Ever wish you could sneak a peek at your neighbor’s utility bills?
Only by benchmarking can you gain a sense of how your building’s energy use stacks up against others in your area or across the country. Being able to compare your property against national averages offers an invaluable context that can spurn efficiency improvements.
“Benchmarking helps to illuminate the path to improvement by providing insight into your building’s current performance,” says Lauren Pitcher, director of communications for the ENERGY STAR program. “It provides organizations with the information they need to empower strategic business decisions, drive operational efficiency, prioritize projects, focus investments, and create value.”
Public performance disclosure could also be required in your city in the near future. Properties in Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Austin, TX must divulge their energy and water use, an undertaking that requires the use of a benchmarking program.
There are a variety of performance tracking tools on the market. This installment of The Energy Toolbox highlights ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. This free EPA tool is used by more than 300,000 properties, representing over 40% of commercial building space in the U.S.
Portfolio Manager Overview
Did you know that the ENERGY STAR logo can appear on more than just computers and dishwashers? Your building can earn this designation as well.
“With crossover brand recognition in the residential market, an ENERGY STAR certified facility is an easy way to communicate your performance status to the public,” says Pitcher.
Portfolio Manager is an online tracking tool that measures energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions for a single building or across a portfolio. National data compiled by the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), which is conducted every four years by the Energy Information Administration, serves as the foundation (the 2012 survey is currently underway). Using externally generated data ensures that all building comparisons are derived from statistical averages across the U.S., not merely from users of Portfolio Manager.
The tool also provides over 150 metrics to monitor building operations, utility costs, and emissions. You can:
- Establish a performance baseline for any facility
- Identify unsatisfactory performance
- Normalize for weather and operational parameters
- Track utility costs
- Document improvement by percentage
- Share your building data internally or externally
Unlike an energy audit or building inspection, this program is easy enough to use that some organizations assign a receptionist or a volunteer member of their green team to this task.
Get Started with the Click of a Button
Virtually any building can use Portfolio Manager. To create your property profile, you must first choose a property function from a predetermined list. In many cases, these facility types match the same categories CBECS uses, which ensures quality comparisons to peer organizations. Office, K-12 school, hotel, data center, courthouse, retail, supermarket, financial institution, and warehouse are among the more than 80 property types available. Hospital (general medical and surgical) is separate from the medical office category, as is senior care facility. Universities may also enter data specifically for residence halls.
You will then account for specific operational characteristics that may significantly impact your energy consumption. For example, medical facilities will need to document the number of MRI machines and staffed beds. Schools can enter the number of freezers and refrigerators or whether they have a pool. Hotels can acknowledge spa and fitness areas, as well as laundry rooms. A data center will need detailed information on its IT energy.
The last requirement is to provide 12 consecutive months of utility bill data for each meter. The tool recognizes all fuel types and can handle any necessary conversions – simply enter the information as it appears on your utility bill. There are several options available to ease this initial data entry.
“If you have a portfolio with 100 buildings and each one has 20 energy meters, the idea of entering 12 months of data can be a hurdle. To simplify the process, you can do a bulk upload that allows you to automatically input utility data from an existing spreadsheet like Excel,” explains Pitcher. “There is also a data exchange option where a third-party organization, such as your utility, will automatically transfer your utility data into the tool.”
Delve into Performance
Once your information has been entered, Portfolio Manager will generate a variety of reports and calculations that shed light on your efficiency level. Use these five features to uncover areas of energy and water waste.
Statement of Energy Performance – This overview allows you to document your weather-normalized energy use intensity and your performance compared to national averages. You can also produce a report to view changes in energy performance per building or across a portfolio.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculation – Determine how much carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide your building produces. Direct and indirect emissions are derived from on-site fuel combustion and purchased electricity, as well as district heating and cooling. You can also recognize avoided emissions from any renewable energy certificates (RECs).
All calculations are consistent with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an international accounting tool that is commonly used for reporting requirements. Your organization can use the data to fulfill requirements mandated by your local jurisdiction or earn credits under green building programs such as LEED.
Despite the correlation between energy use and GHG emissions, this calculation is an independent metric and does not impact your energy performance rating. Understanding the extent of your GHG emissions, however, is an important step to lowering your carbon footprint.
