The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in new energy benchmarking tools that spring from the (arguably overused) adage, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
In the commercial sector, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager has become a de facto benchmarking standard across the United States. Many large cities have instituted compulsory building benchmarking laws to drive greater visibility, with Boston and Chicago being the latest to enter the fray. It’s still too early to ascertain the overall impact, but early results show very positive outcomes.
In practice, energy benchmarking helps measure under/over-performance relative to peers of similar size, type, consumption, or geography (how am I doing?). Depending on tool sophistication, it may help focus on specific efficiency areas (where can I start to save?). Here at FirstFuel, we think that is what commercial energy benchmarking is – a good starting point. Truly deep savings – the kind of savings often required by utilities or government agencies facing 1 to 2 percent annual energy reduction targets – come from a deeper understanding of how individual buildings operate.
We believe that an “energy benchmarking plus” strategy provides the best path to comprehensive energy reductions within the bounded constraints of time, money, and people. Three major U.S. cities – New York, San Francisco, and Boston – have created commercial energy ordinances that pair benchmarking with energy audits and/or building tune-ups (retro-commissioning) every five to 10 years.
Going even further, some cities are integrating energy consumption transparency and benchmarking with more sophisticated technologies that were not available just a few years ago. Before this, cities could only scale up efficiency in a linear relation to the number of practitioners in the field or connected devices installed.
Now, remote data analytics can provide deep, building-specific insight into how all properties in a city portfolio can save significant energy and money – and do so in a matter of days or weeks, not months or years.
The District of Columbia’s Department of General Services is realizing the potential of “benchmarking plus.” Building off their energy benchmarking ordinance and DC Build Smart platform for making energy consumption data more transparent, DGS is employing deep analytics to meet the most aggressive EE target we’ve seen – 20 percent energy reduction in 20 months.
Through our deployment with DGS, FirstFuel has helped uncover some big savings towards reaching that goal – 19 million kWh across the first 25 buildings, or a 24 percent average energy savings per building – and has done so in fewer days than it would take to complete a single on-site audit.
Analytics also enable large cities to design more strategic EE roadmaps. Focusing first on DC schools, FirstFuel has revealed that over 60 percent of the total potential savings come from operational improvements that can be implemented very quickly and cost-effectively. While DGS prioritizes these savings opportunities to meet the 20 percent in 20 months target, they can simultaneously initiate larger retrofit projects that will yield comprehensive longer-term savings. As savings begin to accumulate, remote performance monitoring analytics play an equally important role in tracking and proving the energy reductions across time.
There are many steps needed to reach true scale for commercial efficiency. Benchmarking drives market education, awareness, and widespread action. And data analytics are a great toolset to uncover and enable comprehensive savings within commercial buildings.
This is the future of U.S. city efficiency.
Erik Mazmanian is a Marketing & Strategy Manager at FirstFuel Software. Prior to FirstFuel, Erik worked as a strategy consultant for the Corporate Executive Board, where he advised R&D executives on the management of technology and innovation.
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