Which Cities Are Most Energy Efficient? Boston, NYC, and DC Take Top Honors

, Senior energy analyst | May 21, 2015, 5:17 pm EDT
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ACEEE has just released its ranking of U.S. cities’ performance on energy efficiency. Their analysis shows some strong performers, and plenty of room for improvement.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy does a great job—and a great service to us all—in looking at who’s doing what at various levels when it comes to energy efficiency. For this, their second biennial city ranking, they looked at 51 of the largest cities in the country.

And what they looked at was energy efficiency in local government operations, community-wide initiatives, policies around buildings and transportation, and energy and water utilities.

Here’s what they found:

  • Boston is #1. Again! Boston “scored well across all policy areas, and it excelled in both buildings and in energy and water utilities.” With a score of 82 out of 100, it is 5 points ahead of where it was at the time of the last scorecard.
  • New York is catching up. New York, a leader in buildings policies and community-wide initiatives, gained ground on Boston overall, and is now only 4 points behind the leader.
  • D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle round out the top 5. And they’re followed by Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Austin, and Denver.
Which are the most energy-efficient cities? (Source: ACEEE 2015)

Which are the most energy-efficient cities? (Source: ACEEE 2015)

ACEEE also had some encouraging (or sobering) words, about room to grow: “All cities, even the highest scorers, have significant room for improvement. Boston was the only city to earn over 80 points, and only 13 cities earned more than half of the possible points.”

Why it matters

Cities are just one piece of our country’s overall energy (and climate) picture, but there are lots of reasons why efficiency gains in our urban areas are important to our overall progress towards a cleaner, more efficient electricity system. Here are a few:

1. Cities can drive innovation. As the report’s lead author, David Ribeiro, has put it:

“…cities continue to be laboratories of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency, with many pushing the envelope for more energy savings in the last few years… [W]e hope local leaders from cities of all sizes can learn best practices from each other and deliver the benefits of energy efficiency to their communities, such as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment.”

2. Cities can inspire their states, too. Many of the top cities in ACEEE’s new report are in states that are leaders themselves, ones that rank high in ACEEE’s state scorecard—Massachusetts, California, and Washington, for example.

But some are in states that don’t earn high marks—Austin’s home state of Texas ranked 34th. That makes those cities really important islands of efficiency in seas of… well, inefficiency.

We can hope that their examples will inspire their state governments to embrace the most cost-effective power option out there.

3. The Clean Power Plan is coming. The EPA is finalizing the first-ever nationwide standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, and energy efficiency will be a major tool available for states to use to meet those standards. Local experience will be a big help.

The way forward

As in so many aspects of our work in the energy space, we need not just innovation and progress, but better data. For purposes of this analysis, ACEEE suggests, “The data quality is simply not mature enough to evaluate cities’ efforts based on outcomes,” which is why their ranking is based on policies and their implementation instead.

And for cities looking toward the next ACEEE scorecard, angling to get onto the leader board or into the top slot, ACEEE offers a range of ideas for improving efficiency, including leading by example with greater energy efficiency in the city’s own operations, adopting energy savings targets and getting community leaders on board with those, and making energy use information more broadly available. (Is your utility signed up with Green Button?)

So thanks to the leaders for getting us this far, and thanks to all the cities working to up their energy efficiency game. Saving money, creating jobs, making themselves more resilient. A whole lot of reasons to want to be #1.

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