What is energy benchmarking? How is benchmarking used to manage buildings and campus environments? How do these practices and techniques benefit different users, and how can we actively participate in benchmarking? In this session, our speakers will describe benchmarking practices in several contexts, highlighting the policies, platforms, and standards that are emerging across the field. The session will feature a new digital platform that supports the City of Philadelphia’s Energy Benchmarking project by making data more accessible.

Energy Benchmarking allows for standardized comparisons of efficiency between buildings, much like nutrition facts labels on food.  More information means more action. (From Rich Freeh's slides.)
Energy Benchmarking allows for standardized comparisons of efficiency between buildings, much like nutrition facts labels on food. More information means more action. (From Rich Freeh’s slides.)
The Azavea tool can present the data in map form, highlighting the spatial distribution of participating buildings.
The Azavea tool can present the data in map form, highlighting the spatial distribution of participating buildings. (From Rich Freeh’s slides.)

Related Resources (video, suggested reading, and other links)

Full Building Energy Benchmarking Session –

Glossary of important terms, abbreviations, and acronyms –

BOMA: Building Owners and Managers Association – an federation of US and international associations for building owners, managers, developers, leasing professionals, and others that monitors and lobbies relevant legislature, produces several publications, and provides general resources and networking for members.

Energy Benchmarking: Energy benchmarking is a practice that incentivizes building owners to self-report information about their building’s energy use and efficiency.  This information is used as a standardized metric of efficiency and performance to allow for reasonable comparison between buildings of similar types and can help encourage owners and managers to increase efficiency.  The City of Philadelphia currently requires large, non-residential buildings to report energy data, beginning in 2012 (the first data were reported in 2013).

Github: a web-based repository and interface for collaborative development and sharing, offering distributed revision control to be optimally compatible with open-source projects.

MOS: Mayor’s Office of Sustainability – a division within the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office that focuses on municipal sustainability and organizes the city’s various programs to make the Philadelphia greener, specifically it is responsible for implementing the City’s Greenworks program.

PIDC: Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation – a non-profit partnership between the City of Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce which aims to encourage investment and support business growth to help create jobs, and revitalize all aspects of Philadelphia.

Q&A Highlights –

Is there a way to verify the self-reported data?  It is publicly available, and they do very basic data checks – are the expected fields there, do they match up, do they fall within realistic ranges – but the MOS does not have the capacity to inspect each building’s data and check it, nor is that the goal.  This program is more about a “big picture” view of building owner education and awareness than getting perfectly precise and accurate data.

Most, if not all, of the Drexel buildings shown on the Azavea tool are shown as university buildings,but in reality these buildings display a wide range of uses and characters. Does the Azavea tool allow for more resolution in terms of building type? Drexel did not report dormitories because, so far, the benchmarking requirements do not apply to multi-family residential buildings.  These will start to be reported in the near future though.  Additionally, the portfolio management tool does allow for sub-types when describing a given building.

What are the objections coming from buildings owners, and what are some of the ways that these have been addressed (is education part of that)?  BOMA was initially very hesitant about this program.  There was a worry that this publicly available data would make a building appear less competitive or desirable, but the city was able to have an open conversation and frame the program as a positive, leading to a general consensus: having benchmarking data would arguably have a more positive effect than would non-participation.  Additionally, those building owners that are currently below average efficiency (those who are not “good energy citizens”) are wasting their money on unnecessarily high energy costs, and often this is due to a lack of resources or opportunities to invest.  As such, the MOS places great emphasis on facilitating connections between those buildings and the available resources and support structures.

Imagine if you bought a new car last week. You love the car, it’s perfect for you, it’s got the right space, the right color, everything, and all of a sudden, someone comes along with a metric to tell you how many miles per gallon you’re using – how efficient it is. Then you find out that, say, that car is burning gas at four miles per gallon. You didn’t know that when you bought the car, but it can change everything about the car. And it’s the same with these buildings – before the benchmarking program, there was no good way to compare efficiency across buildings. (Will Agate’s analogy for benchmarking.)

Most of this has been geared towards building owners and operators – is there a role for building users? Where do their use behaviors fit in? Freeh:They should definitely be part of the conversation – tenants are not going to be making the big decisions about capital investments, but they can be a part of operational changes (such as changing light bulbs and lowering thermostats). This is especially true as residential buildings are being brought into the benchmarking program.  Agate: Again, it comes down to scalability.  The right place to start is still the building owners, because the building owners have to respond to the tenants as well as considerations of selling the building.

Are there plans for easy-to-use simulation tools that could be used for educational and design purposes?   Freeh: This program is more geared towards the operational and performance side – once the building is built, how does it compare and what can be done going forward?  The portfolio management tool can take as input data from energy modeling software and gives an estimate of an Energy Star score for that building built to those specifications.  This sort of work has not been mandated, but the MOS definitely encourages it, and initiatives like the LEED ratings also push for this sort of efficiency-oriented design work. Agate: Simulations are going to be key to the next steps at the Navy Yard, to help drive the next level of efficiency – it is all about data on the efficacy of microgrids that does not exist yet.

