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Energy Benchmarking: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Get Started

Energy benchmarking is a term frequently mentioned when talking about energy management and sustainability reporting. Many online benchmarking tools exist, such as GRESB and ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, to name a few. These tools allow users to measure their buildings against national standards of sustainability and efficiency. Having a GRESB or ENERGY STAR certified portfolio is extremely beneficial – it proves to clients, investors, and employees that you value the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants.

Before you dive into the world of online benchmarking tools, it is important to have an understanding of what benchmarking is, what it involves, and what its benefits are. From there, you can decide which benchmarking platform is right for your portfolio.

What is Energy Benchmarking?

If energy benchmarking had a slogan, it would be “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Energy benchmarking is the most effective way to measure energy performance of a building over time, and for commercial and large-scale residential buildings, it is an essential part of energy management. Simply put, benchmarking involves assessing and analyzing the energy and water use of a building and then comparing it to the building’s past performance, similar buildings, or modeled simulations of a reference building at a certain standard (such as the aforementioned ENERGY STAR standards). Energy benchmarking makes it easy to identify areas where efficiency is lacking, decide on potential improvements, and make informed decisions about long-term energy management.

What Does Energy Benchmarking Involve?

Benchmarking is based on two data sets: internal and external. Examples of internal data include historical energy and water consumption, which help identify issues unique to your portfolio. External data involves the consumption patterns and historical data specific to buildings with similar characteristics to those in your portfolio. External data can be collected by tools like ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Internal and external data sets work in tandem to give businesses and property managers the necessary information to make the right energy management decisions.

Once you have acquired data, it is time for the verification part of energy benchmarking. This involves ensuring that your data is accurate and reliable. Some steps include:

  • Filter out abnormally high or low energy use intensity (EUI) values in your buildings compared with national median EUI values. National median values are provided by the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)
  • Perform verification onsite.
  • Consider randomly sampling utility meter data.
  • Since not all data will be perfect, establish and follow a protocol for filling in the gaps.
  • Compare against the baseline, i.e. track your building’s energy use against itself over time.
  • Utilize energy management software to evaluate how your building’s energy performance compares to its potential performance.
  • If you manage more than one building, evaluate the performance of individual buildings to similar buildings in your portfolio.

4 Benefits of Energy Benchmarking

In some states and cities, energy benchmarking is mandatory, and buildings are required to meet certain standards. Mandatory benchmarking is becoming more common as the U.S. grapples with the threat of climate change. Even if your city does not yet require benchmarking, it is still wise to participate, since your company can reap the following benefits from energy benchmarking:

  1. Increased control over energy use.
  2. The ability to manage energy costs, thereby improving profits (monthly utilities are often one of the largest costs eating at a company’s bottom line).
  3. The opportunity to utilize internal and external data to develop or improve energy management, improve operational performance, or acquire financing for energy efficiency projects.
  4. The ability to plan for peak load times or potentially problematic equipment or infrastructure issues. For example, if you know a certain aspect of your building is not meeting efficiency standards, having that data will allow you to fix the problem prior to a peak load time.

3 Steps You Can Take to Begin Benchmarking

1. Design an Energy Benchmarking Plan

Having a benchmarking plan will help mitigate any initial confusion or uncertainty. Your plan should:

  • State the purpose and goals for your benchmarking program and the intended audience for the results (Clients? Investors? Management teams?).
  • Identify what metrics are necessary to communicate the results clearly and how the data will be collected.
  • Create a benchmarking team and establish their individual roles.
  • Determine a benchmarking tool and software.
  • Determine a verification process for the data (see above).

2. Make Use of Available Resources

The ENERGY STAR (https://www.energystar.gov/) and GRESB (https://gresb.com/) websites are excellent sources of information for all things energy benchmarking. However, there are numerous other benchmarking tools, standards, and guidelines. For a comprehensive list, consider downloading the EnergyWatch e-book “Planning Your Company’s Sustainable Future: A Guide to Sustainability Reporting.”

3. Use Benchmarking Software

Energy benchmarking is time-consuming. Managing a company’s energy use and utility costs can be a full-time, complicated job, especially if you attempt to do it manually. Energy management and benchmarking software like EnergyWatch’s watchwire platform allow you to easily meet the benchmarking policies and mandates of your city or state. Additionally, watchwire collects and monitors your data, providing you with detailed, consistent, and accurate analysis. To learn more about watchwire and its many capabilities, download the watchwire fact sheet.