Building Energy Performance Benchmarking

by Guest Blogger, Ian Theaker, Associate, at Ecolibrium Strategies Inc.

Better building performance will be key to economic and environmental success in the 21st century.

Impact of the Built Environment
In 2009, Canada’s buildings consumed 31% of the nation’s country’s energy and contributed 69 million tonnes to Canada’s 2012 greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing Canadian building energy by just 5% is estimated to result in more than $800 million in annual cost savings and more than 3 million tonnes of emissions and the retrofit process would create hundreds new “clean-tech” jobs in the building component manufacturing and construction industry.

Building Energy Benchmarking in Canada
There is currently no Canada-wide building “nutrition label” or EnerGuide sticker to benchmark building energy and GHG performance.  As a result, few buyers and lessors are equipped to consider energy costs, opportunities, risks and returns in real estate investment decisions.

Several voluntary building energy benchmarking initiatives have been launched in Canada, however, by their nature, voluntary programs typically engage better performers, rather than those with the most opportunity.  The lack of a common national framework for building energy benchmarking has resulted in a patchwork of different benchmarking approaches and tools across the country.

Natural Resource Canada introduced a national benchmarking tool, based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star® Portfolio Manager. Energy Star Portfolio Manager is emerging as the most common energy benchmarking tool for commercial and institutional buildings in North America.  It provides a robust, widely accepted—and free—framework to ease comparison of similar buildings.

Global Momentum for Building Energy Transparency
The European Union first introduced building energy and public disclosure legislation in 2002. The European Union’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) requires public disclosure of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) for most residential, commercial and institutional buildings when they were built, sold or leased.

Building energy benchmarking has since spread rapidly in Australia, China and other nations, most recently in many U.S. cities and states. Mandatory benchmarking and transparency is now rapidly spreading several American cities. A few States have also enacted state-wide legislation to benchmark commercial, residential and public buildings.

Why Benchmark a Building’s Energy and Emissions Performance?

  • Informs the market during every stage of building ownership with energy & GHG performance information;
  • What gets measured, gets managed, and the proven result is that benchmarking buildings saves energy;
  • Identifies and creates incentives for investment in buildings with the most cost-effective savings opportunities; and
  • Increases demand for and fosters clean technology jobs and skills at low cost.

 “Benchmarking makes energy consumption in buildings quantifiable and transparent, enabling building owners and operators to prioritize their energy investments, reduce their consumption and save money. In short, benchmarking is the first logical step toward understanding and improving the energy performance of existing buildings.”
– plaNYC, August, 2012

Next Steps
In Canada legislative authority for energy and building energy benchmarking lies with the Provinces; both Ontario and British Columbia now see building energy benchmarking and transparency as a policy option, and are considering its introduction for publicly-owned and possibly all existing buildings. It will take considerable effort to design a building energy benchmarking standard that will serve to move the market on building asset value and evaluation of energy retrofit potentiality of the buildings.

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