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SWAP 3: How Boston makes its historical buildings energy efficient

By Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, City of Boston on May 01, 2017

Boston is committed to ensuring our city continues to be a healthy, innovative and thriving place to live and work for decades to come. Ensuring that we use energy and all of our resources as efficiently as possible is critical to our success. 

Through its partnership with the Better Buildings Challenge, Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston have committed to a comprehensive plan for reducing energy use across 16 million square feet of city and privately-held buildings. Our goal is to reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2023. Our city will reach this goal through a number of aligned efforts, and participating in the Better Buildings Challenge SWAP with the City of Atlanta has helped us to exchange new ideas and perspectives to increase energy efficiency even further in Boston.

As a city, we are dedicated to implementing programs and initiatives such as Greenovate Boston and the Mayor’s Carbon Cup that help us achieve energy efficiency that our residents expect from us. The Better Buildings Challenge SWAP has proven to be an excellent platform to showcase our energy efficiency practices and the community's engagement in maintaining a clean environment.

Going into the SWAP, I knew the City of Atlanta would have a few recommendations for our Central Library and Public Works Facility. Of course, their experts shared many excellent tips we’ve started to include in our planning efforts, helping Boston to expand on its sustainability practices.

A staple of the Boston community, the historic Central Library at Copley Square is one of our many landmarks, so any energy efficiency upgrades must be done carefully to ensure we preserve the historic elements of the building. However, that doesn’t stop us from taking an innovative approach, such as adding a new Energy Management System (EMS). The EMS integrates legacy HVAC controls equipment and introduces optimal start and stop times based on outside temperature conditions. In addition, the EMS has the ability to integrate other energy-using systems such as lights, security, and water use to allow building management greater control of the entire building’s operation and allowing staff to monitor aggregate building electrical load in real-time.

Throughout the SWAP, we also found several opportunities to share information with the Atlanta team. Their staff was very interested in the idea of using more solar arrays throughout some of their facilities, so we had the chance to demonstrate how we’ve put solar energy to use at our Joseph Casazza Public Works Facility. At the Casazza building, the Atlanta team discovered an opportunity for us to put Variable Frequency Drive technology in place to upgrade the motor efficiency of the public works facility’s HVAC system.

The SWAP allowed us to bring new perspectives to the technical and operation side of energy efficiency and share best practices on paying for sustainability. We are in the process of developing an Energy Performance Contract, something Atlanta has been at the forefront in doing, so it was great to learn from them to inform the way we implement it.

I’m glad that the competition will benefit both of our cities moving forward. But just like in the Super Bowl, I think Boston came out on top.