John Magee, the Assistant Director of Facilities at Maloney Properties, is a big believer in benchmarking – as long as it is used judiciously.
The Wellesley, MA- based firm manages about 8,500 units in New England, with a concentration in the Boston area and strong representation in Pawtucket and Woonsocket, RI, Holyoke, MA and Burlington, VT. The company has used benchmarking tools from WegoWise for about six years. Magee gives both the platform and the company behind it high marks.
Benchmarking is a money saver in two ways, Magee told Energy Manager Today. At the highest level, it finds ways to cut expenditures. In the case of Maloney Properties, it also facilitates grants and money-saving program participation. The most beneficial is Massachusetts’ Low-Income Energy Affordability Network (LEAN) program, from which Maloney Properties so far has received about $7 million in boiler, domestic hot water and lighting equipment. In addition to the cost of the equipment, the company saves on utility bills simply because the new gear is more efficient.
Magee said that organizations with sizable portfolios that don’t benchmark are missing the first of two important steps, which is creation of baselines of thousands of properties against which utility use can be compared. “Benchmarking is the first and most important step to determining where you are in your usage compared to other organizations’ buildings,” he said. “It helps you determine where to start when you are trying to conserve.”
The second step — the internal collection of usage data — is useful without benchmarking. Without benchmarking, a company can determine if a building spent more or less on a utility than the previous months or years. It also can identify obvious problems – such as a leaking pipe — or blatant misuse of resources. For instance, Magee said that he has found tenants who were running weekend car washes from their (hopefully, ground floor) apartments by seeing drastic Saturday and Sunday usage spikes. Benchmarking is not necessary for such obvious diagnostics.
But benchmarking should be the first step, he contends, because it takes the benefits to a higher level – if it is employed with care. The key is to make sure that there is as close to an apple to apple comparison as possible. This can be done in several ways: By location, structure or use.
For instance, energy use in a five year old building shouldn’t be compared to one that is five times as old. Water use in a home in which infants live is inherently more intense than one owned by seniors and, likewise, doesn’t create a useful comparison. And, gas use comparisons of buildings of similar age and uses also are not useful – if one group is in Nevada and the other is in North Dakota.
It is a sector in transition, and the direction is upward. Benchmarking is being revolutionized by the explosion of the Internet of Things – whose sensors enable data collection that is orders of magnitude more extensive and timely than the technology allowed even a few years ago – and the big data analytics platforms that can crunch the avalanche of data that is produced to provide deep insights and actionable recommendations.
Such systems also are becoming highly automated. In most cases, usage is passed from the utilities directly into the benchmarking platform without human intervention. Some municipalities collect utility data and aren’t yet able to directly upload to WegoWise. In those cases, Magee said, data entry still is manual.
Maloney Properties uses WegoWise to benchmark water and gas usage. Electricity is not benchmarked. The reason is that the use of electricity is so varied and fluid that it is extremely difficult to create apples-to-apples comparisons against other properties. “No matter how hard you try to filter criteria, all the properties use it so differently that we can’t filter it down,” he said.
Measuring usage in general and benchmarking in particular can also lead to improved performance by tenants. Magee said that the company runs contests that challenge one building to cut use more than another and even incentivizes savings. The point is that wastefulness is as much a product of lack of knowledge as it is of not caring.