- Posted by Pam Hoddinott
- On September 21, 2021
Energy costs are one of the top expenses for commercial buildings. An energy-efficient building can provide significant cost savings and, often, promote better comfort for staff and visitors as well. Unfortunately, energy efficiency is not a “one-and-done” project. As a building manager, you must pay attention to many interrelated factors so you can better control the overall energy usage. Start by establishing baselines for your energy goals. Read on to learn the importance of energy benchmarking.
What is Energy Benchmarking?
Energy benchmarking is the process of tracking your building’s energy consumption over time and comparing it across regular time periods. You can incorporate related factors such as electricity usage, building occupancy, fixture upgrades, and weatherproofing. When done correctly, energy benchmarking allows you to analyze your building’s energy performance and set new goals.
The process typically begins with an energy audit that establishes a baseline consumption. This hard data can then be compared to metrics collected on a regular basis, allowing you to set goals for reducing energy consumption.
The audit also identifies areas of inefficiency and wastage, along with potential causes. Energy benchmarking is the first step toward correcting wasteful behaviors, upgrading equipment that drains electricity, and improving the building’s energy envelope.
Why Do You Need Energy Benchmarking?
Energy benchmarking is not a one-time project. To maximize its benefits, you must regularly measure your building’s energy performance and compare it to past results. It’s worth the time, though, as it allows you to collect valuable data that guides your overall building strategy. Here are the key reasons you should implement energy benchmarking in your organization:
Identify Your Starting Point.
As with any sort of goal, you cannot plan and achieve improvements until you’ve established a baseline. Energy benchmarking gives you the metrics you need to track your progress. It also allows you to put hard numbers to your building’s energy usage, including the actual costs of consumption and wastage.
By putting energy costs in context, you can prove which building features are costing your organization too much money — and you’ll also be better able to demonstrate the ROI of energy upgrades.
Make a Plan for Energy Upgrades.
Some building owners invest in upgrades (e.g., solar panels) without understanding their building’s current energy costs. Then, they don’t reap the full benefits because the core problem has not been addressed. There have been cases in which an organization invested heavily in renewable energy only to discover that its building was losing energy because of its improper air balance from your HVAC system.
In short, it’s crucial to know where your building is underperforming before you invest in new infrastructure. Energy benchmarking not only identifies problem areas but also provides numbers you can use to justify energy investments and more accurately predict cost savings.
Educate Occupants on Energy-Saving Practices.
It’s one thing to tell your organization’s staff to turn off lights to save energy. It’s another to have hard numbers in hand so you can tell them the actual cost savings of turning off lights. Knowing the details of your building’s energy consumption can help convince occupants to adopt better practices. The energy benchmarking process may also identify areas and behaviors that no one realized were draining energy.
On the flip side, energy benchmarking allows you to identify behaviors and equipment that are performing well, so you can duplicate that infrastructure throughout the building. You’ll also be able to build upon that good performance to achieve further cost savings.
What are the barriers to energy benchmarking?
Despite the numerous benefits of energy benchmarking, many organizations find it difficult to implement. And without regular data collection and analysis, it’s hard to realize those benefits fully. Unfortunately, energy benchmarking comes with hurdles, including:
Limited support from senior management.
Executives tend to make decisions based on data, which is why having energy baselines and clear metrics is crucial to convincing them to invest in upgrades. Of course, that data is only available once the benchmarking process has begun. However, if senior management can’t see the immediate benefits, they may not be willing to invest time and personnel into benchmarking.
Solutions: Begin by proposing a pilot program that includes the energy audit to establish baselines. This is a low-commitment but highly valuable initiative that will yield tons of insightful data you can then portray as cost-savings opportunities. If your competitors’ buildings have invested in energy benchmarking (or even achieved green certification), use that as a selling point.
Limited ability to collect and analyze data.
While modern “smart” building systems more readily track and analyze energy consumption, you may not have those tools at your disposal. It can be difficult to track energy usage or understand it in its proper context. For example, you may observe increased electricity usage in certain parts of the building on specific days, but what is the cause?
Solutions: Contact your utility provider and pull as much historical data as possible, including both BTUs and rates in your currency. Look for trends, then cross-reference highs and lows with the activities in your building. A key part of the audit is identifying any energy-intensive equipment or fixtures, including incandescent bulbs, outdated HVAC systems, or computers left running all day.
If you have records of any upgrades or renovations that may have impacted energy consumption, pull those into your analysis as well. Benchmarking tools can help immensely, saving you valuable time by analyzing all your data and providing actionable insights into your building’s energy performance.
How to Get Started with Energy Benchmarking
Once you’ve obtained buy-in for the initial audit, it’s time to start your benchmarking process. Follow these steps:
- Be as thorough as possible when establishing your baseline. It’s a good idea to have a dedicated team or an energy management company who can perform the audit within a couple of days. Trickling in random data over the course of a few weeks or more defeats the purpose. One solution is to do a cursory audit of your building to collect your baseline data, then revisit areas with significant energy consumption for more detailed insights.
- Use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. This free tool allows you to collect your current energy consumption data and start tracking it over time. You can then generate reports to share with senior management. The Energy Asset Scoring Tool by the U.S. Department of Energy is also helpful; it lets you drill down into your building’s energy profile.
- Set your goals. The Energy Star Portfolio Manager allows you to compare your building’s energy consumption to those of a similar size and profile. From there, you can decide how much you want to improve your building’s performance (e.g., reduce overall electricity usage by 20%). You should also look at the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey to see how your building performs and how much you need to improve.
Conclusion: Energy Benchmarking is Crucial to Energy Efficiency
Once you begin collecting and processing your energy data, you’ll be able to map out energy performance goals for your commercial building. The more hard numbers you have, the better you can strategize and implement energy upgrades, behavioral changes, and new infrastructure. It all starts with a regular process that yields reliable data, contextualized in your building’s unique features and activities. When done correctly, energy benchmarking enables you to make the best choices to improve your building’s performance.
If you’re interested in continual assistance for your energy management strategy, reach out to Chateau Energy Solutions. Our team can help you identify cost-savings opportunities and align them with your organization’s goals.