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Benchmarking software can reduce energy use

Today's tip is to look at software-based benchmarking to improve energy efficiency. As sustainability and high performance green buildings gain momentum across the building industry, new tools continue to enter the market. Software-based benchmarking, energy dashboards and energy analytics can help meet green-building goals.

Benchmarking compares measurements against a standard, average or best practice to improve current practice. Although it can use a spreadsheet, software benchmarking tools provide some benefits: a database of buildings with similar characteristics is easily available, and it is not necessary to be an energy engineer to understand the process.

Two publicly available Web-based benchmarking tools are Energy Star Portfolio Manager and EnergyIQ. Portfolio Manager was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and can be used to benchmark energy and water consumption at the whole building level, as well as to calculate the carbon footprint. Portfolio Manager produces a score from zero to 100 that compares the energy performance of a specific building to other similar buildings. Buildings receiving a score of 75 or greater can be recognized as Energy Star labeled.

EnergyIQ is a free, online benchmarking tool developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. EnergyIQ provides ways to quickly develop standardized graphs to compare whole-building-level and system-level energy performance. EnergyIQ can be used for more detailed benchmarking analysis than Portfolio Manager. Thus, it can be used to identify and prioritize energy efficiency opportunities.

"Benchmarking shines a spotlight on which buildings are not performing as efficiently as they potentially could," says Tom Reinsel, coordinator, energy management, at Fairfax County Public Schools. He says that benchmarking information can be used as a road map to help determine how to get the most energy savings with the least investment and time. For schools, with a wide range of design types, the most useful benchmark is thousands of British thermal units per square foot per year.

It is often possible to quickly determine the overall performance of the building, but remember what energy sources are used. For example, buildings that use electric resistance heating or hot water heat will create unequal comparisons. Unique characteristics must be carefully noted and addressed properly when comparing different buildings. As the weather varies annually and during the year, it is important that benchmarking data be normalized.


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