You are here

Building Energy Use Benchmarking

Benchmarking is the practice of comparing the measured performance of a device, process, facility, or organization to itself, its peers, or established norms, with the goal of informing and motivating performance improvement. When applied to building energy use, benchmarking serves as a mechanism to measure energy performance of a single building over time, relative to other similar buildings, or to modeled simulations of a reference building built to a specific standard (such as an energy code).

Benchmarking is useful for state and local government property owners and facility operators, managers, and designers. It facilitates energy accounting, comparing a facility's energy use to similar facilities to assess opportunities for improvement, and quantifying/verifying energy savings.

Commercial building energy performance benchmarking is a foundational element of an organization's energy management strategy because you can't manage what you don't measure. Across many commercial building markets, the practice has become standard operating procedure as energy costs and associated environmental and sustainability issues have raised awareness around the importance of energy management. To assist with the connection between benchmarking and energy management, the following topics reference appropriate portions of energy management resource guides.

Developing a Benchmarking Plan

A planned approach to benchmarking helps create a more viable and usable benchmarking system. The plan should determine the purpose for the benchmarking program and the intended audience for the program results. It is important to identify the metrics necessary for communicating the results appropriately and recognizing the data needed to produce those results. The plan should evaluate the roles of the benchmarking team members, how the data will be collected, and how the plan will be implemented.

The following steps provide a framework for designing a benchmarking plan:

  1. Establish the goal for benchmarking
  2. Secure buy-in from leadership
  3. Build a benchmarking team
  4. Identify output metrics
  5. Identify data inputs
  6. Select a benchmarking tool
  7. Determine the collection method
  8. Consider a data verification process
  9. Evaluate analysis techniques
  10. Communicate the plan
  11. Plan for change

DOE Resources:

  • Designing a Benchmarking Plan: This guide provides details, examples, tips, and tools for each of the steps that provide a framework for designing a benchmarking plan.

Other Resources:

Benchmarking Tools

A wide variety of benchmarking tools are available. Tools vary depending on capabilities and cost, ranging from simple spreadsheets to custom-designed Web-based tools. The benchmarking tool selection process is driven by the goals of a benchmarking program. When evaluating data management systems, ensure that the requisite outputs can be generated by the tool and evaluate the data inputs required. It is helpful to compare the capabilities of several tools and consider consulting a peer when evaluating data management systems.

DOE Resources:

  • Building Energy Software Tools Directory: This directory provides links to extensive lists of benchmarking tools and can be viewed by subject, platform, country, or alphabetically.

  • Buildings Performance Database: This interactive database allows users to perform statistical comparisons between their buildings and similar commercial and residential buildings across the country to identify potential energy savings and financial performance of specific energy efficiency improvements

  • Designing a Benchmarking Plan Section 6. Select a Benchmarking Tool: This document provides information on factors to consider when selecting a benchmarking tool.

  • Energy Asset Score Tool: This tool helps building owners and managers disaggregate building energy information and includes a mechanism for identifying energy improvement opportunities.

Other Resources: 

Outreach (Engaging Partners)

Outreach, engagement, and communication are key to a successful benchmarking program. Buy-in and participation from organizational leadership ensures the program receives the resources it requires and helps others involved see the program as important and worthwhile.

Creating a comprehensive benchmarking plan and clearly communicating it to the team members helps all involved personnel understand the specific actions required of their roles and demonstrates the usefulness of the program and how the data collected drive program impact.

Holding kickoff meetings and launch events will get the project off to a strong start, and regular check-ins will help monitor progress and maintain momentum. Providing training to team members ensures data quality and provides opportunities for professional development.

DOE Resources: 

Other Resources:

Data Collection

Identifying the data needed to measure and communicate results is the first step of data collection. Data collection is aided by establishing clear roles and identifying avenues for data access. It is important to account for the datasets necessary for benchmarking. This could include inventorying facilities and basic space characteristic information, asset information, operating characteristics, energy project timelines, cost information, and energy consumption data. Delegating collection responsibilities may help create a more manageable process and can empower end users in the decision-making process.

DOE Resources:

Other Resources:

Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Data Verification

After collecting data, some processing is required to ensure the information is accurate or reasonable. This process may vary depending on the level of detail needed and the analysis intended. Use the verification process to promote accurate and transparent reporting. Consider the following when developing a verification process:

  • Ensure staff members are trained, which is one of the best ways to ensure quality reporting from the ground up.

  • Filter for unusually high or low energy use intensity (EUI) values compared with the national median EUI values for buildings of specific types, as provided by the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

  • Compare the reported footprint with building inventory lists or real property data.

  • Confirm the appropriate facility type is selected for facilities.

  • Scan for gross rounding of footprint values.

  • Ensure facility names appear appropriate and real (e.g., not "sample facility").

  • Perform onsite verification (sometimes through a third party).

  • Consider random sampling of utility meter data to allow for more in-depth spot checks.

  • Establish a protocol for filling in gaps in data as needed (because not all data will be perfect).

DOE Resources:

Other Resources:

  • ASHRAE Standard 100, Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings: Page 34 of this standard provides the EUI for the top 25% of existing buildings. Comparison with these data provides a useful check of data validity.

  • CBECS Performance Targets: This table provides the median energy use intensity for common facility types and can be used to gauge the validity of submitted data.

  • ENERGY STAR Training: This set of training resources can help members of the benchmarking team become more comfortable with the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool.

Analyzing and Interpreting Results

Analyzing and interpreting benchmarking results facilitates data-driven decision-making. The level of analysis will depend on the detail of the data collected. A few basic analysis techniques include:

  • Compare against the baseline—track a building's or facility's energy use against itself over time.

  • Compare with energy simulation/energy modeling—use an energy modeling tool to evaluate a building's energy performance versus potential performance.

  • Perform a statistical review—compare with CBECS data for national median EUI or Portfolio Manager's national energy performance rating.

  • Compare across portfolio—evaluate the performance of individual buildings to similar buildings or the portfolio average.

  • Start high-level and zoom in for detailed analysis as required—review portfolio- or department-wide energy performance to identify low-performing groups of buildings; target buildings with high EUIs for further investigation.

DOE Resources:

Other Resources:

Communicating Results

Once the data have been analyzed, it is important to communicate the results in a manner appropriate to the audience. The information needed by facility managers versus financial decision-makers will likely take different forms. It is important to understand the common language and metrics used for decision-making and implementation by the target audience. Portfolio Manager scores are one commonly used and widely understood metric for communicating results. It is also helpful to incorporate results into existing reports so data-based decision-making is integrated with current practices.

DOE Resources:

Other Resources: