Cities Boost Efforts to Reduce Energy Waste: Here's How They Rank

May 10, 2017

Scorecard of 51 large cities reveals the top 10, including Boston, NYC, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland. Orlando, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Kansas City among those most improved.

Washington, DC—As the federal government weighs budget cuts to energy efficiency programs, cities are stepping up efforts to reduce energy waste. More mayors and local lawmakers in America’s largest cities are turning to energy efficiency to reduce energy costs for consumers and businesses, strengthen the resilience of their communities, and reduce pollution, according to the third edition of the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The ACEEE report finds that Boston remains the top US city for energy efficiency, receiving 84.5 out of a possible 100 points, an improvement of 2.5 from its 2015 score. Following Boston, the top 10 US cities for energy efficiency are New York City (#2), Seattle (#3), Los Angeles (tied for #4), Portland (tied for #4), Austin (#6), Chicago (#7), Washington, DC (#8), Denver (tied for #9), and San Francisco (tied for #9).  

Based on a 25-point jump from the last edition of the Scorecard in 2015, Los Angeles was the most-improved city. It entered the top five—and the top 10—for the first time. San Diego, Kansas City, and Phoenix are the second, third, and fourth most-improved cities, respectively. Seven other cities, including Orlando, showed double-digit improvements since the last Scorecard.

The five cities most in need of improvement on energy efficiency are Hartford (#47), Memphis (#48), Detroit (#49), Oklahoma City (#50), and Birmingham (#51).

Additional findings in the 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard include the following:

  • Phoenix is the fourth most-improved city, with a gain of 13 points. The city increased its score in community-wide initiatives because of its adoption of the 2050 Environmental Sustainability goals, which include both energy savings and climate goals.
  • Orlando is another of 11 cities that improved by at least 10 points. It aims to improve efficiency in existing buildings by benchmarking its energy use and making the data transparent and accessible. Austin, Philadelphia, Denver, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Portland, and the four most-improved cities mentioned above round out this group.
  • Los Angeles is home to a new Existing Building Energy and Water Efficiency program, which requires an energy audit, retrofit, and benchmarking for many commercial and multifamily buildings, as well as water efficiency measures.
  • San Diego passed a Climate Action Plan that established goals to reduce energy use by 15% in select homes and to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions emissions by 15% by 2020.

“Across the nation, cities are taking steps to save energy, and they are creating more economically vibrant and resilient communities in the process,” said ACEEE senior researcher David Ribeiro, the lead report author. “More than half, 32, of the 51 cities improved their scores from 2015 to 2017, with several making substantial point increases. More cities are requiring building owners to benchmark and report buildings' energy use, updating building energy codes, and setting community-wide goals to save energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. We also see a new set of cities emerging as leaders for energy efficiency, knocking on the door of the top 10.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said: "Being recognized as America's most energy-efficient city is an accomplishment that should be shared by all Bostonians. Whether you're a resident who lowered their monthly utility bill through Renew Boston or an owner of one of our city's leading green buildings, we should all be proud of our success to reduce energy and save money."

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti said: “Building a sustainable Los Angeles is not a task for the distant future, it is a goal we are accomplishing right now with our Sustainable City pLAn, and through smart, bold investments in energy efficiency. The progress we have made on ACEEE’s City Energy Efficiency Scorecard — moving up 24 places in just four years — shows just how committed we are to making our buildings greener, and creating a sustainable Los Angeles for the next generation.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said: “This new ranking shows how far we’ve come in creating a more energy-efficient city in recent years. We’re now the number one city for solar panel installations in the country, we are using cleaner-burning fuels in our city vehicles, and we have committed to powering our city by 100% renewable energy. With the passage of our landmark Climate Action Plan, we’re setting the example for how to build a better and cleaner future for the next generation.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said: “Phoenix has made major strides toward becoming a carbon-neutral, zero-waste city with an economy built for the 21st century. Phoenix exceeded its 2015 goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is offering incentives to building owners to make their properties more energy efficient, working to make its own city buildings more energy efficient, and converting all 100,000 city streetlights to LEDs. This recognition is another milestone in what has been a historic sustainability comeback for Phoenix in just the past few years. Most recently, Phoenix began rolling out its voter-approved Transportation 2050 program—the largest green infrastructure investment in city history. We’ve already boosted bus service and dial-a-ride for our residents and will triple light rail in the next few decades. T2050 is a game-changer for Phoenix and puts us in prime position to remain at the top of the ACEEE rankings for many years to come.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said: "Over the last year, we have made great strides to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of Orlando's buildings and transportation fleet. Through collaborations with our business, nonprofit, and academic community, we enabled the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing tool that unlocked more than $500M for residential and commercial property owners and passed a historic energy and water benchmarking, transparency, and energy audit policy for the largest public- and private-sector buildings in Orlando. In addition, we've transitioned much of our city-owned fleet to alternative fuels and deployed millions of dollars to improve the efficiency of our city-owned buildings, saving taxpayers more than $1.4M from previous years. Through these efforts and others, we will continue to save significant amounts of money, reduce public health impacts and greenhouse gas emissions, preserve natural resources, and accelerate our local clean energy economy—all things that will improve the sustainability of our city."

In the five key areas covered by the report, the key findings are:

  • Local Government Operations. Leaders in efficiency in local government operations are Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, and Washington, DC. All have policies to increase efficiency in city government, procurement, and asset management.
  • Community-Wide Initiatives. The top-scoring cities in community-wide initiatives are Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, and Washington, DC. They have efficiency-related goals for the entire community and strategies to mitigate urban heat islands. They also have policies or programs to plan for future combined heat and power or district energy systems.
  • Building Policies. Leading cities in building policies include Boston, Austin, Los Angeles, and New York City. These cities have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to building code compliance, established requirements and incentives for efficient buildings, and increased the availability of information on energy use in buildings.
  • Energy and Water Utilities. The cities with leading energy utilities are Boston and Providence. The energy efficiency programs of the utilities serving these cities offer high levels of savings and reach underserved markets, including low-income and multifamily households. Austin, Boston, Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Diego are the leading cities in tackling efficiency in their water systems and water uses. Utility customers in these cities have access to efficiency programs designed to save water and energy simultaneously.
  • Transportation Policies. Cities with the top scores for transportation policies include Portland and New York City. Their initiatives include strategies to make their cities more compact and closer to transit options, shifts to efficient modes of transportation, transit investments, efficient vehicles and vehicle infrastructure, and energy-efficient freight transport.

Methodology

ACEEE’s 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard includes the same 51 cities as it did in 2015. ACEEE researchers assessed the central city of each of the nation’s 50 most populous metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs)—excluding San Juan, Puerto Rico—as well as El Paso and Fort Worth. The City Scorecard includes cities that have large populations within their borders (a median population of 632,309, with 124,006 in the smallest city) and are central cities in an MSA with a large population (a median of 2,384,075, and none smaller than 1,145,647). These cities alone make up 14.9% of the population of the United States.

Scoring is based on metrics that reflect the adoption and implementation by cities and utilities serving these cities of specific government policies, programs, and actions that can improve energy efficiency. The information in the Scorecard, and upon which ACEEE scored the 51 cities, reflects existing policies as of January 31, 2017. Although the policy environments in cities vary considerably, the report’s metrics capture a broad range of municipal actions.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  An electronic copy of the ACEEE 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard report and a high-resolution image of the national map with the 51 cities highlighted, along with the ACEEE logo, will be available upon request. A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available at http://aceee.org/local-policy/city-scorecard as of 5:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

 

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors.