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“Help! My building’s ENERGY STAR® score just dropped!” – What that drop in score means, and how to respond

by Mary Reames, Sustainability Project Manager, and Michael Arny, President, Leonardo Academy — If you input energy use data into your building’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager account on a monthly basis, you probably noticed a pretty shocking change between the August and the September scores: a drop of up to five (sometimes even more) points. You may have checked back through your energy bills to see if you entered the numbers correctly (you did); then you may have taken a look at your building’s profile to see if someone had made changes (they didn’t); you may even have trended your building’s energy use to see if it had spiked for some reason (it hadn’t). So what’s going on?

The problem is not with you, your co-workers, or your equipment. In fact, there is no problem, only a reason: ENERGY STAR has updated its metrics.

According to the ENERGY STAR website, your building’s ENERGY STAR score is determined by comparing its energy use to that of other buildings nationwide that have the same primary use. This information is compiled from a survey conducted every four years[1] by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), called the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

For the last several years until August 26 of this year, your building’s energy use had been compared to others in its peer group based on data collected in 2003. Beginning in August, however, ENERGY STAR switched over to use updated data, garnered from the 2012 survey. What does that mean?

Here’s the good news….

  1. The fact that your score has dropped means that buildings all over the country are becoming more energy efficient. More specifically, the energy efficiency of buildings in your building’s peer group has improved between 2003 and 2012.
  2. Your score’s drop was (probably) not the result of a large increase in energy use. Because the average energy efficiency (earning an ENERGY STAR score of 50) has increased, even if your building’s energy use stayed the same, your score dropped because of this change in the data set.
  3. The new metrics have been applied across all time periods. So, if you re-run an ENERGY STAR Statement of Energy Performance from a previous time period, that earlier score will have changed as well. This means that you can still track your overall energy performance and improvement and demonstrate that the sudden drop in score was caused by an external factor (the change in metrics) rather than a change in how the building is being operated.

Unfortunately, there is some less-than-good news….

  1. There’s no getting around it: your ENERGY STAR score is lower. The optics aren’t great.
  2. The U.S. Green Building Council has not altered the threshold (minimum) ENERGY STAR score required to receive LEED for Operations and Maintenance® certification. The minimum score necessary to participate in LEED v2009 (for which registration is now closed) is still 69; the minimum score needed to participate in LEED v4 is still 75. If your building is already certified, you probably won’t be getting as many points for energy use when you recertify.
  3. If you were planning on applying for the ENERGY STAR label anytime soon, you may be delayed. The ENERGY STAR website notes that “EPA is implementing a review period…. During this time, EPA will temporarily suspend awarding certification for all U.S. property types with new score models.” Based on the review, EPA may “adjust the scoring models, if needed.” The review period should end by spring 2019, at which time your application for the label will be reviewed.

So you have a lower ENERGY STAR score. What do you do now? Here are some modest suggestions….

  1. Be prepared to explain what happened to your building’s Energy Star score. Gather your energy use data to demonstrate that your energy use hasn’t actually increased. Use your BAS or your utility data to demonstrate that your energy efficiency has (hopefully) increased steadily over the last several years. Rerun ENERGY STAR Statements of Energy Performance or other reports to demonstrate the increasing scores. Remember, the new metric is being applied across the board, so reports from older time periods will pull from the updated database.
  2. Use this opportunity to make the case for those larger energy efficiency projects that have been on the back burner. If upper management has been putting these off because “the ENERGY STAR score is already high,” you can now show them that there is still room for improvement. Make a pitch to implement energy efficiency measures that will get your Energy Star score back up to its previous level.
  3. If you don’t currently have any energy efficiency projects in mind, engage a qualified commissioning engineer to conduct an energy audit or commissioning of the building’s energy-using systems. This process will identify energy conservation measures that can improve the building’s energy use index (energy use per square foot per year) and ENERGY STAR score. Measures can be grouped into no-cost operational improvements, low-cost operational or mechanical improvements, and capital improvements. Use the lower ENERGY STAR score as justification for undertaking the improvements (see #2 above). If you’ve already conducted an energy audit or commissioning, take the next step and implement ongoing commissioning to ensure that your building’s energy-using systems are always operating at peak efficiency.
  4. Implement tracking of other components of building performance to get a better overall picture of your building’s sustainability. ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager has provided a platform to track water use for several years now, and in in 2016, EPA added the option to track waste disposal and diversion. Gather up your water meter readings and the invoices from your waste and recycling haulers and start entering data. You’ll soon have a more comprehensive understanding of how sustainably your building is being operated, and you’ll have some good indications of what needs improvement.

Conclusion

Even though it is painful in the short term, the drop in ENERGY STAR scores is great news because it means that the building stock in the US is becoming more energy efficient. So seize the opportunity your lowered score presents and get to work; there is always room for improvement!

[1] Although a CBECS was conducted in 2007, the EIA was unable to publish the results and thus, ENERGY STAR was unable to update its database.

Leonardo Academy is a nonprofit organization that develops sustainability solutions through consultation and certification services in the LEED Green Building Rating System and the Cleaner & Greener sustainable event program. Leonardo Academy also provides sustainability and continuing education training, including training for the LEED Green Associate credential for individuals who support green buildings in their profession, such as building owners and facility managers.

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