Expert Q&A: The Power of Benchmarking in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® (Part 2)

Urjanet Inc  |  April 19, 2016  |  Energy & Sustainability  

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U.S. cities continue to pass laws requiring the benchmarking and transparency of building energy consumption. Here’s part two of our interview with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Jean Lupinacci, Chief of ENERGY STAR Commercial and Industrial Branch, and Leslie Cook, Program Manager of ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings, where they discuss some common data hurdles that organizations must overcome and the resources that are available to help organizations implement and derive value from ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Q: Do you typically find that there are budgets for third party resources or is it mainly expected that the internal team is going to be responsible for gathering and inputting the data?

LC: Portfolio Manager is certainly a tool that can be used successfully by internal teams to manage building performance, but many organizations choose to work with third parties to keep up with benchmarking. It can depend on the size of the organization’s operation, the complexity of data management needs, and the level of experience with benchmarking.

I definitely think organizations are open to working with third parties if benchmarking services are cost-effective for their business and help reduce the internal staff time it takes to manage a portfolio of buildings.

JL: Oftentimes, I don’t think organizations start out with funds set aside for third party resources because they aren’t familiar with the level of effort it will take to gather and then input the data. The further along organizations get in their data collection process and the more organized they become, the more they realize the need to either set aside resources to partner with a third party or to invest in the process internally.

Service providers often include benchmarking assistance with other offerings, such as energy audits, better operations and maintenance, and technology upgrades, to help clients save more energy. Organizations often begin benchmarking on their own and then seek out third party experts that can help them maintain their Portfolio Manager account and implement projects to cut waste.

Ultimately, we don’t want people to spend all their time and effort on just collecting the data. We want them to use the data to take action.

LC: To go off of Jean’s point, we continue to see organizations go from just typing information into the interface for a few buildings in their portfolio to then partnering with an external party. They use the third party to automate the data aggregation and integration because they realize how valuable it is to understand how each building is performing and want to spend their time making the right improvements. Many building owners prefer to work with specialists if the building owners have large portfolios of buildings in many different locations.

Q: From your perspective, what role should utilities play in providing access to whole-building energy data?

LC: The utilities play a critical role. If a building owner or manager is in an area where the utility isn’t making whole-building energy data accessible, it can be near impossible for them to collect the data, especially on a recurring basis. For example, in multi-family properties, there can be hundreds of tenants in one building.

We are seeing that more utilities are making a push to provide whole-building energy data, although it’s not going very quickly. We do have more utilities now that are committing to providing aggregated whole-building information in some format to their commercial and industrial customers, although the formats vary from provider to provider. The more advanced utility providers are working to put their data in a format that can be easily uploaded into Portfolio Manager. Even utilities struggle to provide large volumes of easy-to-use data to their customers, as data delivery isn’t necessarily their core business.

Q: What proportion of Portfolio Manager users are also tracking water?

JL: Of the 450,000 buildings that are currently tracking energy consumption in Portfolio Manager, about 120,000 are also tracking water. We have a pretty sophisticated tracking mechanism, which can track indoor and outdoor water, and even grey water.

Q: Does ENERGY STAR have any plans to add waste data to Portfolio Manager?

LC: Yes, we do plan to add waste tracking. We are starting with the same concept we used for water, which is that you can start with simple ways to track and then become more sophisticated depending on the data you have available. There will be multiple streams that you can track. If you’re simply looking at solid waste every month or quarter, you can track that, or if you’re interested in understanding various compost or reusable or donated items, that tracking ability will be available as well.

JL: Our users are really looking for a one-stop shop for all the information they’re tracking and reporting. More information and training materials will come out before we launch the waste capabilities in Portfolio Manager.

Q: How do you help people see the value in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager? What sorts of resources do you have available?

LC: The ENERGY STAR program provides a set of energy management guidelines that we use to promote portfolio-wide, organization-wide management. We also have case studies that detail how ENERGY STAR partners improved efficiency within specific sectors, guide owners on how to run competitions based on energy and water benchmarking, and explain how to quantify cost-savings opportunities through energy efficiency improvements. We hope that these off-the-shelf resources make benchmarking actionable and show how successful you can be if you have a constant culture of continuous improvement.

JL: Beyond what Leslie said, we have recognition at the building-level through ENERGY STAR certification for top performance and a national competition that recognizes building-level energy and water improvements. We also recognize organizations for reaching portfolio-level milestones through EPA’s ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award. We’re always striving to encourage our partners to take action, create positive change, and provide a model for their peers.

We also have information on how to set goals for individual buildings and your entire portfolio and communicate progress. We added new functionality in Portfolio Manager in 2013 that allows users to input goals and then actually see how each building is doing compared to its goal. I’d say that if users aren’t utilizing this part of the tool, then they’re really missing the benefit. The tool isn’t meant to be a receptacle to import and export data, but is meant to drive energy efficiency and reduction.

Missed Part 1? Read it here: The Power of Benchmarking in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®

Want to learn more about the power of benchmarking in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager? Our eBook, Building Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Laws: Simplifying Compliance and Creating Value for Your Organization, shares actionable advice on how to simplify the data gathering and submission process using Urjanet as well as three detailed use cases for taking Portfolio Manager data beyond compliance.

Grab your copy of the eBook to discover how you can make compliance a cinch and get the most from benchmarking in Portfolio Manager.

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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.