Benchmarking and monitoring energy use and operations in facilities is unquestionably important – how will you know if your endeavors are successful unless you compare your numbers to similar facilities? The quest for energy efficiency is constantly evolving, but, thankfully, some organizations have measuring and monitoring down to a science.
“Benchmarking our facilities has given us a sense of direction for our portfolio,” says Marla Thalheimer, sustainability manager at Liberty Property Trust, Malvern, PA. Liberty Property Trust uses EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager to calculate how efficiently its buildings are running, and also to make decisions regarding energy-efficient upgrades and projects. “It helps us prioritize what buildings need attention,” says Thalheimer. “We have several energy initiatives currently on the table, and we can use this tool to watch the positive effects of the adjustments we’re making in our buildings.”
Developing metrics and deciding which tools to use for benchmarking is an important step in true energy management. Many leaders in this area agree that Portfolio Manager is an extremely helpful benchmarking tool, especially if you intend to achieve the ENERGY STAR label for your building. According to the EPA, the four steps of benchmarking are:
- Determine the level of benchmarking (equipment, process line, facility, organizational, etc.).
- Develop metrics.
- Conduct comparisons.
- Track performance over time.
Establish a baseline to begin the benchmarking process, suggests Al Skodowski, director, LEED and sustainability services, at Houston-based Transwestern. “This allows property managers to understand energy consumption compared to similar buildings, track operating costs and savings, and set reasonable targets to reduce consumption along with associated environmental impacts,” he says. Transwestern maintains 100-percent benchmarking on all qualifying properties in its office portfolio each year – at no extra charge – in an effort to rigorously monitor and control the environmental impact of its clients’ portfolios. Even when a building has claimed the ENERGY STAR label, it’s still constantly monitored, ensuring that no opportunity for further efficiency is missed.
Dan Probst, chairman, energy and sustainability services, at Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, also encourages seeking ENERGY STAR rating as a best practice toward energy reduction through benchmarking. “Enroll your building in ENERGY STAR,” he advises. “We have enrolled about 80 percent of our U.S. office portfolio in the program ... and what we found was that our buildings have an average rating of 68, which is well above the industry average of 50. And, buildings that have been enrolled for at least 2 years have an average rating of 74, which suggests that benchmarking creates awareness that leads to improvements.”
There are many benchmarking tools out there in addition to Portfolio Manager. Jones Lang LaSalle’s primary energy-management program is called PEERS (Portfolio Energy and Environment Reporting System). This system gathers information from each property on a timely basis in a program that automatically translates numerical data into a series of on-demand charts and graphs. “Without strong measurement tools, the team and client often don’t know whether they achieved the payback on capital spent that they set out to achieve. The ability to document savings attributable to a specific strategy creates a powerful rationale for pursuing successful strategies at other buildings, and abandoning those that don’t produce sufficient savings,” says Probst.
No matter what benchmarking tools and processes you use, implementing proactive changes through (and cooperating with) utilities is crucial. Monitoring energy usage and bills is only a part of the puzzle. Crescent Real Estate Equities LLC in Fort Worth, TX, has a multifaceted approach to utility management. Through electricity shadow and power quality metering, Crescent conducts instantaneous collection and storage of energy consumption data to be used for real-time energy-performance measurement. The data is used for “shadow billing” the energy invoice provider to make sure electricity and tariff billing are accurate. In fact, Crescent invoices are submitted to more than 50 audit tests that compare cost computations to the applicable rate structure, prior month and year comparisons on consumption and costs basis, and more.
“When exceptions are noted,” says Dennis Cruse, energy services manager, at Crescent, “personal investigations occur to see if there may be some explanation for the variance. More often than not, variances can be easily explained due to weather conditions or facility maintenance activities, like refilling cooling towers after basin repairs have been made; however, sometimes a billing exception is identified that is a result of human or administrative error, or a failure of some sort, such as an undetected irrigation leak.” Cruse says that utility auditing has made bill processing at Crescent more efficient, and that “the ability to shorten the time between being billed and paying bills can be a positive influence on utility pricing or contractual terms.”
Benchmarking energy performance can clearly lead to long-term benefits and efficiencies, but it’s not without its challenges. Regarding utilities, Transwestern has noticed difficulties in obtaining utility data from utility providers. “Automatic data feeds from utilities into ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager do not exist,” says Skodowski. Currently, data from utilities must be manually entered into the system. Transwestern’s Sustainability Services team is currently working with the EPA and BOMA Intl. on legislative issues and other initiatives regarding access to required utility data.
The main challenge Crescent has faced is that, according to Cruse, “No two buildings are exactly alike. Consideration of each building’s unique occupancy, utilization, physical orientation, mechanical make-up, culture of customer/occupant, and management team strongly influence the electricity utilization in any particular building. The solution is to understand these differences and adjust accordingly ... and select the best comparable facility to benchmark against.” He also states that educating tenants/clients and management team cultures is a must.
While, as Skodowski says, “results accrue primarily due to optimizing day-to-day operations and maintenance,” benchmarking provides a broader, historical look at use and can point you in the right direction for energy savings. It can also shine some light on the good efforts put forth by facility management teams. According to Probst, “There aren’t many ways to quantify the effect of good property management, so managers should take advantage of the benchmarking opportunity.”
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