to plan for additional staffing at the Office of Sustainability to manage this. Local group Green Building United has been a key leader on this legislation. 

Engage with your Elected Reps 

Please thank your council members for this bill. The contact info for your council members can be found on the Engage page at Philly Talks Climate

If you have any climate action ideas, we’d love to learn about them at Philly Talks Climate. Our email is phltalksclimate@gmail.com

Connect with Concerned Others

How do you connect with others concerned about the climate crisis? 

This Sunday, there’s a film screening of Motherload, about cargo bikes and moms. We expect many area parents arriving on their cargo bikes. Should be quite a sight and quite fun! 

Later in the week, City Council’s Environment Committee has a hearing planned for Wednesday. The Building Energy Performance Policy will be discussed, as well as how this’ll fit into the larger context of getting to 100% renewables for our city. 

You’ll find details on our Connect page at Philly Talks Climate


I’d like to end with a quote from Bill Nye, found in the October 2019 issue of The Sun Magazine

If your house is on fire, you don’t comfort yourself with the thought that houses have been catching fire for thousands of years. You don’t sit back idly and think, “Oh well, that is the way of nature.” You get going, immediately. And you don’t spring into action because of an idealistic notion that houses deserve to be saved. You do it because if you don’t, you won’t have a place to live.

This is Meenal, on Philly Talks Climate. Thanks for listening! 

Closing music: Theme song from Get Smart, a TV series from the ’60s.

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