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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LEED 2009 Closes Loopholes But Does It Address Climate Change?

Today I had a cursory foray into LEED 2009. I like a lot of the advancements that have been made. I do think that weighting energy and water efficiency more heavily will result in a more stringent certification with a more solid reputation. But I was disappointed to find out that it still does not address the impact of buildings on our climate. LEED 2009 does not signal strongly enough that we were going through a climate crisis and that the owners, operators and designers of our buildings bear a large responsibility for that impact.

Some energy advancements have been made by closing some loopholes that were in the rating system. On example is the change of status on process loads in energy modeling. In the old system process loads were not part of the building model so were exempt from the energy efficiency effort. Now they have to be considered. Yes, this will help to address the impact of the building, but will it change the mindset of the building owners or designers quickly enough?

The energy efficiency points are still dependent on the ASHRAE base model comparison assessment. This leaves much potential impact of passive design and design brief program changes out of the realm of assessment for LEED. Much is left on the table in terms of passive design potential, and essentially this is like trying to make lemonade but leaving the lemons unsqueezed and throwing the slices in only to flavour the water.

Instead, I would recommend a comparison to an energy benchmark much like 2030 Challenge and this is similar to energy benchmarks that are used in the EU. It would be a more truthful comparison, and would utilize architectural and engineering teams more fully to their capacity of leveraging the integrated design process for the achievement of a magnitude of energy savings. Put this energy benchmark in the client’s design brief would allow the design teams to create a fee proposal (and project team workplan) against this goal, and would leave enough time in the budget to reach this level of achievement.

In summary, LEED 2009 makes an attempt, and still does a modicum of effort towards the full potential of gaining architectural eco-efficiency. Unfortunately, many projects will use LEED 2009 and think that they have made every effort to minimize their impact. For this huge amount of paperwork they will be rewarded greatly. Project teams will feel justified in their reward of LEED Certification because of the level of effort that it entailed. But in the meantime, much, much more could have, and should have, been done for this matter that affects the very survival of our species and the ecosystems on which we depend.