The value (& challenges) of energy benchmarking

We have recently begun to work with a number of commercial and hospital clients looking for a benchmarking tool that accurately reflects the similarities and differences between related buildings, AND will provide valuable insight into WHY buildings are performing the way they are.  Relating energy consumption to square footage is great, but we need to know why buildings are different and if they have changed over time.  This post will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of benchmarking and why it is absolutely necessary for multi-site retail and commercial buildings.

The Advantages of Benchmarking are very well known and obvious to those who spend time talking about energy management.  If weather and occupancy patterns are being normalized through accurate modeling techniques, then square footage of a commercial or retail location is a great way to compare locations.  If locations are a similar size, then their energy consumption should be approximately the same.  If not, then there is an opportunity to review operational procedures and identify changes that could be improved.  We can also create competitions between stores to challenge the staff and management to “beat” similar stores.  Providing relevant metrics that can be easily measured and compared makes competitions a very appealing aspect of benchmarking.

The disadvantages of benchmarking come from the subtle differences between similar stores and the challenge of defining metrics that everyone can agree on.  In a hospital, there are so many differences between the way hospitals are built, their age, the number of MRI machines, how many floors, how many beds, etc. and it makes relevant comparisons very difficult.  The age of the building, the efficiency of the heating, cooling, and lighting all provide significant challenges for creating relevant and meaningful metrics for benchmarking.

With all these challenges, why is it necessary for multi-site facilities to benchmark?  Companies need to have context on how they their energy consumption stacks up against their internal stores and the competition.  Energy Management Information Systems are able to normalize for many of the variables (weather, occupancy, number of escalators, computers, MRI machines, etc.) and provide feedback in the form of charts and graphs and reports.  If energy consumption is lower in 2011 than it was in 2010, why is that?  Was the weather more moderate?  Was their less traffic in the stores?  Benchmarking can provide information on all of this information, and ultimately provide context and relevance to utility bills that every building operator and business executive would like to better manage and understand.

Many times we hear from building operators that benchmarking can’t be done well because the facilities are just too different.  Our recommendation is to start small and focus on the metrics that highlight the similarities, and account for the differences the best possible way.  Benchmarking may never be perfect, but with a little work and creativity, benchmarking can be an important part of a corporate energy strategy.

Thanks for reading.