Penn State helps Philadelphia lead in energy innovation

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia region is poised to become one of the nation’s leaders in energy-efficient building stock, thanks to a partnership among city leaders, utility companies, private businesses and Penn State — to name just a few of the key players.

President Barack Obama's comments in his January State of the Union speech highlighted his administration’s commitment to energy efficiency as an important strategy for the nation. But public and private stakeholders in Philadelphia had already joined together years earlier to provide leadership on the challenging issue of energy consumption.

Philadelphia's emergence as a sustainability leader began with the election of Mayor Michael A. Nutter in 2008, who pledged to make Philadelphia the "Greenest City in America." His administration created the city’s first Office of Sustainability and released "Greenworks Philadelphia," the city’s first sustainability plan. Greenworks contains targets and metrics in 14 major areas, including two very important energy efficiency goals: 1) to reduce the city’s own energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015; and 2) to reduce energy consumption in all buildings within the city by 10 percent by 2015.

With Greenworks laying the strategic groundwork for initiatives throughout the city and region, Philadelphia was ready to compete for newly available stimulus funding from the Department of Energy. The region was successful in securing two critical investments in its energy-efficient future. The first was a $25 million pool of retrofit finance funding. This award enabled the region to accelerate retrofit activity among its commercial and residential building stock. The second major investment was a $200 million smart grid grant awarded to PECO, the region’s electric utility, that financed upgrades for critical system infrastructure as well as the installation of smart meters so consumers can better understand how to manage energy use.

This successful network of partners and supporters already participating and supporting Greenworks and related projects was more than eager to be part of the region’s most ambitious energy efficiency opportunity to date — the creation and successful launch of the Energy Efficient Buildings (EEB) Hub in Philadelphia.

"The creation of the EEB Hub signals Penn State and Philadelphia as leaders in what is considered to be the next big frontier in energy research and development and also in the construction industry nationally, which is looking for better ways to build energy-efficient facilities."

— Laurie Actman, EEB Hub deputy director

"The creation of the EEB Hub signals Penn State and Philadelphia as leaders in what is considered to be the next big frontier in energy research and development and also in the construction industry nationally, which is looking for better ways to build energy-efficient facilities," said Laurie Actman, EEB Hub deputy director. "The EEB Hub will be a significant source of education to help the city and nation create a more resilient and efficient building stock."

The EEB Hub, initially known as the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster, is led by Penn State. In 2010 Penn State and its partners came together to successfully compete for a $129 million federal grant that would fuel research into energy efficiency, accelerate  adoption of energy-efficient building technology and foster economic development through the creation of a new sector and industry. Established at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the EEB Hub involves a substantial number of researchers from academe, two DOE laboratories, five high-profile global industry partners, and regional economic development agencies. All told, more than 90 organizations have made commitments to help achieve the goals of national energy independence and regional economic development.

“The collaboration we have fostered at the Hub among our partners and with public and private stakeholders in the region allows us to pursue inter-disciplinary strategies to accelerate the rate of retrofit in Greater Philadelphia and beyond,” Actman added.

Penn State is now involved in the renovation of an existing 38,000-square-foot building and the construction of a new 25,200-square-foot building at the Navy Yard. The buildings will facilitate public education and outreach, and function as the headquarters for the EEB Hub. The total project budget for both buildings combined is $39 million, funded by the state and grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Economic Development Administration. Completion of both renovation and construction is expected by spring 2014.

Penn State's engagement at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia has been under way since 2005 as a demonstration of the Engineering Innovation Program of the University. Three other Penn State run Department of Energy Centers already operate at the Navy Yard. The 1,200-acre Navy Yard site is a city within a city with a master plan guiding its development. A central feature of the master plan is the Smart Energy Campus aimed at making the Navy Yard and the Greater Philadelphia region a global headquarters for clean energy technology and policy.

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Last Updated April 29, 2013