e-News #87: Benchmarking

November 13, 2012
Please rate this resource: 

Download: EDR_eNews_087.pdf
(0.1 MB PDF file)

What is Benchmarking?

"If you can not measure it,
you can not improve it."

-Lord Kelvin

Benchmarking is the act of comparing performance data for an organization or process, usually with the goal of motivating its improvement. Benchmarking requires the use of a common metric to allow comparison between entities, or else to a minimum standard or best-practice goal. Building energy performance is typically measured in equivalent units of consumption, over a consistent period of time, for a given unit of area (e.g., kBtu/yr./ ft2 or MJ/hr./m2).

For facility managers, benchmarking is a valuable tool that provides insight to how the building is performing from an energy use standpoint. It also allows owners and occupants to compare their building to others that may be similar. Energy benchmarking is valuable for building owners who are looking to improve the efficiency of their building. By having the current energy performance of the building recorded, analysis of energy upgrades can be modeled and a return on investment can be derived. Setting goals for energy performance is another benefit made possible by benchmarking a building's energy use, and can be as detailed or as simple as the building operator chooses. Some buildings derive their monthly energy use from the utility bill and enter that data as whole-building energy use. Others choose to break out energy use based on large equipment, separate tenant spaces, or even interior vs. exterior energy use, and then total the sub-categories to attain the total monthly use.

It is now easy for building owners to compare their recent energy use to previous years and project energy costs into the future. In the past, benchmarking against other buildings' energy performance was difficult due to the lack of public building energy data. To simplify the energy benchmarking process and add value to energy benchmarking in general, the EPA's ENERGY STAR® program developed the Portfolio Manager platform. This has become the industry standard for benchmarking building energy and water performance in the United States.
Portfolio Manager allows building owners and operators to streamline the process of comparing their portfolio's energy and water performance data to other buildings of similar size and function.

The Portfolio Manager also gives buildings an "Energy Star score" based on the building's relative energy performance compared to other buildings of similar size and function. The scoring scale is 1 to 100 with a score of 50 meaning the building performs at the 50th percentile. Portfolio Manager also allows owners to easily estimate their building's carbon footprint, which is especially valuable as local Climate Action Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions become more popular. Using Portfolio Manager to benchmark a building also can help achieve LEED certification under the LEED for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance rating system.

Benchmarking and Energy Audits

The energy benchmarking of buildings allows owners to get a perspective of how their building performs compared to other similar buildings. If a building is performing poorly, the owner may realize that it is sub-par but may not know how to improve upon that energy use. This is where an energy audit of the building becomes valuable.

Under many municipal energy performance ordinances, non-residential buildings are required to perform an energy audit. The goal of the audit is to identify approaches to reduce building energy use, identify a return on investment, and recommend a list of cost-effective opportunities to reduce energy use. Once the audit has been performed, the building owner may be required to submit their contact information, the auditor's contact information and qualifications, and a list of all recommended cost-effective energy measures to a reporting agency.

For example, in San Francisco, buildings between 10,000 ft2 and 49,999 ft2 are required to have a Level I ASHRAE energy audit. The Level I audit provides a basic energy analysis of the existing building and processes and provides a list of recommended low/no cost improvements. The Level I audit requires a lower level of effort than the ASHRAE Level II audit, but is still informative for a building owner.

Buildings in San Francisco having 50,000 ft2 or more must have an ASHRAE Level II energy audit performed by the applicable deadline. The Level II audit is a step up in detail and level of effort from the Level I audit, and it includes an energy use breakdown that allows the owner to visualize which processes are the biggest energy users. The more in-depth Level II audit also provides owners with a list of low/no cost improvements, as well as capital upgrades with paybacks and projected cost savings. Usually, both the Level I and Level II audits will provide resources for potential rebates and incentives to make the energy improvements more appealing to the owner.

Similar to the benchmarking requirement, some buildings in San Francisco are exempt from the energy audit requirement. A building is exempt if it has been Energy Star certified in three of the previous five years, has received LEED for Existing Buildings certification in the last five years, was constructed in the last five years, is unoccupied, or can show financial distress. Reasons for building exemptions may differ city to city.

