Benchmarking Goes Through Growing Pains

March 4, 2015 By Linda Hardesty

NYCThere are 10 cities and one county in the United States that require energy benchmarking: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Cambridge, Mass., and Montgomery County, Md.

In its first year of private sector benchmarking, New York City had to scrub nearly 25 percent of all property submissions for inaccuracies due to unintentional errors, difficulty of obtaining correct information, and a general lack of familiarity with the Portfolio Manager tool, according to an Energy Manager Today column. In response to the problem, the Center for Building Knowledge at New Jersey Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation, launched the Certificate of Proficiency in Benchmarking, a national, online, interactive training and certificate program for building energy benchmarking professionals.

Pat Everitt is manager of business analysis with Ecova, which works with clients in all the benchmarking cities. Everitt says, “We send in about 70,000 buildings’ cost and consumption data to Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager.” Ecova gets all its data directly from utilities and scrubs it before inputting it in Portfolio Manager. “That may be different than a one-off user at a building,” says Everitt, adding that each city is different. For example, he says the utility in Austin, Texas, is very hands-on and interactive. “Austin requires block and lot information,” he says. “In Austin, if we gather the wrong block and lot information, they’re very quick to let us know.”

In other benchmarking growing pains, there have been cases where Energy Star scores based on benchmarking seem to defy logic. For example, early energy benchmarking data required to be made public in New York City found that some old structures, such as the Chrysler Building, had higher Energy Star scores than some new LEED-certified buildings such as 7 World Trade Center.

It was speculated that plug loads at the Trade Center building were much higher than the Chrysler Building because of all the financial firms and high-tech businesses in the Trade Center. Everitt says there are 16 different space types within Energy Star to try and account for different uses. But plug loads are not directly taken into account. There are other things not captured by Portfolio Manager, as well. For instance, site placement – whether or not the site is in constant sunshine – is not taken into account.

Despite its weak points, Everitt thinks Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager is a good benchmarking tool. “But it is a tool,” he says. “Action needs to be taken with the information gained. Benchmarking itself doesn’t change how the building operates.”

Photo of New York City via Shutterstock

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