Energy benchmarking: the basics

How much energy your buildings use should matter to you. If you can measure it, you can control it. If you can control it, you can manage it.

However, the job of an energy manager can be challenging. The good news is that you can make your job a whole lot easier and position yourself as an expert by implementing an energy benchmarking routine in your organization. You can use energy benchmarking data to assist decision-makers to make wise decisions on how energy is consumed.

  • You will know if your building's energy performance is improving or getting worse.
  • You will be able to easily manage for improvement because you will be actively measuring how much energy your building is consuming.
  • After implementing improvements, you will quickly be able to identify what is getting better and what isn't.

If you’re already benchmarking your building’s energy performance, then you’re already convinced of its value. If you haven’t started benchmarking yet, read on to learn more about what energy benchmarking is, how it can benefit you and your organization, and how to overcome some of the common barriers to benchmarking. Follow the lead of building owners and managers of more than 13,000 Canadian buildings who use Natural Resources Canada’s adaptation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool to better understand the energy performance of their facilities and the effectiveness of targeted energy efficiency initiatives.

Join the energy benchmarking movement today!

Natural Resources Canada is spearheading a national energy benchmarking initiative for the commercial and institutional buildings sector. Through this initiative, building owners and managers can compare their buildings’ energy consumption against that of equivalent buildings - and use that knowledge to make informed decisions about energy performance.

It’s time for the Canadian buildings sector to take advantage of Portfolio Manager to implement energy benchmarking as an energy management best practice.

What is building energy benchmarking?

Building energy benchmarking is the ongoing review of your organization's energy consumption to determine if your building's energy performance is getting better or worse.  Energy benchmarking can be an internal process, measuring your building’s performance against its own past performance or against other buildings in your portfolio, or it can be an external process, comparing your building to similar buildings outside your organization.

Whether internal or external, regular energy benchmarking provides hard data that encourages building operators to strive for continuous improvement.

By making building energy benchmarking a routine practice, you can:

  • identify poorly performing buildings
  • establish a baseline for measuring improvement in energy consumption for all buildings
  • enhance and create competition through comparison with like buildings
  • participate in green building certification programs and various other environmental initiatives

The benefits of benchmarking

In today's marketplace, superior energy management is a significant competitive advantage, but in order to effectively manage your energy consumption, first you have to understand it. It is a known fact that millions of dollars are wasted every year by energy inefficient buildings. Why not reverse this trend in your organization?  Energy benchmarking is a proven energy management strategy that can positively - and relatively quickly - impact your bottom line and make sure your organization comes out on top.

The benefits of benchmarking your building's energy usage are undeniable. Energy benchmarking:

  • provides objective, reliable information on energy use and the benefits of improvements
  • increases general awareness of energy efficiency among building occupants, which in turn may effect changes in behaviour
  • prioritizes poorly performing facilities for immediate improvement
  • identifies best practices that can be replicated, either within a building or across a portfolio of buildings
  • establishes reference points for measuring and rewarding good performance
  • helps to develop a comprehensive energy management action plan and build the business case for capital investments (retrofits)
  • leads to savings that will lower energy costs while maintaining – or even increasing – profit margins

Through benchmarking, the key metrics for assessing the performance of a building or portfolio of buildings can be identified along with a facility's key drivers of energy use. Benchmarking is an important tool that cannot be overlooked for improving energy performance.

Barriers to energy benchmarking

Reliable energy benchmarking data is a key contributor to increased energy efficiency, but a number of perceived barriers can sometimes discourage organizations from starting the process. Some commonly cited barriers to energy benchmarking are listed below, along with tips and resources for getting past them.

  • Limited understanding of the benefits of energy benchmarking. There are many resources available on how energy benchmarking can be used to manage your organization's energy consumption and provide a competitive advantage. To learn what benchmarking can do for your organization, see The Benefits of benchmarking, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR Benchmarking Starter Kit or email info.services@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca.
  • Lack of senior management support. Before undertaking any energy efficiency initiative, it is crucial to gain the support of senior management. If you can address how benchmarking supports your organization's mandate, you will be more likely to obtain the buy-in necessary to motivate action. For tips and ideas to help get your senior management on board, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Engage upper management.
  • Inaccessibility of energy consumption data. Larger organizations, or those that manage sizeable portfolios of buildings, may encounter obstacles collecting data. For help collecting your energy data, consult your utility, energy service provider or your utility bill aggregator, if you work with one. They may be able to offer services to exchange data or provide you with previous energy and water consumption data if you have not been tracking these resources internally.
  • Limited understanding of how to interpret/use energy benchmarking data. Benchmarking tools often generate summary statements of energy performance. These reports communicate information about a building's energy performance in a format that is both understandable and easy to use. For more information, consult the following pages: Benchmarking training resources, Building energy benchmarking resources and Energy management training, or email info.services@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca.
  • Limited time and/or resources. Energy benchmarking involves a certain amount of resources in terms of time and effort. However, there are a number of ways to minimize the initial investment required and get you started. Establishing and maintaining an energy benchmarking routine will probably take less time than you think!

The good news is that once you see the value of energy benchmarking, you will find that it will be worth extending the effort to overcome these barriers. For additional information or support, contact us.

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Read 8 Energy Benchmarking Hurdles (and How to Get Over Them) (Buildings Magazine).