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Pressing the Accelerator on Energy Efficiency

Published: Dec 4, 2013 Policy | Blog Post

Three new Better Buildings Accelerators, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative, kicked off yesterday. The Accelerators will advance President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by engaging state and local governments, utilities, and industry to significantly cut energy waste in their buildings and plants.

Each of the three accelerators will demonstrate a specific innovative approach to boost investment in energy efficiency. One targets industrial facilities; another aims to expand the use of performance contracting across government portfolios and school districts. The third is the Energy Data Accelerator, designed to demonstrate low-cost, standardized methods for providing whole-building energy data to aid building energy benchmarking. The Energy Data Accelerator brings together more than 30 cities and utilities representing 2.5 million customers.

Utilities have a key role in enabling benchmarking and better energy management. To benchmark in ENERGY STAR, building owners or managers need 12 consecutive months of whole-building energy consumption data. This information is often difficult for building owners to get because of separate meters, utility data privacy policies, and the need for manual data collection from individual tenants or meters. Utilities can support benchmarking by adopting practices that improve building owners’ access to whole-building data and developing web tools that allow for electronic access and uploading.

The Data Accelerator will scale up local success stories, like that of the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub) and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Regional Data Management Working Group. (IMT staffed the working group.) It brought together representatives of the City of Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania, PECO, other local utilities, and nonprofits to catalyze better data access for the region’s building owners.

As a result, PECO committed to develop a user-friendly, automated benchmarking service. For more information about the group and best practices for utility data access programs, take a look at IMT and EEB Hub’s Utilities’ Guide to Data Access for Building Benchmarking, published in March.

Also on Tuesday, the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development expanded the Better Buildings Challenge to multifamily housing. At the Accelerators launch event, owners, utilities, and service providers came together to discuss the importance of benchmarking and utility data access for multifamily buildings and best practices for utilities to provide access.

The lack of access to energy performance data is one of the major barriers to energy efficiency in multifamily buildings. Energy efficiency in the multifamily sector can help preserve affordability for renters, but the energy efficiency of apartment and condo buildings has historically received a lot less attention than in other types of housing or commercial buildings.

Convenient access to aggregated, whole-building energy data will help multifamily building owners, as well as utilities and energy efficiency program managers, better understand their buildings, track performance, and evaluate energy efficiency upgrades. The National Association of State Utility Consumers Advocates (NASUCA) recently unanimously passed a resolution supporting multifamily building owners getting access to whole-building energy data, as long as the privacy of tenants is protected. NASUCA calls on regulators and utilities to consider comprehensive energy benchmarking policies, including electronic access to data.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC) adopted a similar benchmarking resolution in 2011. IMT has been working with leading utilities, major real estate groups, and other non-profits on the issue as one of the founding members of the Data Access and Transparency Alliance (DATA), a coalition including the Real Estate Roundtable, BOMA, NRDC, USGBC, and Enterprise Community Partners.

IMT applauds the White House, the Department of Energy,  and NASUCA on their recent steps to encourage better data access for building owners. The launch of the Energy Data Accelerator is a huge step forward, showing commitment from all levels of government and from utilities around the country to forge best practices in support of energy benchmarking. No doubt its innovations will become business as usual as benchmarking gains ground nationally.