San Francisco's Energy Performance Ordinance

In 2011, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed the Existing Commercial Building Energy Performance Ordinance which requires non-residential buildings to benchmark their energy use and report their usage to the city. As an effort to reduce the amount of energy consumed by commercial buildings in San Francisco, this ordinance aims to provide building owners and facility managers with the information needed to understand how a building is performing and the potential impact of energy upgrades.

San Francisco has many old buildings that can benefit from the advances in energy efficiency technology. The overall goal of the ordinance is to reduce the energy used by San Francisco's aging building stock and decrease the city's carbon footprint by 25 percent to meet the 2017 greenhouse gas emission goal. Currently, a little more than 28 percent of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions are generated from non-residential buildings.

The ordinance mandates that non-residential buildings greater than 10,000 ft2 must disclose their Energy Star rating annually and conduct an energy audit once every five years. These data must be uploaded annually to San Francisco's Department of the Environment and be made available to building tenants. The compliance dates and the level of energy audit depend on the size of the building. These are summarized in Tables 1 and 2.

Building SizeCompliance Deadline Submitted Document 
Greater than 50,000 ft2 October 1st, 2011 & every April 1st thereafter Annual Energy Benchmark Summary
Greater than 25,000 ft2 April 1, 2012 & every April 1st thereafter Annual Energy Benchmark Summary
Greater than 10,000 ft2 April 1, 2013 & every April 1st thereafter Annual Energy Benchmark Summary

Table 1: Benchmark Deadlines


Building SizeCompliance DeadlineSubmitted Document
Greater than 50,000 ft2 November 15, 2012 & once every 5 years thereafter Confirmation of Energy Audit
Greater than 25,000 ft2 April 1, 2013 & once every 5 years thereafter Confirmation of Energy Audit
Greater than 10,000 ft2 April 1, 2014 & once every 5 years thereafter Confirmation of Energy Audit

Table 2: Energy Audit Deadlines

Since being passed in 2011, the intent of the Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance is to empower owners, managers, operators, and occupants with key information to control utility costs and show how they can benefit from improving energy efficiency. The estimated impact of the ordinance is for 100 percent of qualifying building stock to have an energy reduction plan, to reduce net annual energy use by 4.2 percent, and to create more than 200 jobs.

Commercial building compliance map in San Francisco, CAFigure 1: Courtesy of HonestBuildings.com, a map of greater San Francisco showing building compliance for the Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance as of October 16, 2012.

According to the compliance map (Figure 1) that appears on the Honest Buildings website, there are 1,237 buildings in San Francisco that are greater than 25,000 ft2 that should be benchmarked by now, with all documentation submitted to San Francisco Department of Environment. Of these 1,237 buildings, to date only 342 buildings - 27 percent - appear to have shared their Portfolio Manager profiles as required by ordinance. With only 27 percent of buildings in compliance with the mandate, it appears that the benchmarking requirement has been much less effective than anticipated. However, on a square footage basis, more than 111 million ft2 or 54.3 percent of the affected building stock is currently compliant. This reveals that larger buildings are complying with the mandate more often, while most smaller buildings are failing to comply or may have an exemption from compliance.

Although financial penalties exist for non-compliant buildings, the city is not in a hurry to impose fines and instead is reminding building owners that this ordinance can reduce their energy costs.

Benchmarking in San Francisco

The documentation required in San Francisco is known as an Annual Energy Benchmark Summary and is based on the previous calendar year's energy use. This document contains building characteristics, a summary of energy use per square foot, the building's Energy Star score, and the building's greenhouse gas emissions resulting from energy use.

The initial benchmark summary will be held confidential; however, all subsequent energy benchmark reports will be made available to the public. By making the records public, the Department of the Environment is hoping that building owners will be motivated to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings and use that improvement to attract new tenants. A few scenarios exist where a building can be exempt from the benchmarking requirement, such as a new building with a certificate of occupancy less than two years prior to the report submittal deadline or when a building is unoccupied.

Building owners are not required to improve their Energy Star score from year to year, yet owners are encouraged to take advantage of funding incentives and programs to increase the feasibility of energy efficiency upgrades.

PG&E Offers Benchmarking Assistance

To assist building owners in their efforts to comply with the Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) provides several services that make it easier to obtain an ENERGY STAR® energy performance score, including an Automated Benchmarking Service (ABS). The ABS makes it easy to provide energy use data to the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which helps to set meaningful energy efficiency goals and to track progress toward them.

