Energy Star Reduces Operating Costs in Buildings

Portfolio Manager Helps Municipalities Lead by Example

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As a senior associate at The Cadmus Group, Colin Dunn gave a presentation at the recent Growing Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. Dunn presented on no-cost tools and resources available from ENERGY STAR to local governments and commercial building owners to help track and reduce energy use, prioritize investments, and demonstrate real savings over time. Dunn is currently a project leader at Noblis in the Washington D.C. metro area.

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Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 3:15 pm | Updated: 11:15 am, Thu May 15, 2014.

If you're a local government that still hasn't implemented energy efficiency retrofits in your municipal buildings, Colin Dunn has a message for you: Energy Star can light the way to reducing consumption by 10 percent at almost no cost. And, using the program's assessment tools, you can prioritize the low-cost investments that could help achieve even greater returns - in some cases reducing energy costs by as much as 40 percent.

As a senior associate at The Cadmus Group, Dunn gave a presentation at the recent Growing Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa, demonstrating a number of no-cost tools and resources available from Energy Star to help track and reduce energy use, prioritize investments, and demonstrate real savings over time.

Energy Star is a voluntary program backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that helps provide energy-efficient solutions for homes, businesses and institutions. Dunn, who is currently a project leader at Noblis in the Washington D.C. metro area, said commercial buildings and industrial facilities generate about 50 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, while wasting an estimated 30 percent of the energy they consume.

"There's nothing wrong with using energy," Dunn said. "We need it to live our lives and be productive. But we don't want to waste energy. Any business that saw something was wasting 30 percent would do something about that."

"Energy Star is a platform that works for anyone who has a building," he said, and state and local governments, schools, hospitals, hotels, factories and other businesses and institutions are among the primary users of Energy Star's tools and resources, which include the following:

• Portfolio Manager

• Building Upgrade Manual

• Cash Flow Opportunity Calculator

• Target Finder for new construction

• "Bring your Green to Work" Campaign

• Energy Star College Course for community colleges

• Energy Star Training

Portfolio Manager is EPA's no-cost online tool that assesses a building's energy use, tracks energy and water consumption over time, assigns a score that can be compared to the energy efficiency score of similar buildings, and tracks CO2 reductions, cost savings and on-site renewable energy use. The system also provides custom reports and graphs that help building managers share the energy data generated by the tool.

Dunn said more than 200,000 buildings nationwide have been benchmarked with Portfolio Manager. The numbers skyrocketed in 2010 in response to the economic downturn, he said.

"People are looking for ways to save on operating costs," Dunn said. "They realized that there's money locked up in their buildings - they just need to find it."

He said the EPA has identified 15 building types for which enough data is available to be statistically valid. These include courthouses, wastewater treatment plants, office buildings, senior care facilities, warehouses, data centers, hospitals, dormitories, banks, hotels, schools, medical offices, retail stores, supermarkets and houses of worship. Buildings in these categories that achieve Energy Star ratings above 75 on a 1 to 100 scale are eligible to receive the Energy Star label. Currently more than 15,000 buildings have earned the Energy Star designation, Dunn said.

Required information for benchmarking includes the building's name, address, square footage, hours of operation, number of workers and computers, percent of gross floor area that is air conditioned and/or heated, and at least one year of energy consumption data, updated monthly. They system uses modeling to predict how much various upgrades would save over time, and it verifies those gains with actual utility data after renovations are complete, Dunn said. He said the system uses local weather data to cancel out the positive or negative effects of weather on energy consumption.

Portfolio Manager is an excellent tool for prioritizing energy efficiency projects, Dunn said. He gave an example of a community that benchmarked 10 fire stations and was able to indentify two of the stations that were "energy hogs" based on the amount of energy used per square foot. This helped them prioritize their renovation schedule to generate the greatest return on investment, he said.

Dunn said many local governments are benchmarking all municipal buildings as a way of leading by example, encouraging private-sector building managers to do the same. In some cases, state and local governments are mandating the use and disclosure of the benchmarking data. "It's not that common, but there are jurisdictions that are going down that route," he said, giving California, Washington and Colorado as examples.

Some of the champions Dunn acknowledged included the states of Ohio and Utah, which have benchmarked thousands of state buildings, and New York City, which has benchmarked more than 1,600 of its buildings so far. He said Arlington County, Va., posts its buildings' energy scores on its web site to demonstrate how improvements have saved tax-payer money over time.

Other municipalities are using Portfolio Manager as the basis for voluntary programs and competitions. Examples include Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle/King County, Denver, Central Florida and Arlington County, Va. Case studies can be found at

After Portfolio Manager provides the benchmarks and assesses a building's energy performance, the Energy Star Building Upgrade Manual helps managers plan and implement profitable energy-saving upgrades utilizing best practices for cost-effective improvements. Dunn said the guide provides a staged approach to planning upgrades to maximize energy savings. It also contains updated resources, case studies and savings data.

Dunn said the Cash Flow Opportunity Calculator addresses three critical questions about installing energy efficiency projects:

1) How much new energy efficiency equipment can be purchased from the anticipated savings?

2) Should this equipment purchase be financed now or is it better to wait and use cash from a future budget to avoid paying interest?

3) Is money being lost by waiting for a lower interest rate?

Target Finder helps new-building designers set an energy budget based on actual "whole-building" energy performance data, normalized for factors that affect energy use intensity, such as climate, size and occupancy, Dunn said.

"It's much easier to make a building more efficient before it's even built than it is to upgrade it later," Dunn said. "Target Finder allows you to set an energy design budget in advance. If you wanted your building to be more efficient than average; if you wanted it to be in the top 10 percent of the most efficient buildings in the country; whatever that target is, you can take that number back to your design team and they'll make choices about building orientation, building materials and system types that help the building be efficient for its lifetime, right from the start."

The Bring Your Green to Work Campaign is designed to help building managers encourage occupants to improve their energy consumption behaviors. It includes a "Green Team" checklist, an employee training toolkit, an energy quiz, fast facts, posters and a variety of interactive tools that help educate and encourage behavior change in staff.

The Energy Star College/Training Curriculum is a full semester content package released by the EPA a few years ago. The free course material includes a syllabus, outline, reading list, quizzes, a student project, lecture plans and presentations that can be customized to suit any level of student from high school through college, Dunn said. He said dozens of community colleges have already incorporated the curriculum into their green-jobs training programs.

A vast amount of other training materials are also available on the Energy Star web site at

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