Five Ways To Begin Energy Benchmarking

For actionable insight, buildings are increasingly tracking and comparing energy performance.

Contributed by BOMI International
From the April 2020 Issue

You may think your building operations reflect a green building approach, but how do you know what is happening on a month to month basis? Energy benchmarking is the ongoing monthly review of energy performance to determine if a building’s operation is better or worse in comparison to itself, other buildings in a given portfolio, and/or peer operations. One of the most important sustainability benchmarks for facility management and building owners of existing buildings is energy efficiency, which is a way of managing and restraining the growth of energy consumption.

Energy performance
The building blocks of energy benchmarking for buildings includes comparing against others, analyzing utility bills, using software, evaluating efficiency measures, and engaging building occupants. (Photo: Getty Images)

Benchmarking compares performance metrics and business processes to best industry practices. It also measures performance through use of specific indicators, including:

  • occupancy rates;
  • maintenance cost per square foot;
  • utilities cost per occupant;
  • water consumption per occupant;
  • area cleaned per janitorial worker; and
  • percent of waste diverted.

These performance metrics for the individual building can each be compared to industry benchmarks. Benchmarking enables building operators to conduct many tasks critical to reducing energy and water consumption, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. Through benchmarking, building professionals can learn from a variety of perspectives how well or poorly a building is performing. If a building is underperforming others, the property management team cannot determine how to improve performance until benchmarking is performed.

Are you ready to start benchmarking today? These five critical components will start you on your way to energy benchmarking.

1. Compare Energy Performance

The first time a building is benchmarked, it creates an annual energy performance baseline against which future energy assessments can be measured. This allows the operator to evaluate relative changes in the performance of building over time and set goals for future performance (such as a percentage reduction from the baseline). The normalization of the utility bills by benchmarking software ensures that changes in performance reflect operations and management practices, rather than changes in tenancy or vacancy within the building or because of unusual weather.

Furthermore, many benchmarking systems generate a rating that compares the energy performance of a building to that of similar buildings.

For example, the 1-to-100 ratings generated by ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager reflect the energy efficiency of a building as a percentile compared against a national building dataset. An office building with an energy score of 75 in Portfolio Manager is in the 75th percentile compared to the energy efficiency of similar office buildings nationally, making it a very good performer. A data center with a score of 10 is in the 10th percentile compared with the energy efficiency of similar data centers nationally, making it a poor performer. This comparison gives operators important perspective on how their buildings are performing relative to other buildings and helps them gauge the energy efficiency their facilities should achieve.

2. Analyze Your Utility Bills

Surprisingly, many facility management professionals and building owners have never collected and reviewed utility bills because the payment of utilities is often outsourced, particularly for portfolios of properties. Most operational benchmarking systems require the building professionals to collect and input 12 consecutive months of utility bills for each building into the system. Depending on building occupancy and other factors, this simple exercise can yield important insights into building energy performance trends, including the identification of inefficiencies.

The Institute for Building Efficiency created the Lean Energy Analysis (LEAN) system, which is a cost-effective way to measure building performance using the utility bill data as the main source of information. LEAN generates models of building energy performance. Instead of conducting on-site energy audits, it combines a statistical analytics tool (called regression analysis) with utility data to create these models. Analytical tools like LEAN can provide a preliminary estimate of the size and make-up of potential energy efficiency projects.

3. Use Diagnostic Software For Building Energy Performance

Most commercial buildings have little or no readily available feedback on energy performance. Utility bills provide some insight, but their potential to target particular areas for energy savings is limited. Currently, other tools provide only general benchmarking information or require extensive data input.

FirstView™ software and services are tools that enable building owners, energy-efficiency professionals, and designers to extract more targeted and useful energy-performance information from basic data inputs. Developed by New Buildings Institute (NBI) and tested on thousands of buildings, the FirstView tool automatically creates a simplified building energy model that can quickly diagnose opportunities for improvement and automatically compare a building’s performance against peers. Using only monthly utility bills and a few building characteristics, NBI’s FirstView software and services can help move beyond a static benchmarking score, allowing you to invest audit resources where they will be most.

4. Evaluate Energy Efficient Measures

One of the largest barriers to energy efficiency is the uncertain impact of energy efficiency measures. Building owners and managers hesitate to invest in energy performance improvements that may not achieve the expected return on investment (ROI). Energy savings projections are often inexact, because building performance is subject to so many different factors.

For instance, upgrading mechanical HVAC systems is expensive and may not achieve the projected savings. This can be due to occupant behavior, poor system installation and maintenance, or operator inexperience. New lighting systems with an expected short payback period may not achieve expected savings if building occupants keep their lights on for longer periods than anticipated.

Benchmarking provides a feedback mechanism that helps building operators evaluate whether energy efficiency measures are achieving expected performance and cost savings. It also helps building professionals take steps to improve performance if expectations are not met. In addition to providing feedback on specific measures, benchmarking gives building professionals data they often use to justify energy efficiency projects.

5. Engage In Energy Efficiency

Benchmarking is also an effective way to engage tenants in energy efficiency. In tenant-occupied facilities, tenants often consume more than half of the total energy used within the building; however, the building professionals may have limited influence over tenants related to energy efficiency measures and behavior. This makes tenant interaction a very important part of energy efficiency. Benchmarking can help bridge this gap, providing tangible benefits to both building owners and tenants related to efficiency.

Evaluating energy performance levels allows for the implementation of performance improvement strategies and practices to achieve better overall building operations. It will be critical given the industry evolution in this area for building professionals to embrace evolving approaches to benchmarking and overcome potential barriers to ensure their facility or property offers the greatest returns to the varied stakeholders.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s High-Performance Sustainable Building Practices course, part of the High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™). More information regarding this course or the new High-Performance certificate courses is available at the BOMI International’s website.

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