Bank of AmericaBank of America was the first PG&E customer to take advantage of ABS on a portfolio-wide basis in an effort to establish baselines for comparisons of large-scale energy use patterns. Bank of America benchmarked 67 properties in PG&E territory.

Image courtesy of PG&E

To use the ABS, you first need to register for a Portfolio Manager account, which can be set up through the Energy Star website. The Energy Star website also provides a data collection worksheet that details for each building type the information needed in Portfolio Manager. Once you have created your account and set-up your building within Portfolio Manager, access the automated benchmarking option from the My Portfolio page. Select Pacific Gas & Electric, agree to the terms of use and authorize meters for automated benchmarking. Once this is complete, the account is now registered to receive the benefits of ABS.

In addition to the ABS, PG&E also offers benchmarking workshops through the Pacific Energy Center, the Pipe Trades Training Center, and the San Ramon Valley Conference Center. Available workshops and schedules can be found online.

Is Benchmarking Working?

San Francisco is not the only city mandating building owners to benchmark their buildings. New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., are all requiring building owners to benchmark their buildings.

To date, only New York City has publicly disclosed building energy use information. Washington, D.C., has released the building energy use information of government buildings within the district. Other cities, including San Francisco, plan to release data in the near future.

Buildingrating.org, an online hub for global rating and disclosure policy, provides a link to the energy benchmark data for New York City. According to the data, 2,229 out of 3,764 buildings - roughly 59 percent - have complied with the benchmarking mandate; however, when mining the data and removing buildings with an Energy Star score of zero or it has been left blank, only 1,403 out of 3,764 buildings - roughly 37 percent - have complied.

One issue raised by this particular data set is quality control for data entry and ensuring that buildings are being benchmarked with the same assumptions in order to provide an equal playing field for comparison. Energy Star Portfolio Manager provides strict guidelines for data entry and assumptions but there is no way to be sure that these guidelines are being followed, especially if building owners who are not familiar with Portfolio Manager are entering the data themselves. As mentioned before, Energy Star is working to make the Portfolio Manager more user-friendly with the aim of solving some of these issues.

Although compliance appears to be a work in progress, benchmarking existing building stock appears to be a step in the right direction in providing building owners the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions to reduce the costs associated with excess energy consumption. Whether that knowledge moves owners to act on energy upgrades, remains to be seen.

Training Highlights

California utilities offer outstanding educational opportunities that focus on the design, construction and operation of energy-efficient buildings. Listed here are a few of the many upcoming classes and events; for complete schedules, visit each utility's website.

Benchmarking and What's Next
Getting your building's benchmarking score is not the end, it's the beginning! This workshop, presented by Mark Jewell of Energy Efficiency Funding Group, uses Energy Star Portfolio Manager to benchmark a sample building, and then explores how to set targets for improvement, estimate the actual amount of energy savings necessary to reach a higher score, which low/no-cost or capital upgrades to consider, and more.

December 4 (Tuesday, 9:00 am to 10:00 pm)
Sacramento - CSC 6301 S Street, Rubicon Meeting Room
register >

Benchmarking Energy Use in Commercial Buildings

This beginning level class is designed for non-residential building owners/managers and real estate professionals who want to comply with the California State law that requires disclosure of a building's energy benchmarking score at the time of sale, lease, or refinancing. Learn how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool can guide investment priorities, identify under-performing buildings, verify energy efficiency improvements, and receive EPA recognition for superior energy performance. A hands-on benchmarking exercise that prepares participants to benchmark their buildings will be included.

December 11 (Tuesday, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm)
Irwindale - SCE EEC
register >

About e-News

Don't miss future issues - to sign up for a free email subscription, please visit our newsletter subscription page. Send letters to the editor, suggestions on topics for future issues, or other comments to the e-News editor via our Comments & Feedback form.

e-News is published by Energy Design Resources (www.energydesignresources.com), an online resource center for information on energy efficiency design practices in California.

Savings By Design (www.savingsbydesign.com) offers design assistance and incentives to design teams and building owners in California to encourage high-performance nonresidential building design and construction.

Energy Design Resources and Savings By Design are funded by California utility customers and administered by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company, under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.


Download: EDR_eNews_087.pdf
(0.1 MB PDF file)

 Earlier Comments

by , at