Energy information crucial to measuring progress on energy goals

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post-top-powermeter-wallThanks to numerous policies that promote energy efficiency and encourage reduced energy use, Minnesota has a well-earned reputation for leading on clean energy and energy efficiency. One of Minnesota’s landmark energy policies, the Next Generation Act of 2007, lays out specific energy efficiency targets, and many local jurisdictions have adopted policies that require goals for reduced energy use. Access to information about energy consumption is a key part of the process of measuring progress on these goals.

Some commercial building owners use voluntary benchmarking techniques in order to understand their own energy consumption. By entering their building’s energy consumption data into benchmarking software (like the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar Portfolio Manager), owners can compare their building’s performance to that of similar buildings. This can help them make changes that improve building performance and energy efficiency.

It’s an effective tool. A study of 35,000 buildings using the EnergyStar Portfolio Manager showed that benchmarking alone saves a total average of seven percent in energy over three years. Another analysis revealed that 51 percent of energy efficiency opportunities could be achieved through the low- and no-cost operational improvements that are typically identified with a benchmarking process.

On the residential side, Minnesota homeowners can voluntarily provide information about their annual energy bills to potential homebuyers. Or, if using the NorthStar MLS, they can list a home energy efficiency rating or green building standard with their real estate agent.

But these measures depend on building owners and residents voluntarily disclosing their energy data, which provides an incomplete picture at best. Mandatory benchmarking and disclosure programs, like Minneapolis’s new Benchmarking and Disclosure Ordinance, require owners of large commercial buildings (50,000 square feet or more) to submit their energy use information to the city. This information will then be published to the public, transparently tracking progress toward Minneapolis’s energy goals and helping drive the energy efficiency market.

Statewide in Minnesota, publicly-owned buildings are required to record their energy consumption information into the B3 Benchmarking Program. This helps identify the most needed and cost-beneficial energy conservation improvements. These types of programs often require that building owners ask their utility for building-wide energy use information. Unfortunately, because this information technically belongs to the building tenant (who pays the bills) and not the building owner, this can be a serious roadblock for buildings with multiple tenants. This hinders the process, making it hard to accurately measure any progress on energy reduction. This lack of information can also impede the efforts of building owners who want to make energy efficiency improvements—they can’t tell prospective tenants how much they might save on their utility bills as a result or demonstrate the improvements have had an impact.

Cities are also interested in tracking total energy use across all sectors. For example, the Regional Indicators Initiative measures the total annual energy consumption of 22 Minnesota cities and has collected five years of data to date. Additionally, local communities have also expressed interest in tracking neighborhood-wide energy consumption to aid in efforts to meet local and state energy goals. But again, access to energy use data from utilities at a large scale is a challenge. Some utilities are willing to provide aggregated information, some will only provide it for certain sectors, and some state they do not have the technology to provide information about geographical boundaries.

Over the last nine months, Fresh Energy has participated in the Customer Energy Use Data working group formed by the Public Utilities Commission to address concerns about access to energy information from utilities with relationship to personal privacy. While the working group did not reach consensus on every issue, members agreed that access to energy information plays an important role in meeting energy goals. We will keep you updated with the progress of this proceeding over the new few months.

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