On Sept. 16, 2014, the ENERGY STAR program will officially launch its much-anticipated score for multifamily buildings.

The new 1-to-100 score is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agenda (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR commercial program.

“What we’re really looking to do,” said Michael Zatz, chief of the market sectors group for EPA, “is to get people excited and interested so they are prepared for the launch of the score which will come in the early fall of 2014. I’m delighted to give those in multifamily a preview. We are relying on them to become engaged, get the word out, and be ready to use that score when it becomes available.”

ENERGY STAR has certified billions of square feet of space across thousands of commercial buildings as being among the most energy efficient in the country.

Benchmarking: How do you stack up?
The cornerstone of the ENERGY STAR program is benchmarking. Buildings that consistently benchmark energy use have saved an average of 2.4 percent per year, said Zatz.

If all commercial buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, over 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents could be saved each year.

Many multifamily owners and operators are new to benchmarking the energy performance of their buildings. Thankfully, EPA provides a user-friendly tool.

Portfolio manager: your data tool
Launched in 2000, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (ESPM) is a free online software tool that helps multifamily owners and managers track the energy and water performance of their properties, as well as track changes in energy and water use, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions. As of December, 2013, more than 19,000 multifamily properties have been benchmarked in Portfolio Manager said Zatz.

The ENERGY STAR 1-100 score, accessed within Portfolio Manager, will provide an easy assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to that of its peers from across the U.S. It takes into account differences in physical and operating characteristics, as well as weather, to provide this national comparison. The release of the score will also allow existing multifamily properties scoring 75 or higher (placing them in the top 25 percent of multifamily properties in the country) to earn ENERGY STAR certification.

The ENERGY STAR score evaluates a property based on its actual billed energy use for the entire property. It is calculated by comparing a property’s predicted energy use (estimate based on the physical and operating characteristics of the property) to its actual energy use.

It doesn’t sum the energy used by individual pieces of equipment, evaluate buildings relative to others in the Portfolio Manager, or adjust based on technology choice or market conditions (such as energy price). Furthermore, it is meant to explain how a property performs, not explain why it performs that way. For information on why a property performs in a certain way, EPA suggests an energy audit.

EPA hopes to encourage multifamily businesses to develop a strategic approach to energy management, while conveying information about energy performance in one simple metric that can be understood by all in the organization, as well as residents. Such data will also be valuable in future infrastructure planning and assessments.

Getting the data into the tool
Before a company can use Portfolio Manager, the data needs to be loaded into the online dashboard. There are three options for loading data into ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager:

1) Manual data entry which involves first collecting a stack of historical utility bills. There is a familiar wizard interface to walk property managers through adding property and meter data. 2) If you’re already using Excel to track data or you have a lot of buildings, you may want to import your data straight from Excel. For large portfolios, this feature helps cut the time that would otherwise be required to add each building manually. 3) Many leading energy service companies exchange data directly with Portfolio Manager. Your utility may also be able to automatically exchange data with Portfolio Manager, in which case they can help keep your energy information up-to-date every month.

Several organizations electronically exchange data with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager via web services. The first of the multifamily utility billing providers to adopt and provide an automated direct interface with the tool was NWP.

NWP is based in Costa Mesa, Calif., and has been part of the program for about three years. Other multifamily utility billing companies currently listed on the ENERGY STAR Service and Product Providers website include Logan, Utah-based Conservice. Through this type of data exchange, multifamily companies gain streamlined access to ENERGY STAR benchmarking, simplifying continuous energy management across a portfolio of properties.

“NWP has been an active partner in promoting the work EPA is doing in multifamily,” concluded Zatz. “We look forward to working with NWP and with NWP’s customers as we launch the ENERGY STAR score and work to get our first ENERGY STAR-certified multifamily buildings through the ENERGY STAR commercial buildings program.”

Do you have whole building data?
Earning an ENERGY STAR score requires benchmarking the whole property, but owners and operators wishing to do so frequently lack the energy data for the whole property since residents often pay some or all of their own utility bills. Thus, they have little or no access to building energy performance information that can help shape real estate decisions. This lack of information hampers the ability of legislators, utilities and lenders to influence the development of policies, incentives, and financial vehicles to advance energy efficiency.

The shortage of information on building energy performance has prevented property markets from valuing energy efficiency and undermined both public and private efforts to increase the energy efficiency of multifamily housing.

In some cases, where available, the utility will provide property owners with an aggregate number for entire buildings that includes all of the common area and resident units. In others, the property is master-metered and so the operator already has the data.

However, in many cases in multifamily, none of these situations exist and the owner/operator can’t get the whole property data. This is the single biggest barrier to benchmarking in multifamily, and is one that many people are working hard to overcome. One such initiative was launched by the federal government last winter.

Hope for whole building data
In December 2013, the U.S. Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Devel-opment expanded the President’s Better Buildings Challenge to multifamily housing and launched the Better Buildings Accel-erators to support state and local government-led efforts to cut energy waste and eliminate market and technical barriers to greater building efficiency.

Of the three Accelerators, the one perhaps most helpful to multifamily will be the Better Buildings Energy Data Accelerator. More than 30 cities and utilities (left) will streamline building owners’ access to whole-building energy use data. Secure, reliable and user-friendly energy data will help building owners accurately benchmark energy consumption and identify the best ways to achieve greater energy and cost savings.

Throughout 2014 and 2015, Better Buildings partners are convening local stakeholders to overcome key technical barriers, upgrading energy data systems, and designing and piloting systems in their areas. In these efforts, partners have committed to put systems in place to provide whole building data to at least 20 percent of commercial and/or multifamily building owners by the end of 2015.

Since the announcement in December, several updates have been reported including a full-day meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 9 to report on stakeholder engagement and discuss remaining tasks and challenges. Hopefully more and more utilities will get on board as the initial group of participants solves challenges and blazes the trail of best practices.




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