Are there any requirements or training structures in place to ensure that building owners and managers make the most of the resources available to them? The MOS (in particular through the Energy Reduction Race) is working to provide that training for municipal employees, but it is currently done on voluntary basis, and the possibility of a legislative requirement for such training would be a very complex issue.  So far, the most effective way to go about this has been efforts to incentivize efficiency improvements and framing this training as as way to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

How has the Azavea tool been used as an educational or efficiency tool?  It is largely too early to say.  It is an extremely powerful tool and a first step.  As buildings and operators move forward with the tool, filling in data, it will become more robust and development will continue based on user feedback.

Relevant Links –

Azavea Platform – The web-based tool to interact with and visualize the benchmarking data.

Philadelphia Energy Benchmarking – The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Energy Benchmarking site.

Philadelphia Greenworks – The MOS site for the Greenworks program.

Year Two Benchmarking Report – The MOS report for the second year of the benchmarking program

Further Reading –

Hsu, David. “Improving Energy Benchmarking with Self-Reported Data.” Building Research and Information 42, no. 5 (2014): 641–56. doi:10.1080/09613218.2014.887612.

Levy, Brett L. M., and Robert W. Marans. “Towards a Campus Culture of Environmental Sustainability.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 13, no. 4 (2012): 365–77. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/14676371211262317.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of the effects of the campus (or community) environment of the Navy Yard on the businesses there and their efforts for energy efficiency/reducing energy demand, particularly in the context of the benchmarking program?
  2. How might the Azavea tool be used by various groups to improve efficiency? What sorts of educational opportunities does this tool present?
  3. What should be the balance between the roles of building owners and building users in energy efficiency efforts?
  4. The energy benchmarking program places more emphasis on getting data for and improving existing buildings, rather than constructing new, efficient buildings.  Why might the program have been designed this way?  Should new buildings be included in this, or are there sufficient other tools in place to encourage efficiency in new buildings.
  5. Rich Freeh mentioned that the MOS makes many resources available to building owners.  What kinds of resources or training would be most beneficial for improving efficiency?
  6. How could this ‘standardized metric as incentive for improvement’ system be translated or generalized to other contexts or audiences (for example, residential energy consumers)?
  7. Rich Freeh and Kenny Shepard spoke a little about the rather deliberative process of constructing the Azavea tool.  What sorts of considerations should go into that process, and into the process of deciding who is a stakeholder?

Speaker Biographies

The speakers at this event included:

Will Agate, “The Navy Yard: The Campus. The Energy. The Opportunity.” (2:11). Will Agate is PIDC’s Senior Vice President, Navy Yard Management and Development. PIDC is Philadelphia’s public-private economic development corporation. PIDC spurs investment that creates jobs, revitalizes neighborhoods, and drives growth to every corner of Philadelphia.  Will leads the PIDC team that manages all aspects of the Navy Yard’s management and development.  Most recently, Will oversaw the completion of the comprehensive Energy Master Plan that allows PIDC to continue to own and operate the Navy Yard’s Existing unregulated electric grid.  He also serves on Penn State’s Consortium for Building Energy Innovation (CBEI, formerly EEB Hub) Operating Committee.  Will is an avid proponent for incorporating progressive sustainability practices as a core principle driving development.  He also serves on a number of civic boards in the Greater Philadelphia region, and was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Climate Change Subcommittee.  Will Agate’s slides.

The Navy Yard serves as a large campus community environment for several businesses and organizations. (From Will Agate's slides.)
The Navy Yard serves as a large campus community environment for several businesses and organizations. (From Will Agate’s slides.)

Richard Freeh,  “Philadelphia Energy Benchmarking” (23:44). Rich Freeh is the City Energy Project Manager for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS) in the City of Philadelphia. In this capacity, he is responsible for leading Philadelphia’s initiatives as part of the City Energy Project, which is designed to improve performance in the city’s largest privately-owned buildings. Prior to taking on this role, Rich administered the city’s energy benchmarking program for non-residential buildings.  Before coming to MOS, Rich worked in the public policy consulting and publishing sectors. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s in City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Rich Freeh’s slides.

Kenny Shepard,  “Building Energy Benchmarking: Visualizing the Data” (38:12). Azavea.  Kenny Shepard is a software developer who specializes in building geospatial applications with social value. He is currently the technical lead for the Justice and Elections Services Team at Azavea. Kenny holds a degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Connecticut. Kenny Shepard’s slides.

The Azavea tool allows for several different graphical visualizations of the available data, looking at several variables simultaneously. (From http://visualization.phillybuildingbenchmarking.com/)
The Azavea tool allows for several different graphical visualizations of the available data, looking at several variables simultaneously. (From http://visualization.phillybuildingbenchmarking.com/)


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