Environment & Science

UCLA's Energy Atlas offers rare look at usage, efficiency in buildings

UCLA's new Energy Atlas website maps energy use by building type and energy consumption, and ranks use by square foot, per person and as a raw total.
UCLA's new Energy Atlas website maps energy use by building type and energy consumption, and ranks use by square foot, per person and as a raw total.
UCLA Center for Sustainable Cities

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What if we knew cars turned out greenhouse gases, but couldn’t tell the difference in emissions between a Hummer and a Prius?  The UCLA Center for Sustainable Cities has mashed up census data, property records and electricity use to create an interactive database that offers a rare glimpse into localized energy usage.

“I think it cracks open a new window into really seeing how energy is used in a much more sophisticated way,” says Stephanie Pincetl, a professor at UCLA who heads the Energy Atlas project.

The combination of data reveals that wealthy Westside communities, places like Hidden Hills, Calabasas and Malibu, use three times as much energy per capita as poorer places like Bell and Compton.

But energy consumption can be high in economically disadvantaged inland communities, like Hawaiian Gardens, too.

“By square foot, those residents in those poor cities use as much energy as per square foot in the wealthier areas. There’s something going on there that we need to look at and fix," Pincetl says.

It's possible that buildings in poorer areas don’t use energy as efficiently as buildings in richer ones, shes says, but UCLA researchers are only beginning to analyze data, and they hope that policymakers, local officials and businesses can use the Energy Atlas to target rebates and regulations more effectively.

“You can’t have broad-brush policies in a nuanced environment, because you can’t get good results,” Pincetl says.

Five cities — Azusa, Cerritos, the City of Industry, Pasadena and Vernon — did not participate. But most other investor-owned and municipal utilities, including Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, contributed five years of energy usage data to the project, while keeping identifying account information secret.

 “This type of data has never before been available,” says Howard Choy, general manager of the L.A. County Office of Sustainability. “This is first-of-its-kind work.”