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Google Satellite image of state office buildingsImagine you own an office building. You have a great team managing the property and are always looking for smart investments to improve performance and decrease operating costs. In terms of energy management, you benchmark the building’s energy consumption through the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager, a tool that suggests your property performs well when compared with a statistical sample of similar buildings.

However, the tenants in the building include software programmers, a design firm, and financial analysts – all of whom impact the building’s electrical consumption through heavy computing needs – and several law firms that work erratic hours and require the HVAC systems to serve those spaces at irregular times. These operational characteristics weigh on the building’s energy consumption, impact your Portfolio Manager score, and make it difficult to understand how the energy performance of the building, independent of tenants, actually compares with others.

Furthermore, while a Portfolio Manager score gauges whole building performance, it was not designed to tell you about the energy performance of individual systems, such as the lighting, heating, or cooling systems. How do you determine opportunities to improve the efficiency of these systems and to save on operating costs? How do you turn benchmarking into action?

You could follow the conventional approach: hire an engineering firm to conduct an ASHRAE Level 2 audit, which for a mid-sized office building in Massachusetts can easily cost over $20,000. However, you’re unlikely to lay out that kind of cash if you don’t have a pretty clear idea that there are some real opportunities for improvement and cost savings.

Now, imagine you own ten office buildings, each with tenants and operations that are utterly unique. Your energy management and investment opportunities just became murkier by an order of magnitude.

The Massachusetts Building Asset Rating (BAR) pilot, jointly coordinated by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), addresses these challenges by developing a method to assess the energy performance of a building’s primary assets, such as the heating, cooling and lighting systems, independent of its operations and with less time and cost than a traditional ASHRAE Level 2 audit. With more streamlined assessment techniques that make better use of all available data, DOER and NEEP aim to help building owners and managers increase their investment in energy efficiency.

image of commercial building analytics

Commercial Building Analytics

The traditional approach relies on an engineer to produce a building energy model from scratch, requiring identification or measurement of hundreds or thousands of parameters. And the analyst often starts with building documentation that is out-of-date and inaccurate. However, emerging technologies and newly available data sets, including time-of-use electrical meters, satellite imagery, and software that streamlines the modeling interface, can dramatically reduce the hurdle of early-stage data collection and modeling, thereby reducing the overall assessment cost.

In phase 1 of the BAR pilot, eleven buildings were assessed through such innovative methods as well as a traditional ASHRAE Level 2 audit. The newer methods produced results of comparable, if not better, quality than the traditional approach. Compared to an average per building cost of about $25,000, the newer methods averaged less than $8,000 – a cost expected to decrease with broader application.

The BAR pilot is in its second and final phase, which will focus on 30-40 office buildings in Greater Boston. These buildings will receive a comprehensive energy analysis, a Portfolio Manager score, and recommendations for energy efficiency improvements from two different teams, Retroficiency and The Weidt Group, at no cost to building owners and managers. The BAR method and pilot results are expected to be released publicly in summer 2014.

For more information, please contact me at patrick.coleman@state.ma.us.

The BAR pilot is generously supported by The Barr Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

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Building Energy Program Coordinator

Pat manages the Massachusetts' Building Asset Rating pilot for the DOER and supports Massachusetts' policy and program development to increase investment in the energy efficiency of the commercial buildings sector. He supports the creation and implementation of policies related to the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, including the state's building energy codes and deployment of technologies and practices to realize zero net energy buildings. Before joining DOER Pat worked in Boston and New York City on affordable housing policy issues. He holds degrees from Boston College and MIT, and plays guitar and banjo in whatever styles engage his young daughter at the moment.

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