NAA Report: Harnessing the Power of Utility Data

Experts from both the private and public sectors of energy benchmarking and data analysis shared solutions for maximizing a building's utility performance at the annual conference.

Energy benchmarking is a proven way to identify inefficiency and obtain a closer look at operational processes, and building owners who don’t take advantage of the available information may be costing themselves. While there are plenty of tools available to decode utility data, understanding how they work and their benefits can be a challenge.

Gene Cattani, Yardi

Gene Cattani, Yardi

At the annual NAA Education Conference, experts from both the private and public sectors of energy benchmarking and data analysis gathered to share solutions for maximizing a building’s utility performance at a panel lead by Yardi Systems’ Industry Principal of Energy Solutions, Gene Cattani.

gina anselmo

Gina Anselmo, Forest City Realty Trust

Gina Anselmo, energy program engineer, Forest City Enterprises

Anselmo noted that while budget variance reports, utility bills, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and Central Utility Bill Management software are the most common methods of tracking utility data, electricity interval data provides a more in-depth analysis of energy usage. Interval data, according to Anselmo, is, “near-real time 15-minute interval data that tells you how much energy your building is using right now.”

By taking measurements of energy consumption at predetermined times during the day, interval data can provide a more comprehensive look at energy spending and can reveal spikes in energy use, identifying issues like scheduling mistakes or mechanical errors. The real value of this data, according to Anselmo, is the increased control over the operating budget and the resulting targeted capital expenditure planning.

As Anselmo said, “We want to get to a point where we’re not asking, ‘Did I exceed my budget last month?’ I want to know, ‘Am I going to exceed my budget today? Did I exceed it yesterday? Will I exceed it this month?’” Monitoring energy data in smaller increments of time can provide more control over spending, which in turn, pays off. For example, Anselmo recalled a pilot program to monitor interval electricity data that resulted in payback for 10 buildings in less than one year.

Mike Zatz, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mike Zatz, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mike Zatz, manager, ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Zatz presented ENERGY STAR’s tool for commercial and multifamily buildings, the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, which includes a metrics calculator and management tool. The online tool was created by the EPA to help manage the energy and water consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions of any building.

The metrics calculator tracks consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while giving a comprehensive ENERGY STAR score on a scale of one to 100. “We launched the multifamily one-to-100 score back in September of 2014…We have about 30,000 multifamily properties that are using the tool now. So what the score does is it simply gives you a sense of how your building is performing relative to other buildings across the country,” Zatz said.  The energy score conveys energy performance in an accessible metric in which 50 is the national average, and any score from 75-100 indicates superior energy performance. The sore evaluates actual billed energy use and normalized information to account for building size, operating hours and climate while evaluating the performance of a building compared to its peers.

The management component of the tool facilitates energy management by allowing users to identify high-performing facilities, prioritize poorly performing facilities, collect historical data for future reference, establish reference points for measurement and apply for ENERGY STAR certifications. Zatz said that as of now, more than 45 percent of the U.S. commercial building market have accessed their energy information through the Portfolio Manager, and 4,000 new users log in each week.

Zatz also revealed that ENERGY STAR is looking to introduce a waste tracking tool on August 8 this year, which will help buildings manage this significant portion of their sustainability strategy. The organization is also exploring the possibility of a score for water efficiency in multifamily properties, for which Zatz said a final model is expected in the next one or two months.

Matt Ellis, Measurabl

Matt Ellis, Measurabl

Matt Ellis, CEO, Measurabl

Ellis’s company, Measurabl, aims to offer a simple and comprehensive solution for tracking and measuring sustainability metrics. Ellis pointed out that one of the reasons why tracking energy data is so important is investors’ growing concern with transparency. “Transparency is the idea that you’re basically going to be on the hook for measuring and managing your climate risk, your impacts, your energy, your carbon, your water, and we are in the beginning throes of that evolution.”

The cloud-based software creates sustainability reports that factor in data from utilities, ENERGY STAR, GRESB, CDP, benchmarking, compliance, projects and certifications. Ellis said that since sustainability management often depends on readings and continuous updates, as well as the smooth operation of technology components, it can be difficult to get an idea of a building or portfolio’s true cost profile. The bottom line, he said, is that there is no perfect way to manage data, but it is more expensive to do nothing than to proactively regulate energy costs.

Photos courtesy of NAA Education Conference.