How Do I Get Decent Utility Use Data? (At Minimal Cost?)

Post #2 in our series, In Development - Realistic Roadmap to Leased Location Sustainability


Let’s hear from Kelly, Director of Corporate Sustainability at Environmental Defense Fund:

I don’t know about you, but I am having a hard time getting reliable, consistent, accurate electricity meter read data for my office space. Don’t worry – the utility is billing me just fine!

But when I ask for detailed meter reads so that I can accurately track, visualize, and know our energy and water consumption, my building managers struggle to get me annual information, let alone real-time consumption.

This lack of data impacts our ability to diagnose energy and water inefficiencies and develop strategies investing in sustainability upgrades with a good ROI.

As we noted in our recent post on a realistic roadmap to sustainability in commercial leased spaces, step one is to “Know Better” about our environmental resilience. But how can we “know better” if we can’t “know our actual data”??

In a recent conversation with a Washington, D.C. building manager, we were informed that our meters were not readable; they literally did not have a meter reading on a screen.

We replaced these two meters with newer technology and now we can see real-time consumption. I don’t know anything about energy and water meter technology, but I do know that if you want to get real-time consumption data (and maybe want to check the readings against your bill), you need a meter that shows consumption!

Now, as occupants of a commercial building, we are able to read our own meter monthly and record the data in real time.

Ok, now what? What do we do with the electricity use data we can now read?

Spreadsheets work just fine and they’re my go-to. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a central database where we could track our data, compare to similar businesses, and benchmark our progress in relation to local and state ordinances and goals?

Ideally, this tool would include publicly available electricity consumption data for my actual building that I access without going through my building manager or utility.

Oh, and this tool needs to be available at no cost.

Turns out, such a creature exists: Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

Energy Star Portfolio Manager is a tool provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, free to users to:

  • Rate the energy performance of your building or part of a building (such as a leased space)
  • Follow a step-by-step plan to save energy in your real estate
  • Qualify for Energy Star Certification or other recognitions your investors may be excited about
  • Seek rebates for appliances, lighting, EV stations, HVAC and more using Energy Star and Utility Genius Rebate Finder

How much of a pain is data entry into the Energy Star Portfolio Manager?

Let’s ask Emily Elder, Sustainability Project Manager at Property Works:

Property Works recently created our profile at Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

The biggest hurdle was the initial collection and inputting of required information.

Some data prompts were simple:

  • Property address
  • Number of buildings
  • Weekly operating hours

    Other questions required further investigation:
  • What is the outdoor irrigated area?
  • What percentage of the building can be cooled?
  • How many people are regularly in the building, on average?

For most of these questions, Energy Star links an extensive glossary of helpful clarifications and suggestions.

Inputting our utility consumption from the past year was another time-consuming task. However, if you receive your utility data in spreadsheet form, which some utilities will provide for you, it can easily be uploaded into Portfolio Manager. Ask your utility providers if they have Energy Star Portfolio-ready data for you.

Despite the initial groundwork, now that our Energy Star Portfolio Manager is up and running, maintenance is simple and it’s helpful to have all our electricity, water and gas usage data in one place.

We manually enter our electricity, gas and water data each month. Georgia Power coordinates with Energy Star, so we’re checking to see whether we can further simplify our power data entry.

You can also track waste and compost – we haven’t tried these features yet.

We are excited to look for trends in our utility usage and to discover if any of our recent sustainability changes appear visibly on the graphs provided by Portfolio Manager.

Also, using Energy Star Portfolio Manager brings us one step closer to achieving Energy Star Certification. We currently have an estimated Energy Star score, but with more energy data and the completion of a few other checklist items, we will be on our way to proudly displaying an Energy Star decal in our window.

Finally, we had no trouble accessing support throughout the whole process of setting up our Portfolio Manager.

Energy Star offers regular workshops like “Portfolio Manager 101, 201, and 301,” there is a robust FAQ section on their website, and you can quickly request 1-on-1 help.

At Property Works, we found creating an Energy Star Portfolio Manager account well worth our time. We’d love to help you get your Portfolio Manager account up and running, too!

Kelly O’Day Weisinger is the Director of Corporate Sustainability at the Environmental Defense Fund, specializing for over ten years in practical, impactful and just solutions to real-world sustainability challenges affecting businesses. Caroline Magee, a VP at Property Works, focuses on ESG and sustainability considerations across industry sectors, including real estate, financial services and energy.

Links are provided for information only and not for purposes of endorsement. Any opinions expressed are those of the individual authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions and views of Property Works or the Environmental Defense Fund.


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