Expert Q&A: Overcoming Data Collection Barriers for Portfolio Manager (Part 2)

Urjanet Inc  |  June 14, 2016   |  Energy & Sustainability  


Benchmarking in Portfolio Manager requires a variety of data from many different sources, which may present a challenge to building owners. Here is the second part of our interview with the Cadmus Group’s Senior Analyst, Zach Shelin, and Leslie Cook, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Program Manager of ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings. They continue their discussion on the value of benchmarking, data aggregation trends and best practices, and how building owners can better leverage their data to drive savings.

Q: What advice do you have for building owners who are using Portfolio Manager for the first time?

ZS: Our general recommendation is that if you have a portfolio of more than 100 buildings, then you should definitely look towards working with a web services provider. Depending on how that service provider obtains and aggregates data, the building owner will have to have some sort of internal approach to get the necessary data to their provider.

Let’s say I use Portfolio Manager and am a multi-family developer in New York City and I have to submit data for 60 buildings to New York City by May 1st. Typically, I might work with a web services provider that will have me share property records with them. They are responsible for updating those records and maintaining them via web services. As a building owner, I would still have to set up an account and find out who within my organization has access to key benchmarking data so I can get that to my provider and into Portfolio Manager.

Q: What are Portfolio Manager’s most interesting features of which people might not be very aware?

LC: We have a lot of features in Portfolio Manager that help make the benchmarking data actionable. One underutilized feature is the ability to set baselines and targets in our Planning and Goals tabs. Users can either set goals at the building level or for the whole portfolio. Based on the benchmarking results, building owners can set goals such as increasing energy efficiency by 20% over the next year and then each building in their portfolio will be visibly measured against that goal and reports can be created measuring progress.

Building owners can also set goals based on the actual ENERGY STAR score. For example, they could set a goal for a building to increase the ENERGY STAR score from 60 to 75 out of the 100 point scale. The whole point of Portfolio Manager isn’t to shift data from point A to point B to point C, but to help people understand what the data means and to start taking action to improve their buildings. The Goals and Planning tabs are something we hope more and more people will use.

Another feature that was added in 2013 and should get a little more attention is Portfolio Manager’s Design tab, which offers the ability to assess the performance level of design projects using modelled energy information. Let’s say you’re working with a team of architects and engineers to build a new school. You can put some simple information into Portfolio Manager, similar to what you would include to benchmark an existing building, and the tool will assess what ENERGY STAR score the new school would receive.

If the score is 75 or higher, you can receive the Designed to Earn ENERGY STAR recognition for the design project. It shows that you’ve taken specific measures to make the school less resource intensive. After the school is built and starts receiving utility bills, you can begin to benchmark it within the same property record in Portfolio Manager.

ZS: ENERGY STAR will soon be adding the capability to measure the demand of electricity. It’s still in its early stages. The value-add is that in a lot of deregulated markets, building owners and managers are focusing on peak demand strategies. Oftentimes, if they are actively managing their peak demand, they’re able to capture significantly higher financial savings relative to saving energy at other times of the day or other times of the year. There is value in being able to track demand and see how successful peak demand reduction programs actually are. By analyzing the results, building owners and managers can focus on the periods that have the greatest potential for savings.

Q: What is most exciting in regards to what users can do with the data in Portfolio Manager?

ZS: I love the financial aspect of it. We have median cost metrics for different building types and also baseline costs for any buildings that enter cost information during their baseline period. You can use this information to help compare your cost improvements over the life of your energy management program.

There’s also an energy projects table in the tool that can be used to calculate the return on investment for your energy efficiency projects. With all this information, you can measure your cost improvements over the life of your energy management program. In the end, you can evaluate your investments in energy improvement projects next to your financial savings against the baseline or against the median building.

Q: Can you provide more detail about what water metrics Portfolio Manager supports?

ZS: Portfolio Manager collects total water use in addition to water use intensity, along with water cost and cost intensity metrics.

LC: New York City has connected to their customers’ portfolio management accounts to get water data straight into Portfolio Manager.

Q: Can you talk about the waste data features that will be added to Portfolio Manager this year?

ZS: There are a few different ways Portfolio Manager will allow users to track waste information. Portfolio Manager plans to have the ability to track waste by both weight and volume, so users can choose whichever is most applicable to how they deal with waste day to day. Then, they’ll be able to track the amount of waste that is being disposed of via landfill and also the amount that is diverted from landfill in various ways. It’ll be a good way to start capturing the effectiveness of their waste diversion programs and develop a better process for aggregating and processing the data internally and from waste hauler invoices.

If users do not have waste invoice or weight data, they can enter the container size (volume) into Portfolio Manager for most waste categories, and the tool will calculate a weight based on a standard volume to weight conversion factor. Users can also estimate the weight themselves or use a third party tool to calculate it.

Q: How can building owners get more value out of Portfolio Manager?

LC: Education is key. It’s important for building owners to understand all of Portfolio Manager’s functionality. Also, sometimes they lack the staff bandwidth to really invest time and resources into understanding it. Teaching them how valuable the data collection and analysis pieces are and explaining what service providers can offer can really make the difference. It would be really helpful for cities to have a full documented list of all the service providers and their specialties.

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Expert Q&A: Overcoming Data Collection Barriers for Portfolio Manager (Part 1)

Interested in learning more about how to improve data collection strategies for ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager? In a new eBook by Urjanet, with insights from EPA, IMT, The Cadmus Group, and Southface, you’ll learn how to gather and then leverage data to save money and increase the value of your buildings. Download the eBook today!

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About Urjanet Inc

Urjanet, the global leader in utility data aggregation, simplifies how organizations access and use utility data, enabling them to focus on their business. Our technology collects, processes, and delivers data from over 6,500 electric, natural gas, water, waste, telecom, and cable utilities worldwide.