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If you take pride in your Energy Star building score and use it to market your organization’s investment in sustainability, you may have taken a hit recently. Energy Star updated its building inventory statistics on August 27th. Because the stats are used to set the benchmarks for building-to-building comparison, some scores dropped significantly.

Some Energy Star History

In 1992 when the EPA launched the Energy Star label, it focused on office computers and monitors. Due to the sudden growth of computers in the workplace at that time, work stations represented the fastest growing electricity load in the commercial sector.

Over the years, the list of qualified products grew to include lighting, additional office equipment, household appliances, commercial HVAC systems, refrigerated vending machines and much more. The Energy Star label opened the public’s eyes to the realization that energy-efficient technologies could contribute to a cleaner environment and a growing economy.

The EPA piloted the Energy Star buildings program in 1993 with 23 building owners showcasing the Energy Star approach to saving energy. Now hundreds of thousands of commercial properties use Energy Star Portfolio Manager to measure, track and report their energy and water consumption. By 2017 more than 32,000 buildings had earned the Energy Star certification.

Given the forward trajectory of Energy Star programs, the continuing changes and improvements are not surprising—especially with growing concerns about energy efficiency and our environment. The August change is just another step toward achieving more accurate measurements.

New Energy Star Benchmarks

Energy Star building scores reflect how your building measures up to peer buildings. Your peer group shares similar characteristics such as size, climate zone, energy use, occupancy type and operating schedule. Using your peer group as a benchmark, Energy Star rates your building’s energy efficiency on a scale of 1 to 100. Buildings that score 75 or higher may receive the coveted Energy Star label.

Up until August, those benchmarks were based on data from 2003, despite the fact that technology has changed dramatically during the past 15 years. Newer buildings tend to be more fuel-efficient, and the addition of LEED certification has encouraged more and more builders to seek the ultimate status in construction sustainability. In other words, the competition for Energy Star status has stiffened.

With the seismic shift in energy-efficient building materials and practices, the 2003 benchmarks no longer represented an accurate pool of similar buildings. To compensate for more recent energy upgrades and the newer, more efficient buildings now in existence, the EPA decided it was time to update its data set to 2012 statistics and reassess scoring methodologies. [The score, past and present, is based on the CBECS conducted about every four years by the U.S. Department of Energy. The latest available data is based on the 2012 survey.]

Who Was Affected?

According to Energy Star, “If you benchmark one or more properties in the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, your scores and source energy metrics were updated across all time periods to reflect the latest performance metrics.” The changes included new options for estimated energy use for data centers and a new source energy factor for electricity that could change performance metrics depending on the building’s fuel-mix ratio.

As a result, many formerly compliant buildings have fallen significantly in the rankings. The average Energy Star score changes ranged from +1 to -16, depending on the type of building space. Hotels experienced slight improvement, and retail/wholesale clubs suffered the most. Schools and offices experienced an average drop of 12-13 points.

Score models were updated for:

  • Offices (including bank branches, financial offices and courthouses)
  • Hotels
  • Houses of worship
  • K-12 schools
  • Retail (including retail stores and wholesale clubs/supercenters)
  • Supermarkets
  • Warehouses (including refrigerated, non-refrigerated and distribution centers)

What Can You Do?

There are steps you can take to ensure you are getting the most accurate score possible.

  • In some cases, default values were used as part of your score’s calculation. Because the default values are often conservative, you may benefit by going into Portfolio Manager to update those fields with more accurate readings.
  • Confirm that all your other benchmarking data is accurate. Small errors can make a big difference.
  • If your data center space is not metered, you may be able to use estimated data to account for that area’s intensive energy usage.

If you submitted your application before August 26, check your “Recognitions” tab in Portfolio Manager for the status of your application. Note that some applications are still under review. The threshold for Energy Star qualification is still a score of 75 or higher.

“Good to Know” Facts

  • All other requirements for verification remain unchanged.
  • Past Energy Star certification awards will not be taken away.
  • All applications submitted before Thursday, November 15 (by 11:59 p.m. EST) are eligible for 2018 certification. After that, your application goes into a queue for 2019 Energy Star certification.
  • The Energy Star website is filled with information about the August 2018 changes. A good place to start is “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Need Help?

If you are concerned about your Energy Star rating or your overall operating efficiency but don’t have the internal manpower or expertise to do it in house, Cost Control Associates can help. We can look at your organization’s building performance at the whole-building level to help identify opportunities for savings through operational improvements, system optimization and capital upgrades. We can also update your Portfolio Manager profile. Contact us to learn more.

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