Get Ready to Measure: ENERGY STAR® for Buildings is Coming to Canada

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As the old adage goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” When it comes to reducing energy use in buildings, this is absolutely true. Energy benchmarking (measuring and comparing energy usage of one organization or building against another) helps property owners save energy and money. By tracking energy usage, building operators can better understand how energy is being used. By comparing similar types of buildings, they can identify facilities that are performing well and ones that should be prioritized for improvements.

Commercial and institutional buildings leave a significant environmental footprint, consuming 14% of energy and producing 13% of the carbon emissions in Canada, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).  That’s why I’m encouraged to see that NRCan will launch a national benchmarking system for commercial and institutional buildings in June 2013.

Following a 2009 recommendation endorsed by the Council of Energy Ministers [.pdf], NRCan has been working on a Canadian adaptation of the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tailored to Canada’s climate data, units of measurement and other factors. Portfolio Manager is a free online energy management and tracking tool that enables building owners and property managers to rate the energy performance of their facilities on a scale of 1-100. Scores are normalized for weather, building attributes, and operating characteristics, allowing for comparison against similar buildings across the country.

Portfolio Manager will not only help building owners and operators to begin tracking and managing their energy use, it will also enable further conservation opportunities in buildings that already benchmark their energy consumption. For example, as my previous annual energy reports have noted, Ontario’s post-secondary institutions and public schools, have already taken significant efforts to collect and track their energy use within their respective sectors. (A detailed review of the benchmarking initiative for public schools will be included in an upcoming ECO report). With Portfolio Manager, schools will be able to compare their energy performance with similar buildings across the country.

Awareness of the importance of energy benchmarking and transparency in energy consumption is rising. In recent years a growing number of jurisdictions in the U.S. have passed laws requiring commercial buildings to benchmark their energy use and publicly disclose their energy performance (for example New York City, Seattle, Austin, Philadelphia, San Francisco, District of Columbia). Although Ontario does not require commercial buildings to track and report their energy consumption, under the Green Energy Act the broader public sector organizations will be required to publicly report the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of their facilities, and similar reporting requirements have been proposed for the government (reviewed in my 2011 Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report).

Transparency in energy consumption is vital for greening Ontario’s buildings. When NRCan launches the Canadian benchmarking tool, I encourage all building owners and managers to follow the lead of the Ontario government and other benchmarking cities to not only track energy use but also to publicly disclose their energy performance.

For more information on the upcoming Canadian Portfolio Manager, visit the Natural Resources Canada website.