by Brianna Crandall — March 14, 2018 — Each year, US buildings consume more energy than most countries as a whole and generate more than one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. In many buildings, this energy use and its associated costs and pollution could be cut by 30 percent or more through improved operations and use of existing technology. These building efficiency improvements rely on establishing a better understanding of how buildings are using energy and water and harnessing that data to enhance business decisions.
Recognizing this, the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) released Putting Data to Work, a comprehensive toolkit to guide city sustainability leadership, energy efficiency service providers, utilities, and building owners in effectively deploying building energy and water performance data to drive savings.
Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT, stated:
Across the US, local governments are embracing their role as change agents and tackling energy waste in buildings as a critical pathway to reach ambitious economic and environmental goals. Energy and water benchmarking laws gather and provide the market with a treasure trove of useful data about how commercial and multifamily buildings use energy and water. However, that data is only valuable if it is actively used to drive smarter business decisions and savings.
The Putting Data to Work toolkit is the culmination of a three-year project in which IMT partnered with the District of Columbia Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, as well as their partners, the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) and New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) to examine pioneering efforts underway in each jurisdiction and enable others to replicate their success to maximize energy and greenhouse gas emissions savings across the country.
Partially funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), the project also examined how cities can use the DOE’s suite of data tools and standards to better manage building performance data.
From spreadsheets to savings
To date, 24 US cities, two states, and one county have passed building performance benchmarking legislation that requires commercial and multifamily building owners to track and report their buildings’ energy — and sometimes water — use on an annual basis, ushering in a new era of transparency for our largest consumers of energy and resources.
New York City and the District of Columbia are frontrunners in adopting and implementing building performance policies. For several years they have collected data from building owners on the energy performance of their buildings; now they are using it more proactively to motivate and enable private investment in energy efficient buildings.
Since the passage of benchmarking legislation in both the District and New York, large privately owned buildings that track their energy use in these cities have reported increasing energy savings, points out IMT.
Tommy Wells, director of DC’s Department of Energy and Environment, remarked:
The District was the first jurisdiction to adopt a benchmarking and transparency law for large buildings, and this project was a great opportunity to put that data to work. Tracking and reporting energy usage makes it easier for consumers to take meaningful actions for saving both energy and money; simply put: it is a smart business practice for building owners. Benchmarking data enables DOEE and the DCSEU to more successfully target and leverage public investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. This data is also used to inform the climate actions recommended in the citywide Clean Energy DC plan, as we work toward achieving Mayor Bowser’s goal of making the District of Columbia a carbon neutral and climate resilient city by 2050.
Inside the Putting Data to Work Toolkit
For jurisdictions with benchmarking and building performance policies, or those considering adopting them, the hands-on experience collected in the District and New York City provides a guide for using city-collected building performance data to identify ripe efficiency opportunities.
The toolkit includes a report explaining ways that benchmarking and audit data can help identify high-priority buildings for outreach, communicate the opportunity for energy efficiency, and translate it into actionable information for the private sector, as well as how to incorporate data into local climate and energy planning and ensure that high-quality data are collected and used.
The toolkit also includes a resource list to help cities guide building owners to take their efficiency efforts to the next level after benchmarking, and a guide to help cities answer the critical question of whether energy efficiency policies and programs are having the desired impact.
For utilities and energy efficiency service providers, the lessons learned in the District and New York provide methods for increasing program participation rates and lowering the cost of customer acquisition.
The toolkit includes a primer on the emerging uses of policy-generated building energy data for utilities, which includes strategies for improving customer service, programs, operations, resilience, and other priorities.
The toolkit also includes a program administrator guide for using building performance data to identify prospective customers and step-by-step guidance for engaging in conversations about energy data with building owners.
Ted Trabue, managing director of the DCSEU, noted:
Participating in this initiative has been a fantastic opportunity for the DCSEU. It’s allowing us to comprehensively leverage data to help building owners and managers discover new energy savings opportunities that will provide benefits for years to come.
Also included in the toolkit are several in-depth case studies of programs and initiatives that worked in conjunction with the Putting Data to Work project to deploy benchmarking data, such as the use of NYCEEEC’s efficienSEE calculator in New York (see IMT case study) and the DCSEU’s use of data to better engage customers (see IMT case study).
Susan Leeds, CEO of NYCEEC, added:
NYCEEC’s efficienSEE calculator, developed with IMT’s support and in collaboration with Steven Winter Associates, takes a vast amount of inaccessible data and turns it into something accessible and meaningful for building owners. It incorporates local benchmarking data to provide building owners and operators across New York City’s diverse building stock a quick and easy way to understand annual energy savings potential and make a compelling case for energy upgrades.
The full toolkit is available on the IMT Web site. In addition to these resources, the Putting Data to Work team will present its findings via a schedule of upcoming Webinars, blogs, and in-the-field presentations, which will also be listed on the same Web site for easy reference.