What is Energy Benchmarking?

Building energy benchmarking, simply put, refers to a systemic and continuous process of reviewing your building’s ongoing energy consumption to determine how optimally it’s functioning.

It can be internal- measuring the building’s present performance to the past or it could be external, which involves comparing two buildings or more altogether. Regardless of the type, the data studied motivates owners and occupants to strive for improvement. 

It facilitates in identifying the poorly performing buildings, establishing a baseline for measuring the improvement, enhancing a competitive spirit through comparison. Moreover, it is also in many ways an initial step towards partaking in green compliance for studying the building’s energy consumption probes the required interventions to make it energy efficient, and ultimately enjoy the credibility that comes with various certifications. 

Energy benchmarking essentially involves tools like ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, internal or external data is collected, following which the data is verified to ensure reliability and accuracy.  Energy benchmarking is becoming mandatory with grappling threats of climate change that have only blown out post the pandemic. 

Therefore, it is wiser and safer to participate and invest in energy benchmarking and reap the benefits.

Barriers to Energy Benchmarking

Even though energy benchmarking is the safest investment to curate vis-à-vis energy efficiency, following hurdles are commonly reported:-

1) Lack of conceptual understanding

Many experts and energy personnel lack the basic understanding of what energy benchmarking of a building is. They are further confused by the many resources available. It is imperative to have the core understanding in order to manage your building’s energy consumption and make it more competitive. 

Moreover, people often not know what to energy benchmark because of it. You can benchmark practically anyhow- as specifically or as broadly. There are conventional metrics (energy per unit of floor area), you could also signify it with numbers around CO2 emissions. The simplest way to go about it is measuring energy use or GHG emissions per square foot as a starting point.

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2) Limited managerial support

Given how comprehensive, all-inclusive and long drawn the process is, support from the senior managerial staff is non-negotiable which isn’t often enjoyed. It is crucial for everyone involved to understand that it is a introductory step towards gauging wherever your building stands and how to optimally operate it in the longer run. 

It even lays the foundation for other indispensable processed like energy auditing which are again, mandatory. Further, financial upkeep is needed as well to properly being completion to the process. 

To engage the upper management, we recommend:-

  • gaining executive attention
  • highlighting specific saving goals energy efficiency promises
  • using financial metrics valued by your company (EPA’S ENERGY STAR financial value calculator can help with developing these metrics)
  • funding projects are initially based on the initial cost instead of the lifestyle cost so focusing on internal rates of return (IRR) instead
  • providing real world proof

3) Energy consumption data is not readily available

Larger organizations, especially those managing sizeable portfolios  of buildings  may encounter difficulties collecting the data. Most times energy and water consumption goes untraced. We recommend contacting your utility provider or utility bills aggregator for consolidation of the same. 

Furthermore, benchmarking data is never straight out or clear cut and hence, could be misleading. You are always running the risk of oversimplifying the data. So we recommend not solely focusing on the data even if you stand above or below the average. Its highly recommended to look at energy productivity as a 4-10 year investment program where all types of ROIs are integrated.

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4) Lack of expertise to interpret energy benchmarking data

Benchmarking tools often only generate summary statements that reflect a building’s energy performance. It is wiser to have experts interpret it. Even when actionable data is collected, it is difficult to plan the action to be taken towards it for benchmarking by itself doesn’t solve anything; it lets you understand your standing vis-à-vis energy consumption for you to further manage it better. Ideally, it must be followed by commissioning or retro-commissioning to fulfill the purpose of energy management.

5) Limited time/resources

As already mentioned, energy benchmarking is a comprehensive, long drawn & systemic process. It surely involves a certain amount of resources and time. We recommend having your accountant help you minimize initial costs. Also, half the work is done if someone is well versed with the benchmarking tool and its features.

NYC Local Law 84 of 2009 which mandates for buildings over 50,000 square feet or two or more buildings possessing an area of more than 10,000 square feet or two or more buildings with an area of more than 10,000 square feet managed in the form of proprietorship to input and submit the total amount of energy and water used by a building into the benchmarking tool. It is further required by the law to submit it annually, failure in doing so is deemed penal.  

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