This past summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a complete redesign of Portfolio Manager, the agency’s industry standard tool for benchmarking energy and water consumption in buildings. The revamped tool flaunts a modernized user interface and a redesigned data entry section, providing a faster and cleaner experience for users. At the same time this high-profile redesign was rolled out, Portfolio Manager’s web services quietly went through a redesign of their own.
To put it simply, Portfolio Manager’s web services provide a method for developers to connect their software directly to the website’s database. This allows a wide range of third parties, including utilities, ESCOs, and modern energy analytics companies, to both put consumption data into Portfolio Manager and pull other metrics, such as an ENERGY STAR score or total greenhouse gas emissions, out of the tool. In July, EPA updated these web services to make it easier for developers to build and manage software that interacts with Portfolio Manager.
A surprisingly large percentage of U.S. buildings (40 percent) are already benchmarked via web services, and that percentage is set to increase in coming years. According to data from the ENERGY STAR website, over 120,000 buildings were benchmarked using web services between June 2012 and June 2013. Meanwhile, just over 267,000 buildings had been benchmarked in Portfolio Manager without using web services as of October 2012, with the program touting more than 300,000 buildings in the system by July 2013.
So where are all these buildings benchmarked with third-party programs coming from? As Erik Mazmanian of FirstFuel mentioned in our blog last month, “the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in new energy benchmarking tools.” These new tools are beholden to Portfolio Manager, as they need to place information directly into the website’s platform in order to comply with benchmarking rules and regulations.
Yet users of these tools might never use Portfolio Manager themselves, even if they’re benchmarking as required. Instead, companies like WegoWise and CodeGreen Solutions will keep users in their systems in order to take advantage of deep analytics, sophisticated demand management, and to enhance customer experience.
For example, CodeGreen Solutions has a mobile App that enables users to view and analyze ENERGY STAR scores of other buildings from their smartphones to search and compare thousands of buildings on the go. Among other features, the App lets users send updates on their building’s energy efficiency for verification and share building performance stats on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Looking forward, can we predict how the use of Portfolio Manager will continue to change as the benchmarking market expands and matures? While Portfolio Manager will likely remain the clear industry standard, many companies – and their customers – are turning to web services as a means of benchmarking in Portfolio Manager, without spending any time using Portfolio Manger’s traditional user interface.
Given the influx of third-party benchmarking tools, as well as the expanding pool of cities that require benchmarking, it’s easy to forecast a situation where web services – a largely invisible service provided by the EPA – are utilized by the majority of users benchmarking buildings in the Portfolio Manager database.
The benchmarking user’s experience then becomes more about how effectively the website can link up with software and service tools; Portfolio Manager acts as a more explicit catalyst for the private sector.
What does this say about energy benchmarking? I see the evolution of Portfolio Manager’s role in benchmarking as a sign that these regulations are effective, innovation-spurring policies. Good public policy instigates the private sector to seek opportunities for growth while providing additional value to consumers.
As IMT has explored and validated in the past, that is precisely what benchmarking regulations are doing. While Portfolio Manager remains a trusted, reliable brand, the private sector is creating new tools to innovate and expand energy services around the country.
In the coming months and years, I hope we’ll see increased use of Portfolio Manager’s web services. In particular, having more utilities utilize web services would be a big step towards improving access to utility data for building owners. With Portfolio Manager entrenched as the standard for benchmarking regulations across the country, web services offer the greatest potential for simple, automated benchmarking services to be available to building owners and tenants.
With the right utility and private partner, a building owner could comply with regulations and make smart energy decisions in a completely automated way. That would be transformative.