Empire State now New York’s ‘greenest’ office

The green Empire State has been cited more than once by Barack Obama as an example to others

The Empire State Building towers above the skyline in New York. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The Empire State Building towers above the skyline in New York. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

 

New York’s most famous landmark, the Empire State Building, has set a headline for the commercial property sector worldwide by investing in energy efficiency. This has slashed its fuel bills by almost 40 per cent, with a payback period of just 14 months, and increased the skyscraper’s capital value.

The story was told at the recent Better Building Conference in Croke Park by Kevin Hydes, Leicester-born president and chief executive of the Integral Group.It specialises in “deep green engineering” and sees huge potential for similar transformations of older office buildings. To him, it’s a “no-brainer”.

The Empire State project involved upgrading every single one of its 6,500 double-glazed windows, installed in the mid-1990s, by injecting them with argon gas. all the work was done in a specialised glass factory, set up on the building’s second floor, rather than a remotely-located plant.

Also included in the $8 million project were digital energy-management systems, energy-efficient lighting, new air- handling units and upgraded chillers. There was also a concerted effort to capture previously lost heat by putting reflective insulation panels behind some 6,000 steam radiators on perimeter walls.

Anthony Malkin, who heads the Empire State Realty Trust – owner of the 2.7m sq ft (250,000sq m) skyscraper – wanted to “green” it and put together a team that included Hydes’ company, Johnson Controls, as well as Jones Land Lasalle, the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Their original assignment was simply to replace chiller units in the 82-year-old building. “We said that if they spent money to save energy, they wouldn’t need such large coolers, so the project grew from there,” he explained. The payback was fast because the building “became more desirable” (ie, rents rose).

Described by Malkin as “a sound business decision that saves millions of dollars each year”, the newly energy-efficient Empire State Building now offers “the greenest office space in Manhattan”, according to Hydes. Indeed, it has been cited more than once by President Barack Obama as an example to others.

A former chair of the World Green Building Council, Hydes said people did not believe a century ago that it would be possible to build 100-storey skyscrapers, yet it happened.

“We live in a world of constant innovation and there’s no turning back. We can also bridge the gap between aspiration and actuality.”

People could now see examples of green buildings at the Olympic Village in Vancouver, which has a climate quite similar to Dublin’s.

Tech companies such as Google were also demanding “the highest level of performance from buildings because they want the healthiest environment for their staff and clients”.

Others are being built from scratch, achieving previously unimaginable energy savings. Latest to get noticed is the Bullitt Center in Seattle, just down the road from Vancouver. Sitting under a canopy of solar panels that generate as much electricity as the building uses, it is billed as “a model of eco-friendly design”.

Chris Rogers, founder of Point 32 – the company that developed it – told the Better Building Conference that the Bullitt Center managed to meet the design imperatives of the Living Building Challenge by delivering a six-storey office block that has “net zero” energy requirement and water consumption.

Its tilted 1,300 sq m roof is a “solar array”, consisting of 575 photovoltaic capable of producing 230 megawatt-hours of electricity a year. The excess power it generates in the summer months is sold to the grid and bought back during the winter, effectively using the grid as a virtual energy storage system.

Geothermal heating and cooling allows the Bullitt Center to draw heat from underground during the winter and sink excess heat during the summer. The heating and ventilation system also allows the building to recover 65 per cent of the heat it uses in winter from the air, while extracting it in the summer months.

Naturally, the building has a rainwater harvesting system with a 212,000-litre tank in the basement, from where the water is drawn to flush toilets and provide irrigation for landscaping. It could even be used to provide drinking water, using filters and ultraviolet light, but the system hasn’t been approved yet.

Hydes hailed the Bullitt Center as a game-changer.

“It represents a big shift in the industry and is completely changing the whole dynamic,” he told the conference, which was sponsored by Ecocem.

If a six-storey building effectively needs no energy for its needs, anything is possible now.