Energy Benchmarking Is Becoming Mainstream

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is a common phrase often heard when talking about energy management. It’s also why many cities, counties, and states around the country have passed energy benchmarking and transparency ordinances over the past few years.

Benchmarking policies require that certain building types of certain sizes track and submit their energy data to the city or state. These efforts allow jurisdictions to track progress on energy reduction goals and provide the public an opportunity to see the energy use of buildings in their area. California, for example, passed a law in 2015 that requires all buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark and report their energy use to the state. Individual Californian cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have gone even further and require certain buildings smaller than 50,000 square feet to track their usage. These city ordinances increase the number of buildings covered throughout the state.

After submitting their benchmarking data, some cities, like Chicago, now require that buildings display their energy rating somewhere visible so that the public can easily see how well a particular building is doing. These display efforts increase public awareness about building efficiency and can incentivize buildings to improve their energy use. In addition to improved positive public sentiment, tracking and comparing energy scores can also increase market competition for building space, among other benefits.

Some jurisdictions are expanding on benchmarking ordinances and implementing building performance standards. These policies require buildings to take action to reduce their energy use or carbon emissions. Many building performance standards are flexible, so building owners can choose how they meet the requirements, but there is usually a reduction target and a timeframe in which to meet that target. These targets are also typically adjusted every few years to make sure the building stock continues to become more efficient over time. Washington D.C., New York City, and St. Louis are three cities leading the way with these policies, and in 2019, Washington became the first state to require energy improvements.

Cities and states are also instituting more stringent building energy codes for new construction and large renovations. ASHRAE 90.1 and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) are common baselines for building energy codes; many cities and states choose to build stricter or stretch codes off of them. For example, California’s building standard has historically exceeded energy savings laid out by ASHRAE 90.1 and IECC, and the state continues to revise and improve their building energy code (Title 24) every three years. Their efforts are often used as a guidepost for other states as they develop and improve energy codes (and other energy efficiency efforts). Check out ACEEE’s annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard and their City Clean Energy Scorecard for more information about states’ and cities’ energy goals and initiatives.

City and state energy benchmarking requirements may not apply to your building (depending on location, building type, and size), but tracking energy use and understanding how your building is performing is critical to beginning an efficiency journey. Tools like Fusebox can help get these efforts started!

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