Why I am Not a Fan of Most Energy Benchmarking

Benchmarking in the energy industry is generally capital-H Horrible, with all sorts of unexamined assumptions and presumptions that can readily  be shown to lead to incorrect conclusions.  I have railed against tools like Energy Star Portfolio Manager, but to no avail.  It is a bill of goods that has been sold to upper management and many consultants – who always likes things to be short, sweet and simple.  In this case, way too simple.

As a management tool, most benchmarks are awful.

My reasons for benchmarking skepticism are located here:


This is not to say that good benchmarking metrics can’t be created.  But we need to take the process away from the well intentioned policy types and have a discussion about what rigorous and accurate metrics should look like.


What the hell, let’s start with a rant…

It all begins here:



So, the City of Boston has decided to announce a proposed “Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance”.  Well.  This certainly sounds like a great idea.  Here’s a bit of the language:

“As a component of the City’s climate action plan to meet Mayor Menino’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, this ordinance would require all large and medium sized-buildings to report their annual energy and water use to the City of Boston. The proposed ordinance is intended to encourage building owners to participate in local utility energy efficiency programs and educate tenants on building performance.”

 “In order for Boston to continue to be a sustainability leader, our buildings must aggressively invest in energy efficiency,” Mayor Menino said.  “Bostonians demand buildings with high performance and this ordinance will encourage building owners to meet that demand.”

 “Major cities across the country have already adopted similar ordinances including New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis. Lessons learned from these cities have informed the Ordinance proposed by Mayor Menino which would require all large and medium sized buildings to report annual energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions tracked through Energy Star Portfolio Manager to the City of Boston Environment Department. The City would then make energy and water use per square foot, Energy Star ratings, greenhouse gas emissions, and other identifying and contextual information for individual buildings available online.”

I mean, this sounds good, right?  What’s not to like?

Well, where do I begin?

First of all, as someone who has aggressively pursued energy conservation (and concomitant CO2 emission reductions) for well over a decade, I sort of resent the implicit message that the geniuses in City Hall (and probably the Kennedy School and other temples of wisdom not normally haunted by working-stiff engineers who actually make things work in the real world) suddenly conjured up this great idea that has seemingly eluded building managers and engineers for the past twenty years.

Secondly, the tool being used – the Energy Star Portfolio Manager (PM) – is an almost embarrassingly unsophisticated tool for evaluating energy performance in non-trivial facilities.  While we can discuss what this means later, the fact that this tool does not even bother tracking building energy demand, on-peak versus off-peak energy use, load factor or power factor speaks to the lack of thought that went into the selection of this platform.  Believe me, I have opinions about PM.

Thirdly, this ordinance is going to actively penalize those facilities, such as mine, that have saved millions and millions of kilowatt-hours and pounds of steam and ton-hours of cooling over the past decade.  I get no credit for all that work, while the schlub who’s done nothing can start doing easy stuff and look like an all star?  Really?  Do they have any idea how much more expensive it is to save energy after you’ve done dozens and dozens of projects already?  In a word, “No.”

Lastly (at least for now) this ordinance will require that we spend already scarce resources redundantly entering data into a tool of virtually no practical use in managing energy consumption, while our own sophisticated tools (in my case, a fully programmed, customized database) is shunted aside.

Let’s face it, at the core of this rant is resentment at the fact that a bunch of whiz-kids decided they came up with this great new idea, they were too important to talk with the poor stiffs who actually have to work with the building equipment and systems and know what it takes to actually implement and track energy savings or see what’s already been accomplished, and they clearly – based on the tracking tool they chose – completely don’t appreciate the complexity of the task.  Gee guys, really?  We should save energy?

All that said, the goals of making Boston more energy efficient and of reducing our carbon dioxide emissions are admirable.  But it really hurts to see such a worthwhile goal mapped out with a methodology that is so unsophisticated, and that could have been so much more promising had the city deigned to speak with the stakeholders before shoving this down 0ur throats

Of course, I’m also old enough to realize that that’s simply how the world works sometimes…