2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard reveals top cities, best practices and strategies

D. Ribeiro, V. Hewitt, E. Mackres, R. Cluett, L. Ross, S. Vaidyanathan, and S. Zerbonne, The 2015 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard  (Washington,  DC:  ACEEE,  2015). aceee.org/research-report/u1502.

The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard compares cities across five policy areas:

  • Local government operations
  • Community-wide initiatives
  • Buildings policies
  • Energy and water utilities
  • Transportation policies

Boston earned the top spot for the third City Scorecard in a row. It received 84.5 out of a possible 100 points, an improvement of 2.5 from its 2015 score. As in the 2015 edition, Boston scored well in all policy areas and excelled in buildings policies and energy and water utilities. The city continues to implement its building energy benchmarking requirements, enforce the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code, and partner with its energy utilities through Renew Boston. The utilities serving the city have made substantial investments in electricity and natural gas efficiency programs and offer comprehensive low- income and multifamily programs.  Joining Boston at the top of the rankings are New York and Seattle, followed by Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon in a fourth-place tie. All have wide-ranging efficiency policies and programs. Los Angeles entered the top five (and the top ten) for the first time. Los Angeles’s 25-point improvement in this edition paired with its 20-point improvement in the 2015 City Scorecard fueled its rise into the top five.

Rounding out the  top  tier are  Austin, Chicago, and  Washington, DC, followed  by Denver and San Francisco in a ninth-place tie. These cities, each of them a repeat top-ten performer, continue to demonstrate their commitment to efficiency.  Los Angeles, San Diego, Kansas City, and Phoenix are the most-improved cities compared with the last edition, with all showing double-digit scoring improvements. All these cities have made real strides in efficiency. For example, Los Angeles’s Existing Building Energy and Water Efficiency (EBEWE) program consists of energy audit, retrofit, and benchmarking requirements for commercial and residential buildings, as well as water efficiency measures. San Diego is another good example. The city’s Climate Action Plan established goals to reduce energy use by 15% per housing unit in 20% of all such units and to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15% by 2020.

Thirty-two cities improved their scores, many with significant point increases. In addition to the four most-improved municipalities, seven others improved their scores by at least 10 points. These cities are Austin, Philadelphia, Denver, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Raleigh, and Portland. Several of the 11 cities with double-digit improvement are currently ranked between 11th and 20th overall. If they maintain their momentum, they may reshuffle the top-ten rankings in future City Scorecards.  Cities have taken positive steps since the 2015 edition, especially for buildings policies. Eight cities have adopted benchmarking and transparency policies since the last edition, and several have either updated their building energy codes or advocated for the state to do so. More cities have also established community-wide goals to save energy and/or reduce their GHG emissions, and a growing number are on track to achieve these goals. Thirty-five (35) cities in the 2017 edition have either energy or climate goals, whereas only 30 had such goals in 2015.

Leaders in efficiency in local government operations are Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, and Washington, DC. All have set policies to increase efficiency in city government, procurement, and asset management, from vehicles to buildings.  The top-scoring cities in community-wide initiatives are Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, and Washington, DC. They have efficiency-related goals for the whole community and strategies to mitigate urban heat islands. They also have policies or programs to plan for future efficient distributed energy systems.

Leading cities in buildings policies include Boston, Austin, Los Angeles, and New York. These cities have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to building code compliance, established requirements and incentives for efficient buildings, and increased the availability of information on energy use in buildings.

The leading cities in the energy utilities area are Boston and Providence. The energy efficiency programs of the utilities serving these cities offer high levels of savings and reach underserved markets, including low-income and multifamily households. Austin, Boston, Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and San Diego are the leading cities in tackling efficiency in their water systems and water uses. Ratepayers in these cities have access to efficiency programs designed to save water and energy simultaneously.

Finally, cities with the top transportation policies scores include Portland and New York. Their initiatives include location efficiency strategies, shifts to efficient modes of transportation, transit investments, efficient vehicles and vehicle infrastructure, and energy- efficient freight transport.

All cities, even the highest scorers, have significant room for improvement. Boston was the only city to earn at least 80 points. Only 18 cities earned over half of the possible 100 points. All 51 cities can improve their efficiency initiatives to increase their scores.  While cities can improve across all policy areas, cities have the most room for growth in transportation policies. In  most policy areas, at least  one or two cities  earned more than  90% of the available points. In transportation policies, however, only two cities earned more than  70%  of the available points.