Financial Tool – Track annual utility costs from energy and water consumption. You can obtain figures showing cumulative investments in facility upgrades or leverage the information to evaluate improvement opportunities.
ENERGY STAR Score – As long as your property falls into one of the 18 building categories offered by Portfolio Manager, you automatically qualify for a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score.
“The score compares a property’s energy performance to similar buildings across the U.S., normalizing for weather conditions, building characteristics, and operations,” Pitcher notes. “A score of 50 represents a median performance whereas a 75 means your building outperforms 75% of similar facilities. It is the only performance-based comparative metric on the market today.”
Beyond property type, applicants for the score must also be at least 5,000 square feet and in operation over 30 hours a week (not applicable to hotels or hospitals). Notable exceptions include banks, which can be as small as 1,000 square feet, and hospitals should be at least 20,000 square feet.
Users will also need to specify additional facility data beyond gross floor area, such as weekly operating hours, number of workers on the main shift, number of personal computers, and percent of floor area that is air conditioned and heated.
The only properties that are ineligible for a 1-100 score are those that fall outside of the current building categories as there wouldn’t be a viable model available for comparative purposes. Nonetheless, these users can still use the tool to establish a performance baseline, track costs and usage, and review national averages. Particularly since these facility types represent the largest growth in new users, the EPA has partnered with several industry associations to remedy insufficient data.
“For example, we recently partnered with the American Senior Housing Association to address data deficiencies for senior care communities, which were eager to use the tool,” Pitcher recounts. “They sent out a survey to their members and enough information was gathered so we could create comparative metrics and start to certify top performers in this peer group.”
ENERGY STAR Certification – Buildings that receive a score of 75 or higher and have their performance verified by an engineer or architect are eligible for official certification. This designation is valid for 12 months; you can simply reapply for an updated certification at the end of the year as long as your utility bill information is up to date for that period.
“We encourage annual recertification because we know that top performance isn’t an inherent quality of a building – it is wholly dependent on how it’s operated, which fluctuates over time,” stresses Pitcher. “Your certification is really a reflection of your facility’s performance in a given year.”
The Path to Improvement
Simply tracking your energy, water, and emissions performance won’t improve your operations, but it will provide a springboard to tackle efficiency projects.
An average score is only an indication that a building is struggling with efficiency – it’s up to you to uncover precisely where they may lay.
Some users may have a good idea where inefficiencies lie and their 1-100 ENERGY STAR score may be the last piece of persuasion they need to get funding for upgrades. Others may need the assistance of a consultant or energy audit to identify problem areas.
Many companies can meaningfully improve their score merely by going after classic low-hanging fruit – eliminating inefficient lighting, switching to low-flow water fixtures, adding controls, tightening the envelope, and adjusting set points.
“First target systems or practices that waste energy, such as lighting and equipment use after normal operating hours,” recommends Pitcher. “After those adjustments, review equipment operation and maintenance. If you have high-efficiency equipment yet a low score, this may signify that there’s a problem with the equipment’s size, controls, or design.”
From there, you can prioritize any capital investment projects that require replacement, renovation, or the addition of a major system. A single measure like adding a source of renewable energy or replacing an aging roof can make a significant difference.
Your ENERGY STAR score will also help you track the impact of these collective improvements as you review year-by-year comparisons of your performance. Each time your score increases, you can point to efficiency measures you implemented as the cause.
While undesirable, a falling score is nonetheless a valuable indication that a building needs review. Perhaps set points have drifted and need to be readjusted. It could be time to upgrade key equipment or increase the size of your solar array. A negative change could merely be the result of occupant behavior that has become lax.
No matter how you chose to improve your score, any efficiency projects will have a measurable impact on your utility bills.
“Looking at the user data within Portfolio Manager, we’ve found that buildings that are consistently benchmarked over a three-year period reduce their energy use by 2.4% each year, with poor performers saving even more as they address inefficiencies,” Pitcher notes.
Just remember that a high score doesn’t mean you can sit back and coast – even if you earned a 100, there’s always room for improvement.
The key with Portfolio Manager, or any other benchmarking tool, is to establish your performance baseline and look for opportunities to improve it.
Jennie Morton firstname.lastname@example.org is associate editor of BUILDINGS.