Energy benchmarking is popping up all over the place. Boston is the most recent city to join the ranks of states and municipalities that mandate the measurement and disclosure of energy use for large buildings.

Of course, benchmarking in and of itself is not the point of the laws, which all have slightly different flavors from Seattle to Washington, D.C. The rules are meant to encourage large building owners to understand their energy use better, and then take action to address shortcomings in poorly performing buildings.

It is too early to know if the initiatives will inspire action, but low- and no-cost tools are being released that can help. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has the most recent addition to the field with the public release of EnergyIQ, which has been in beta for years.

The free, web-based benchmarking platform allows commercial users to drill down into benchmarking at the end-use level. Although most of the energy benchmarking rules only apply to buildings over 50,000 square feet, EnergyIQ can be used for commercial buildings of any size, including the underserved small commercial market.

“This is one of the arrows you need in the quiver,” said Evan Mills, staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Building Technology and Urban Systems Department. “Past users of benchmarking tools such as Berkeley Lab’s Cal-Arch and ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manger will immediately see the benefits of EnergyIQ.”

Portfolio Manger is the primary benchmarking tool used to meet the requirements set forth by local governments. But all it does is give a score, rather than allowing users to drill down into how, for example, lighting needs might compare to other comparable buildings or how much energy a restaurant is using per seat. On the other end of the energy-audit spectrum, there are expensive full building audits that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“There’s this big void in the middle,” said Mills. “This gives you a sense of what you might be able to do and about how much energy you could save.”

EnergyIQ, which already has about 700 users, allows building owners or managers pick their parameters of a peer group across 62 different building types, including geography, size, vintage and operating hours. Energy use can be shown in different ways, such as per student (for a school), rather than just per square foot. Building owners who are already working with Portfolio Manager can automatically import that data into EnergyIQ.

EnergyIQ’s customization capabilities also allow users to compare other features, such as how many buildings in its peer group have features such as energy management systems. “If you’re not benchmarking yourself against the right peer group, then you’re leading yourself astray,” said Mills. “You could be camouflaging yourself against distinctions that really matter.”

For users that do make retrofits, whether lighting or chillers, EnergyIQ provides a long view to make sure that the investment if paying off and doesn’t erode over time. The platform also allows buildings to set targets and track progress. 

Currently, the database includes buildings from the California Commercial End-Use Survey (CEUS) and from the U.S. Department of Energy Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). The next release will allow users to benchmark against other EnergyIQ users.

Berkeley Lab expected that building owners and facility managers would use the tool, but many property managers and even building designers are also using EnergyIQ. The tool is not alone when it comes to free offerings. Startups like Noesis, Energy Deck and Honest Buildings also offer some free energy benchmarking tools to get building owners to think about retrofits.

EnergyIQ can also be integrated into other platforms and offers APIs for developers who want to integrate it into their own applications.

EnergyIQ can provide action-oriented benchmarking, but it still requires someone to take it to the next level. “Make no mistake, though,” says Paul Mathew, staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Building Technology and Urban Systems Department. “Although EnergyIQ can identify potential actions and prioritize areas for more detailed audits and analyses, it is still necessary to perform those analyses and audits to develop a successful game plan.”

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