Following are recommendations for cities that want to improve their energy efficiency and their ranking in the City Scorecard.

  • Adopt energy savings targets. Develop and codify energy efficiency goals for public and private-sector energy savings. Goals to reduce energy use, both community-wide and in government operations, can lay the foundation for further policy activity (Chapters 2 and 3).
  • Lead by example by improving efficiency in local government operations and facilities. Integrate energy efficiency into the day-to-day  activities  of  local  government.  Adopt  policies  and programs to save energy in  public-sector buildings and fleets and in  standard practices such  as procurement (Chapter  2).
  • Actively manage, track, and communicate energy performance, and enable broader access to energy use information. Tracking and reporting progress toward goals will reveal opportunities for improving energy plans, such as revising time lines, targets, or program strategies. Work with utilities to improve local government access to energy use data to better manage progress toward goals. Help increase energy data available to residents and businesses to
  • encourage them to take their own efficiency actions (Chapters 2, 3, and 5).
  • Adopt policies to improve efficiency in new and existing buildings. To improve the efficiency of new buildings, ensure that building energy code enforcement and compliance activities are effective and well funded. If the city has authority under state law, adopt more stringent building energy codes; if not, advocate for the state to do so. To improve energy efficiency in existing buildings, provide incentives for efficient buildings, require energy audits, and implement energy performance requirements for certain building types. Encourage better integration of energy information into local real estate markets by requiring energy benchmarking, rating, and transparency (Chapter 4).
  • Partner with energy and water utilities to expand access to energy efficiency programs. Because utilities are the primary funders and administrators of efficiency programs in  most  places, partner with them to develop and administer an energy-saving strategy, plan, or agreement.    As part of this, work with utilities to design energy efficiency programs to reach historically underserved  markets  such  as  low-income  and  multifamily households (Chapter 5).
  • Decrease transportation energy use through location-efficient development and improved access to additional travel modes. Use location-efficient zoning and integrate transportation and land use planning so residents can access major destinations via energy-efficient transportation. Expand transportation choices for residents, including those in low-income or affordable housing. Use complete streets policies and car- and bicycle-sharing programs to encourage a switch from driving to other modes of transportation.2 Create neighborhoods that support safe, automobile-independent activities (Chapter 6). 2 Complete streets policies promote the interconnectivity of streets to provide safe, convenient access for pedestrians,  bicyclists,  motorists,  and public transportation users.

Cities around the globe account for two-thirds of energy demand and 70% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (IEA 2016). Urban energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions may increase over time as city populations continue to grow. Cities’ large shares of energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mean that energy efficiency actions in urban areas and by local governments are critical in addressing the nation’s and the world’s energy and environmental challenges.

Many cities see energy efficiency as central to their initiatives to improve the sustainability of their communities. These efforts aim to enhance economic, social, and environmental well-being while developing the city’s and residents’ capacity to respond to change.

Specifically, a growing concern about climate change motivates many cities to improve their energy efficiency and lower their emissions. Many are making plans to use energy efficiency to adapt to a changing climate and shifting energy portfolios. For example, Chicago recently touted energy efficiency’s role in reducing community-wide GHG emissions by 7% within a five-year span (Chicago 2017). Thirty-six cities in the Scorecard have also joined the Compact of Mayors, created to capture and publicly report on cities’ actions to reduce climate risk (Compact of Mayors 2017).

Local governments can use energy efficiency to advance other priorities too, including economic development and reductions in government spending. A sample of 110 cities around the world reported that, combined, they are saving or plan to save $40 million each year from efficiency improvements in government operations alone (Riffle, Appleby, and Martin 2013). For example, an energy retrofit project for four local government buildings in Philadelphia has saved the city $1.9 million in utility bills and helped it earn $500,000 in rebates between the start of construction in 2012 and the end of 2014 (Philadelphia 2015). Energy efficiency also has clear benefits for city residents and businesses. For example, an LED lighting program administered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will save $246 million in residential customer payments (Los Angeles 2017). In Portland, a nonprofit started by the city called Clean Energy Works helps facilitate energy efficiency improvements and has created 470 jobs (Portland 2015).