Using Benchmarking to Achieve State Energy Goals

What gets measured, gets managed. Benchmarking is a first step in developing an energy management plan for a building or portfolio of buildings. Across the country, many State and Territory Energy Offices have established benchmarking programs for their buildings and facilities, and in some states, for privately owned buildings as well. Benchmarking programs promote good stewardship of taxpayer resources and support states’ goals to manage and reduce energy use, meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and improve the quality and performance of their building stock.

Benchmarking is a relatively low-cost method to track energy use, especially when using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) no-cost ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool. Some utilities have partnered with EPA to make the process of transferring energy data as simple as a single click once an ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager account has been created. See here for a map of states and utilities that have implemented this functionality.

What is Benchmarking?

Benchmarking is a method for measuring a building’s energy efficiency by comparing its energy use to buildings with similar functions (e.g., commercial office, K-12 school). Baseline data is compiled from the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey, a national survey on building energy use. For certain unique building uses, a modeled building of the same size may be used as the baseline. The most commonly used metric for benchmarking buildings is energy use intensity (EUI), a measure of energy use (kBtu) per square foot. This can be converted to a rating or scale, such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager’s 1-100 scale (50 represents median energy performance, 100 is the best).

Benchmarking Benefits

Benchmarking is the first step to understanding how a building (or portfolio of buildings) uses energy compared to buildings of similar type. With this information, building owners and operators better understand how their buildings use energy and they may use this information to find opportunities to improve their energy performance. In fact, EPA has found that buildings that benchmark energy use achieve average annual energy savings of 2.4%.

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Benchmarking Beyond Energy

Building owners and operators can benchmark their buildings’ energy consumption as well as water use and waste generation using EPA’s no-cost ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool or other commercially available benchmarking tools.

Getting Started

Some basic information is required to get started. First, you will need information about your building, such as its gross floor area, building type and property use. The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool has 18 broad categories, such as health care, education, entertainment/public assembly, office, food sales, parking and warehouses, along with another 80 property types. See here for a full list. Finally, you need your energy use data. EPA provides a benchmarking starter kit and data collection worksheet to get started.

Utilizing Benchmarking Outputs

With utility bills, square footage, and other inputs, benchmarking platforms can prioritize buildings for additional assessments and improvements. These may include operational improvements, capital improvements, or both. This is especially useful to help states with defined energy reduction goals to identify and prioritize projects for investment. States without specific goals can still explore the many benefits of benchmarking building performance. Relatively low-cost operational improvements can save the state and taxpayers on maintenance and energy costs.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager

Portfolio Manager is a widely used online benchmarking platform from the ENERGY STAR program. Portfolio Manager can track more than 100 different metrics pertaining to energy, water, and waste. Most buildings can be scored using Portfolio Manager; those earning an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or better may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification.

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Building Performance Standards

Policy Design

State and local benchmarking policies have several common features:

First, benchmarking policies identify the size and type of buildings that will be required to comply with benchmarking policies. Will compliance be required only for state or local government owned buildings, or must privately owned buildings also comply? What is the gross floor area (square feet) threshold for the size of buildings that must comply? Will multifamily residential buildings, hospitals, or certain industrial buildings be included? Many jurisdictions have started with larger buildings, such as those 100,000 square feet or greater, lowering the threshold over several years to 50,000 square feet and then 25,000 square feet.  Some jurisdictions have used a phased approach: for instance, requiring benchmarking first for state or local government buildings only, then expanding the requirement to private buildings. Some have also applied a lower square footage threshold to government buildings first, before applying the threshold to others.

Second, policies determine whether the benchmarking data (particularly for privately owned buildings) must be publicly disclosed and, if so, the mechanism through which the information will be made available. For example, the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment requires that all buildings (public and private) larger than 50,000 gross square feet to measure and report energy and water benchmarking data. This information is then published through an open data portal.

Third, policies determine which resources must be benchmarked. As State Energy Offices, energy is likely the primary focus, but it is also possible to benchmark water and solid waste streams, which may also be important to state policy goals.

Fourth, consider working with utilities in your state to enable building owners and operators to implement ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager Web Services, a feature that allows building owners to quickly and easily import energy use data into Portfolio Manager from the utility. See here for a map of states and utilities that have implemented this functionality. See here for a guidance document from EPA for utilities on providing whole-building energy data to enable benchmarking in EPA's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Finally, policymakers must determine whether building owners will be required to take action based on benchmarking results. In most jurisdictions with benchmarking policies and ordinances, benchmarking is all that is required. However, some communities are beginning to explore strategies that require the owners of poorly performing buildings to make improvements to increase efficiency. Several jurisdictions require periodic building “tune-ups” or “retrocommissioning” to adjust equipment, control, and operations. Additionally, some are implementing building performance standards.

Jurisdictions interested in developing a benchmarking policy can reference the following resources:

Examples of existing building performance standards or “tune-up”/ “retrocommissioning” ordinances: