It's Time to Get Smart With Energy Management - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency  -  October 27, 2016 - By Erin Beddingfield

It's time to get smart with energy management

Liberty Property Trust, a real estate investment trust based outside of Philadelphia, has a 104 million square foot portfolio that includes properties which provide office, distribution, and light manufacturing facilities to 1,600 tenants. A recipient of the 2016 Energy Star partner of the year award for sustained excellence, Liberty knows the value in reducing energy usage through smart operations and management, which is why the REIT wanted to put an Energy Management Information System, or EMIS, in 500 of its buildings that could support the technology.

For those who aren't already familiar, EMIS are a broad category of data-driven tools and services that help manage energy use and inform decisions on how to best operate facilities. Depending on the building-specific circumstances, active operational energy management through EMIS can yield up to 20% in energy savings, often with relatively little upfront investment when compared with deep-retrofit capital upgrades.

In Liberty's case, they wanted to benchmark their entire portfolio to track and manage energy use, as well as comply with local energy benchmarking laws, which have grown in popularity in several cities and states across the U.S. The REIT uses Goby SeaSuite, a cloud-based EMIS tool that manages green building certifications and energy data analytics for demand response, benchmarking, and fault detection. In 2015, Liberty achieved 3.8% year-over-year savings compared with 2014. And across 500 buildings, that adds up to a lot of savings. To date, their office portfolio is on track to meet their organizational goals, while their industrial buildings will become the next target focus.

Moving beyond building automation systems

At the Institute for Market Transformation, or IMT, we focus our efforts on making buildings more energy efficient, as U.S. buildings collectively use more energy than most other countries' entire economies. We do this in part by supporting building owners, tenants, governments, and other city and corporate stakeholders to identify opportunities for improving building energy performance. Through our work in these areas, we hear a lot about the advantages of active energy management in ensuring that buildings are operating as efficiently as possible.

IMT sees the exciting potential that EMIS holds for saving energy and resources across building portfolios, but it’s apparent that the commercial real estate’s adoption of active energy management is not as robust as it could be. A lack of market awareness and understanding of the value of EMIS remain as hurdles, and many decision makers are unfamiliar with technologies beyond the common building automation system.

To bring clarity and a path forward for different market actors who range from building owners and EMIS service providers to local governments and utilities, IMT has introduced a brand new report, Transforming the Market through Energy Management Information Systems. The report includes a survey of close to 30 building owners and EMIS service providers to understand what platforms and services are being used on the ground, and what opportunities exist for helping to increase the uptake of energy management in U.S. commercial and multifamily buildings.

The respondents included EMIS service providers that represent 550,000 accounts, commercial real estate owners that represent 284 million square feet of space, and multifamily owners that own or manage 313,000 units. Out of these conversations and additional market research, we have identified some areas of focus that can move the EMIS market forward, which will help make buildings more energy efficient. To that end, we make sector-specific recommendations as follows:

  • Building owners and tenants should develop a business case for EMIS, select the appropriate EMIS technologies, identify demonstration projects and investigate available local incentives. Detailed guidance for this group is found in the "Selecting an EMIS" section of the report.
  • EMIS service providers should aim to reach underserved target markets such as retail, industrial, healthcare, higher-education, and multifamily through engaging stakeholders at all levels - owners, utility implementers, local government, and occupants to remove market barriers. Engagement strategies are found in the "EMIS Trends" and "Market Survey" sections of the report.
  • For efficiency program implementers, which may include utility energy efficiency program implementers, local governments, and service providers, should develop incentives to remove financial barriers for owners, while also educating the market on EMIS best practices. To make incentives more effective, utility implementers and local governments should tie incentives to long-term reporting. Organizational tactics are found in the "Increasing Market Uptake" section of the report.

It's no secret that buildings use a lot of energy: They cost the U.S. over $400 billion each year, and represents almost 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions that our country produces. EMIS can play a major role in reducing whole-building energy usage for properties across the country, but only if current gaps in the market are addressed. IMT undertook this effort to provide action-oriented information for real estate owners, service providers and efficiency program implementers, and hope that these key players will take lessons from the survey and research to invest in appropriate EMIS platforms, design more accessible EMIS and develop effective end-user outreach programs.

Editor's note: This column originally appeared as an IMT blog post. 

Erin Beddingfield is the manager of data strategy and application at IMT. In this role, she oversees service delivery on key projects involving data analytics and related policy issues, and contributes to defining IMT's priorities and approaches to data-related projects. Her work ensures that IMT focuses on impactful projects that accelerate clean energy policies in public markets with the goal of driving private market transformation. Erin holds a bachelor's degree in environmental science and economics from the University of Mary Washington and a master's of public policy in science and technology policy from George Mason University. She is a LEED Accredited Professional for Building Operations and Maintenance.

Keywords: IMT

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