Alexander Graham Bell might well be taken aback by the growth and evolution of the communications industry that he spurred with his invention of the telephone in 1876 -- both in terms of the technological innovation and the scale of the industry. This capacity for large scale and innovative change is why the inclusion of AT&T in Chicago’s Commercial Building Initiative so full of potential. The lessons learned from the retrofit of AT&T’s Chicago facility at 225 W. Randolph
John Schinter is tasked with leading the effort. As Executive Director of Corporate Energy, he is the driving force behind the company-wide effort to find ways to drive down energy use, and costs. With 30 years of global experience in the energy sector, he manages a staff whose full-time jobs are to manage AT&T’s energy use, water use, and carbon footprint throughout all sectors including networking, data centers, and corporate real estate.
This spring AT&T made a decision to have its Randolph street building join Chicago’s Commercial Building Initiative, a key component of Mayor Emanuel’s Retrofit Chicago program. Under the initiative, fourteen major commercial buildings, with a combined 14 million square feet of space, have committed to cutting their energy needs by 20% over the next five years through energy efficiency improvements.
The AT&T building itself contains 1 million square feet. The whole building is used by AT&T, predominantly for administrative purposes, which is different from several of the other office buildings in the Initiative that contain multiple tenants. Built in 1965 when energy was relatively cheap, the building was not designed with saving energy in mind. As John describes it, the building has some “fundamental design challenges” that are now opportunities to improve its energy efficiency.
Another opportunity for energy efficiency has been in the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. AT&T has updated all the motors used in the 70 fans that circulate air through the building. These motors used to have V-belts on their belt drives, which are smooth belts that, over time, can slip off and cause energy losses. The company has replaced these belts with cogged belts,
AT&T is also doing a lot to reduce energy needed for air conditioning. A building needs less air conditioning in the winter, so they are developing an algorithm that reflects less cooling in the winter. The team is reorganizing work space so the building is only providing air conditioning where people are. This means that if you work late at night in the AT&T building, the building can turn off most of the motion sensor lights and air conditioning but will not turn them off for the area you are located.
In a typical commercial building, HVAC and lighting together can be 85% of the building’s energy consumption. For the AT&T Building, the payback period for the lighting and HVAC projects, meaning the amount of time it takes for the improvements to start saving money, is less than 3 years. The incentives provided by ComEd, our local utility, are critical to bringing down the payback period for these projects to make them competitive with other projects AT&T wants to do. John stressed that every project AT&T is implementing in the building has an associated incentive that drives the cost down. It has been a priority of NRDC to advocate for utility energy efficiency policies in Illinois, so seeing another first-hand example of how NRDC’s state policy drives involvement with urban sustainability efforts like the Commercial Building Initiative was particularly satisfying.
For the AT&T building in Chicago, the company has identified 50-60 things that could be addressed to improve the building’s energy efficiency. The Commercial Building Initiative has provided the motivation to accelerate progress on these items, and the chance for the AT&T team to be part of a larger Chicago real estate community that is tackling these challenges together.
This post was co-authored by Kimi Narita, NRDC's MAP Energy Policy Fellow.
Building, sensor, and infographic courtesy of AT&T.
Source for V belt/cogged belt photo.