How Cities Can Put Energy Efficiency Data to Work

Today we hear a lot about the importance of "data-driven decision making," whether in conference sessions, articles, or marketing materials; making decisions with data is all the rage – and it should be!  In the energy efficiency world, we refer to this broadly as the use of available information to make educated choices that result in the most optimal outcomes, both financially and in terms of energy savings. For buildings, which account for 40 percent of all U.S. energy use, a major culprit for wasted energy is the lack of public information to act upon. Data that shows how much energy and water a building uses is unavailable to the market in many cases, which means that the energy and water consumption – which can account for a third of the cost of operating a building – can’t be factored into market decisions. This blind spot affects everyone negatively, whether you’re a business owner looking to move into a better quality building, a building or office manager paying too much for your utility bills, or a tenant occupying an uncomfortably hot or cold space with bad ventilation.

Absent a national policy, leading cities, counties, and states are enacting local energy benchmarking laws to require large commercial and multifamily properties in their jurisdictions to measure and report their annual energy (and often water) consumption, along with other building characteristics, to their local government. These local ordinances typically contain a transparency component, meaning portions of the reported data are made publicly available. When partnered with other local initiatives, this information improves cities’ long-term resource and climate planning, and can inform tracking of progress toward emissions reduction targets. A great example of this is Clean Energy DC, the District’s recently released climate and energy plan, which provides a vision for creating a cross-sector sustainable energy future in the city and incorporates the District-collected benchmarking data into its energy modeling.

Whole-building energy consumption, as collected through local benchmarking programs, is foundational information for markets servicing the built environment, including both the real estate and energy efficiency markets. This data provides more complete information for real estate transactional decisions like purchasing and leasing space, allows buildings to compare their energy scores with peers, creates a historical record of building performance over time, and helps to identify opportunities for efficiency improvements.

Cities are sharing this data in creative ways to allow market decision makers to understand and interact with the relatively new datasets. Boston, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia provide map-based visualization platforms that allow the public to view covered buildings’ performance and geography, and interact with the published dataset in a more robust way than with spreadsheets alone. Even further, Philadelphia, Seattle and Chicago provide energy scorecards directly to building owners, which give them specific information about their building compared with peers, and in some cases identify opportunities for improvement and expected savings.

As the role cities play in improving the performance of building stock evolves, they are tackling the question of what can be done with this valuable information beyond consolidating and publishing the dataset. To that end, the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) is working on a multi-year project called “Putting Data to Work”  with partners in New York City and Washington, DC to help building stakeholders use whole-building energy data to make financially beneficial decisions that reduce their energy consumption. We’re working to capture lessons learned through our partners’ activities, and will develop a toolkit of resources for other cities (and energy efficiency program implementers at utilities and third party providers) to use in the design and deployment of their own programs aimed at using the data. This will help cities to learn from one another, standardize their activities and offerings, and continue to move the needle on building energy efficiency from the local level. Some of the key project areas of interest include:

  • The Retrofit Accelerator: Run out of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Retrofit Accelerator acts as a third-party trusted advisor for building owners looking to make energy efficiency improvements to their assets. Accelerator staff provide advisory services, connect building owners with contractors, incentives, and financing, and provide training for building staff in efficient building operations. Building owners can reach out to the Accelerator for assistance, and staff also use benchmarking and audit data reported to the city under Local Laws 84 and 87 to identify high-potential energy savings opportunities for outreach and engagement.
  • The efficienSEETM Calculator: Developed by NYCEEC, the efficienSEETM Calculator uses benchmarking data reported under Local Law 84, combined with other datasets, to predict energy and cost savings from common energy conservation measures.
  • The District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU): The DCSEU is undertaking strategic outreach to high potential energy savings buildings, using data reported under DC’s benchmarking law, connecting building owners to incentives for projects that can improve the efficiency of their space.  

For more on this initiative, you can check out IMT and partners’ summary paper presented at the 2016 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.


About the Author

Based in Washington, D.C., Erin Beddingfield is the Manager of Data Strategy and Application at the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). In this role, she oversees service delivery on key projects involving data analytics and related policy issues, and contributes to defining IMT’s priorities and approaches to using building energy data. Her work ensures that IMT focuses on impactful projects that accelerate clean energy policies in public markets with the goal of driving private market transformation. Erin holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and Economics from the University of Mary Washington and an M.P.P. in Science and Technology Policy from George Mason University. She is a LEED Accredited Professional for Building Operations and Maintenance.