Simplifying the Energy Star Process for Building Managers

Simplifying the Energy Star Process for Building Managers

The well-known Energy Star program was introduced in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program designed to promote energy efficient products. While the first labeled products were computers and monitors, the program has expanded to include a broad range of items, from major appliances to whole commercial buildings.

This trend has been driven not only by accelerating interest in reducing energy consumption and environmental impact, but also by an increasing number of regulations requiring better transparency for consumers. In addition, commercial companies have realized that the Energy Star label is preferred by their customers because it indicates a lower cost of operation.

For building owners, Energy Star has the potential to help managers quickly and easily track their energy history and trends so they can take concerted steps to reduce energy consumption. With the widespread establishment of regulations requiring building energy assessment, as well as rising energy costs, tracking energy use is a key business practice. From a societal standpoint, this is particularly important as buildings in the U.S. consume more than 60 percent of all energy, as much as 80 percent of which is wasted, according to a study by Next 10.

A proven way for facility managers to reduce wasted energy is to participate in Energy Star. Not only can managers assess and improve their facilities' energy usage with this program, but they can also save money, reduce their impact on the environment, quantify the impact of operational improvements, and increase their property value.

For example, obtaining Energy Star certification has been shown to translate into a 3 percent premium in rental value and a 16 percent increase in sale price for commercial buildings. Since Energy Star has become so successful, it is now being incorporated as the standard yard stick by which buildings are measured for demanding standards such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) 2009.

With all these well known benefits and incentives, why aren't companies enrolling in Energy Star faster?

Challenges in Realizing Energy Stardom

The primary hurdle is that single and multi-tenant building managers everywhere have a difficult time obtaining permission from their tenants to collect energy usage data, verifying and compiling it for the whole building and providing it to Energy Star. In addition, they have to depend on their utility to provide usage data. Requesting this data -- and waiting on the utility to collect, vet and deliver this information, has historically been a slow and frustrating process -- one that has to be completed monthly to comply with Energy Star requirements.

Many building managers who have encountered this difficulty have opted not to invest the time and resources required to participate in Energy Star. However, for an increasing number of buildings, the program is no longer optional; new laws now require a commercial Energy Star rating at the time of building sale, rental, and for government grants.

In New York City, local law 0476 requires city buildings over 10,000 square feet and private buildings over 50,000 square feet to track electricity and water usage beginning in 2011. This represents more than 20,000 buildings -- which will place a huge burden on local utilities and building managers to meet without a solution that can scale and be maintained as the program matures.

In the city of Denver, Colorado, Executive Order 123 requires new construction and major renovations of existing and future city-owned and operated buildings be designed to earn Energy Star certification. This includes being benchmarked in Portfolio Manager, the program's interactive energy management tool that allows managers to track and assess energy consumption for an entire commercial building.

Realizing Energy Star Benefits Quickly and Efficiently

Whether tracking electricity consumption with Energy Star is a strategic initiative or legal obligation for your organization, the hassle of enrolling in the program is well known.

Utilities of all sizes agree that getting customers to track whole building energy usage is the most significant challenge in beginning the certification process. It requires building managers to retrieve an entire building's electricity consumption data manually through their utility in order to enter the figure into Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

Further challenges are also frequently encountered as customers can be exposed to minor address differences in tenant records, causing errors in data retrieval and further delaying the request process. In addition, some local regulations require building tenants to sign release forms for their electricity usage data to be collected.

The good news is that utility companies recognize this bottleneck and are taking steps to make Energy Star coordination a seamless process for commercial building managers. The following case study illustrates how one utility is extending an automated Energy Star benchmarking program to its facility customers so that they can begin monitoring and adjusting their energy activity to meet new requirements.

Case Study: ComEd's Energy Star Benefits

Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) knew it could drive commercial building energy efficiency if it greatly streamlined its internal process for handling energy usage requests. Specifically, the utility wanted to simplify the end-to-end process of categorizing, analyzing, managing and providing energy data to Energy Star. Only then would the utility be able to facilitate broad, rapid Energy Star enrollment among its large base of commercial customers.

ComEd is one of the nation's largest electric utilities, with approximately 3.8 million customers in the Chicago area. This footprint includes more than 350,000 businesses, including hospitals, hotels, medical office buildings, wastewater treatment plants, courthouses, financial centers, warehouses, schools and others.

ComEd began working with Calico Energy to design the solution it needed to facilitate the submission of building-wide energy usage data to Energy Star. The solution, Calico Energy's Green Certification, is an upgrade to its existing Energy Usage Data System (EUDS), originally developed by Calico in cooperation with ComEd in 2008. Green Certification radically simplifies the process of organizing and sharing energy information by serving as an automated bridge between existing back-end utility data systems and Portfolio Manager.

The company has seen its set-up time for each building drop from 10 to 12 days to just 24 hours as a result of using this solution, and lets building operators quickly benchmark their energy usage, a key first step to getting Energy Star certification.

Because the solution is deployed as a managed software service, commercial customers don't have to purchase, install or maintain any products on their end. This also means technical improvements to Portfolio Manager are transparent to building managers.

ComEd's system also includes separate dashboards for administrators, account managers and building managers—enabling utilities to assist facility managers with the configuration, management and submission of data to Energy Star.

For commercial buildings in ComEd's service territory, building managers can enroll in the program at no charge by calling their account manager at ComEd. ComEd will then provide them with an account and website portal, after verifying the correct building address. Building managers then verify the tenants in each building they want to track, and they can begin automated submission to Energy Star. The whole process takes only a few minutes to complete.

ComEd has achieved their goal of helping building owners and managers take full advantage of Energy Star to examine, track and compare their buildings' electricity trends. The utility estimates that its new Energy Star submission process reduces the time spent on energy usage requests by 96 percent. More importantly for building managers, that means that Energy Star submissions are processed and approved in a fraction of the time it historically took. As of today, ComEd has facilitated the submission of energy data to Portfolio Manager for more than 300 million square feet of office space, and has received recognition from industry organizations and the EPA for offering the program and improving energy efficiency.

The Future of Energy Star is Automated

Energy management software provides an excellent approach to encouraging Energy Star participation among organizations. It automates the submission process and saves both utilities and building managers time and money. More energy efficient buildings mean less pollution, as well as cost savings that can be passed to consumers. Ultimately, this type of solution promises to contribute to the advancement and adoption of Energy Star across the nation, providing both utilities and building owner/managers with a fast, proven path to driving commercial building energy efficiency.

Given the dramatic increase in the number of regulations and incentives at the state, federal, and local level, all of which require government and commercial operators to coordinate building energy usage reports through Portfolio Manager, ComEd's deployment is a lighthouse for both utilities and building owners. It shows that despite the barriers and potential for complexity, building managers can save money by increasing the energy efficiency of their buildings, complying with regulations and differentiating their properties for rental or sale.

For its efforts, the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) awarded ComEd's solution its Outstanding Achievement in Energy Program Design or Implementation award in February 2010. ComEd also received the 2009 Energy Star Special Recognition Award for Innovation in Customer Service. Green efforts require many different constituencies to make changes over the long term, and the partnership between ComEd and Chicago-area commercial properties is a model for communities that want to enact change at this level.

Photo CC-licensed by chrisbastian44.