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Benchmarking – A Means to Reduce Existing Building Energy Consumption

As public and commercial building managers and owners grow more sophisticated with their energy saving techniques, each is beginning to investigate different means of measuring their energy consumption. The term “benchmarking” describes the process of tracking the energy consumed, over time, of an existing building and comparing the results to similar buildings or an applicable standard.

While engaging with multiple states and municipalities in the Midwest on this topic, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) has developed a policy brief on this topic to assist facility managers, public building administrators, and private commercial owners in understanding the fundamental ideas within these types of policies. Entitled, “Introduction to Benchmarking or Tracking Energy Consumption in Commercial and Public Buildings,” this short document, available here, outlines the process and overall benefits of benchmarking existing building energy consumption.

Some benefits of tracking energy consumption:

  • Benchmarking allows Building Owners and Managers to assess the performance of an existing building’s total energy use and track the actual energy consumed during its operation.
  • Understanding energy consumption costs enhances the predictability of yearly budgeting.
  • Benchmarking improves market competitiveness among commercial buildings by allowing potential tenants and purchasers another means of compare comparison.
  • Energy tracking supports the local economy (particularly jobs related to energy efficiency)
  • A high potential of energy savings are a result – as are related reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, conservation of resources, and enhanced fuel reliability.

While there are a wide variety of tools currently available, EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is an industry standard. This web-based program summarizes the total, annual energy use for all fuels (natural gas, electricity, etc.) on a square foot basis (kBtu/sqft/year), normalizes the energy use to climate data, and links the information to the occupancy type and rate/percentage of the building. The program converts this information into a single, 1 to 100 score, whereas 1 point equals one percent of the population of buildings and the higher a score the less energy used per year. As such, a score of 70 for a building means it uses a similar amount of energy that 30% of buildings use.

According to an October 2012 EPA study, buildings using the EPA ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool to track their energy consumption had an average annual savings is 2.4%, with a cumulative savings of 7.0% between 2008 and 2011. This study also noted that buildings which start out with lower ENERGY STAR scores are able to achieve the greatest savings. Of the building data captured in the EPA study, those which started with below average energy efficiency in 2008 (i.e., score under 50 out of 100) saved twice as much energy as those starting above average.

By simply keeping track of energy use through utility billing information, better energy management results in actual dollar savings. This follows the old adage, “you can't manage what you don't measure.”