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Uptown Charlotte buildings cut 19% from their energy use, new data shows

Displays that show real-time energy use were installed in the lobbies of commercial buildings across uptown as part of the Envision Charlotte efficiency initiative.
Displays that show real-time energy use were installed in the lobbies of commercial buildings across uptown as part of the Envision Charlotte efficiency initiative. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Buildings in uptown Charlotte fell just short of a five-year goal to reduce their energy use as part of an initiative that’s gained national attention, newly-released data shows.

Envision Charlotte was launched in 2011 with support from corporations and local government. The initiative hoped to reduce uptown’s energy consumption by 20 percent over five years, largely by persuading building occupants to take simple steps such as turning off unused lights.

The results, announced late Wednesday: the 61 participating buildings used 19 percent less energy in 2016 than they did in the baseline year of 2010.

The energy saved is equal to the power nearly 10,000 homes would use in a year, worth $25.7 million. Emissions of carbon dioxide also fell 19 percent, the equivalent of taking 11,000 cars off the road.

“The Envision Charlotte partners have proven that a cooperative approach to reducing energy use works, and we look forward to sharing our substantial progress with the Charlotte community and with other cities in the United States and around the world,” executive director Amy Aussieker said in a statement.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration singled out the Charlotte initiative in 2015 as an example to be emulated in other cities.

But there’s a catch to Wednesday’s results: specialists at UNC Charlotte, who compiled the data, don’t know exactly where the energy savings came from.

Better behavior by building owners and occupants surely played a part, said a report by Robert Cox, who teaches electrical and computer engineering at UNCC. But Cox noted other likely reasons, much of them confidential under Envision Charlotte’s agreements with building owners.

Energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings, for instance, likely made an impact but can’t be quantified. So too did building occupancy rates.

At least two of the 61 participating buildings are known to have had fewer occupants, but falling vacancy rates citywide since 2010 indicate that most of the buildings probably were fuller. If that’s so, to see less energy used by a larger number of users would be “extremely encouraging,” Cox reported.

Corporate support for Envision Charlotte came from Bank of America, Charlotte Center City Partners, Cisco, the City of Charlotte, Duke Energy, Mecklenburg County, UNCC, Verizon and Wells Fargo.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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