An Energy Managers View on Benchmarking

In a recent study, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that buildings that were benchmarked consistently reduced energy use by an average of 2.4 percent per year, for a total savings of 7 percent. And, buildings that started out as poor performers saved even more.

Wow! 7% savings! That’s $70 a month for every $1000.00 you spend a month in your utility bills. Just for BENCHMARKING!!

Sounds easy right?

Just go out and start saving. Tomorrow when you get in the office, send out the email to all your colleagues and/or staff. Tell them that you have decided to save this average 7% and tell them to start benchmarking. Tell them to hurry too. Cause you can’t begin your savings and look good to your superiors until you save that 7%.

Problem is.. what exactly is benchmarking?

According to The Department of Energy:

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).


Now you’ve started to scratch what we love to call “Benchmarking”. Benchmarking is reporting. It is collecting data and trying to use that data to give you an idea of what is going on so when you do some changes you can determine if what you did improve your facility. You can do comparisons between seasons, months, years. You can also do it to compare to other buildings. This is especially helpful if you have a lot of the same building designs. You would be surprised that you will find that even two buildings that are built exactly the same behave differently. They have different energy usages. One reason is simply because of the geography of where it is built. Only by benchmarking will you get to see these phenomena. I call it finding the “what”.

  • “What is the amount of energy you are using?”
  • “What is going on in my buildings?”
  • “What can I do to save money for my company on utilities?”

Now I know that your excitement is at its peak!

Back when I was a “wee” lad, I was this excited when I started this journey down energy management avenue. True I was 20 and still “green”, but there was so much opportunity for dollar savings. Soon, my “what” turned into “where”.

  • “Where to start?”
  • “Where do I get this information?”
  • “Where do I store this data?”

Even to this day when I meet new customers, new energy managers, and new facility operators, they inevitably hit the same hurdle. “Where.”

Where to Start?

To make life easy, start with your utility bills. At a minimum, gather the last thirteen. The industry standard seems to be twelve months, but in my experience thirteen seems to be a better representation. The essence of benchmarking is comparing. You compare one month of utility bills to another. With twelve, you are comparing June to July, December to November. If I’m not mistaken…. how is that a comparison? With thirteen, now you really are comparing July to July. November to November. Try that at first. In all the years I’ve been doing this (20 now… I’m getting old), you wouldn’t believe what I have found.

Benchmarking is using the “where” to find the “what”. Soon you will see that this leads to the next large problem with your benchmarking data. “What more?”

  • “What more data can I get?”
  • “What more patterns can I see?”
  • “What more information do I need?”

One month and yearly comparisons are not enough. Your utility bill information is not enough. You will start to understand that you used more energy. It’s kind of like potato chips. You can’t be satisfied with only one (or at least, I can’t). You need more. You will lose sleep till you get more data. Soon you will want to compare day to day, week to week, hour to hour. You can’t do that with utility bills. Now you need to add sub-meters. You need to increase that supply of data coming in. Soon you will be able to see usage in every 15 minutes.

So start your Benchmarking with your utility bills. Done? Good. What did you find? Was your demand charge higher or lower? What about your kWh? Your Dth (decatherm)? Or your Cubic Feet of Gas? Were you charged more in taxes? Was it your actual energy usage that went up, or did your usage go lower, but your utility bill still go higher? If that is the case, welcome to the nightmare of actually saving energy but still not showing savings. Now you are in the Measurement and Verification black hole. But that… is another blog. Look for it on this site. Read that. It’s more informative.

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