Energy Retrofits leading the way for sustainability in Indianapolis

Something big has begun in Indianapolis, and it started with just one building.

In a public announcement last month, Mayor Greg Ballard detailed the upgrades to the 73,000 square foot City-County Building (CCB). The comprehensive energy retrofit targeted the 1960’s era heating and cooling systems, and included the following improvements:

  • Geothermal system, leveraging constant pumping of ground water due to Indianapolis’ high water table to supplement building heating and cooling
  • Heat recovery systems for the central plant, data center, and exhaust air
  • Modified airflow handlers to operate using variable instead of constant flows
  • Augmentation of existing controls systems to include the new heating and cooling system as well as occupancy sensors for the building’s lighting
  • Installation of solar thermal and solar PV systems
  • Solar and wind powered LED plaza lights

Impressively, the improvements—which cost a total of $8 million—reduced total energy usage by 46 percent, and are resulting in guaranteed energy savings of $750,000 annually for the next 15 years. In addition, the building remained occupied throughout the process allowing for an essential continuity of services for the city.

Performance Services, a design build engineering firm, performed the retrofit work in the CCB under the auspices of a performance contract (which guarantees the savings of the energy retrofit project while avoiding up-front capital costs to the building owner).

But, beyond these savings, the big story of CCB is that Indianapolis isn’t stopping there. The retrofit is part of a broader energy efficiency program in 61 buildings across the city.

Greater savings by going project to portfolio:

""In the summer of 2009—when Mayor Greg Ballard and the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability began working with Rocky Mountain Institute and a newly formed Green CCB Development Team—a citywide plan for sustainability was developed, with the deep retrofit of the CCB as the cornerstone.

Driving the plan was an intensive workshop, where a transdisciplinary team looked at ways to incorporate integrative design. The CCB retrofit exemplifies the benefits of this approach.

For example, a key insight enabling the project’s hallmark geothermal system came from a member of the maintenance team who mentioned the availability of significant ground water, which was identified as a potential source of heating and cooling.

Indianapolis is now aiming to use these, and other lessons in their retrofit plan for the rest of the Indianapolis city buildings. In fact, the Indianapolis CCB headlines the comprehensive Indianapolis sustainability program called SustainIndy.

“The changes we are making to the City-County Building and City-owned buildings across the system—and the savings involved—are a perfect example of how the city can become more sustainable while being economical,” said Mayor Ballard.

The city aims for a 25% reduction of energy use across the building portfolio, resulting in a 1.7$ annual savings for the next fifteen years.

In RMI’s perspective, developing portfolio strategies to retrofits and energy planning can result in resource savings and enhanced value (or “returns”) that are not possible when only considering retrofits at the individual building level.

Strategies like streamlining energy analysis across the portfolio to determine individual building measures, bulk purchasing of equipment and services, and aggregating efficiency projects for lower-cost financing can help project managers achieve cost-effective, deep energy savings over a large number of buildings.

Retrofitting existing commercial buildings to use dramatically less energy is a key component of Reinventing Fire, RMI’s blueprint for a business-led U.S. transition from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables by 2050, unlocking $5 trillion in savings over business as usual, and supporting a 158 percent bigger economy (view our infographic to see more).