energy benchmarking for buildings

Energy Benchmarking – How Much Energy Usage is Normal for Buildings?

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Energy benchmarking is a term that often comes up in conversations about sustainable energy use, resource efficiency, and climate change. It can help you determine just how good or bad an entity (facility/process/structure/device) is performing in the energy department.


Since the building and construction industry is the biggest consumer of energy, it has become increasingly important that measures are taken to combat that. And energy benchmarking seems like a viable first step.

In this article, we will start by defining what energy benchmarking really is, how it helps in fighting climate change, and what normal energy usage numbers should different buildings target.

What (really) is Energy Benchmarking?

If you aren’t self-aware, you might never know that you can still improve. Or that you are seriously under-performing. Knowing is half the job. 

The same is true for your building’s energy usage. Just because you don’t see smoke coming out of the chimneys, or just because your energy bill doesn’t cause a significant dent in your profits, it doesn’t mean that you are not over-consuming energy. There’s only one way to be sure: energy benchmarking.

Energy benchmarking can be defined as the measure of a building’s energy performance, compared to its counterparts, modeled simulations of relevant buildings, or any established standards. Not only does it allow building owners to identify which performance percentile they fall in, it also enables them to perform energy accounting and track their savings overtime.

Why Bother with Energy Benchmarking?

 If you are still wondering about the financial viability of investing in an energy benchmarking effort, here are a few benefits to consider:

Prioritize your improvement efforts

If you own multiple buildings, it’s possible that only some of them are exceeding normal energy usage. It would make sense to identify the ones overutilizing energy and focus your improvement efforts there. And an energy benchmarking report for your entire portfolio will help you do just that. 

A Baseline for All Future References

Building energy use statistics yielded by the benchmarking report will serve as a baseline for tracking improvements in energy usage efficiency and energy savings.

Gain a Competitive Edge

Consuming less energy than your competitors offers you a formidable edge over them. Not only is it a marketable fact, it also saves you money which can be spent on making your building’s lifestyle even better. 

Get Certified “Green”

Once your building has achieved normal energy usage, in accordance with accepted standards, you can look to obtain green building certifications. There are various green certification programs like Green Seal, Energy Star, and GREENGUARD that can affirm your dedication to sustainability and  the fight against climate change. 

Identify Potential Flaws

Aggregating energy usage data from various parts of the buildings, at various times, will allow you to identify any potential problematic areas. For example, if you notice that the consumption of a certain floor stays high, even when the building is empty, you could potentially be dealing with a flaw.

Some Barriers to Energy Benchmarking

Lack of energy benchmarking is one of the main reasons why the building industry’s overall energy consumption is the highest. Here are a few barriers that contribute:

Convincing Higher Management

Building owners and high-level managers often resist ideas that may not guarantee instant ROI, or improvement in quality of service. Even though energy planning and management has many short-term and long-term benefits, they might not always seem apparent, making higher management doubtful.

 An easy way to gain their support is to present case studies of competitor buildings (and others) who gained market value and/or reduced energy usage after benchmarking energy.

Incomplete or Inaccessible Energy Usage Data

Another barrier to getting your building energy use breakdown can be the unavailability of energy consumption data. Some or all of your building’s systems may have no way to report data.

This however isn’t an unfixable problem, as simply installing a few sensors and a data aggregation system can solve it. Overtime, the energy savings resulting from better energy management will outweigh the initial installation costs.

Building Too Old

It’s a common misconception that an old building can’t be made more energy-efficient. Leading to people thinking, “What’s the point of benchmarking this old building? Even if we identify areas of improvement, it will take a lot of money to make it smarter”.

However, the reality is completely different. Any old building can be retrofitted to not only report energy data, but also use energy more efficiently. Without spending an astronomical amount of money, and without undergoing any serious operational disruptions. For example, ClevAir is a plug-and-play software that doesn’t require any major hardware upgrade, and can be installed in any building, old or new, for efficient energy management

Lack of Awareness

If you can’t see how benchmarking can potentially benefit your building/portfolio, you may never go for it. Or if you don’t know how to go about benchmarking your building, or which metrics/tools to trust, then too you may never feel confident enough to take it on. 

If you are in the same boat, don’t worry. Our next sections should cover most of what you should need to get started.

How to Go about Benchmarking Your Building

Getting started with your building benchmarking efforts? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1.Start with a Plan

Create a comprehensive benchmarking plan, outlining all the expectations and requirements. A good building energy benchmarking plan should clearly state the purpose of the effort. Is it being done to attain a green building certification? Or to attract more tenants? Perhaps investors? Or just to attain better energy and resource management?

2.Choose Relevant Benchmarking Metrics

Identify the most important metrics and KPIs for measuring and benchmarking your energy performance. Here are a few recommended ones:

  1. Energy demand: How much energy is demanded across the building? A common unit for energy demand is: kilowatt (kW)
  2. Energy use intensity: A metric to gauge the consumption of energy per footprint. A common unit for energy use intensity is: kilowatt-hours per square meter (kWh/m2).
  3. Energy cost/savings: The money spent to purchase energy/resources to sustain the building. Later used to estimate savings. 
  4. Greenhouse gas emissions: An estimation of how much greenhouse gas emissions are being emitted by the building. Measured in CO2 equivalents. 

3. The Benchmarking Tool

The type of benchmarking tool you select depends on factors like:

  1. What are the data sources? They must be compatible with the tool you are selecting.
  2. What are the tool’s outputs? It must produce the chosen metrics identified in step 2.
  3. Costs: Tools can range from simple spreadsheets to customized, cloud-based platforms costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Do a cost-benefit analysis and see what’s best for your needs.
  4. Ease-of-use: The tool should be easy to use. 
  5. Visualizations: The tool should ideally support different visualization techniques like graphs, bar and pie charts etc.

A few recommended benchmarking tools are:

  1. Portfolio Manager by ENERGY STAR: A free tool that allows you to benchmark energy data for your entire portfolio. It produces metrics like greenhouse-gas emissions, total energy consumption, and even compares your data with that of similar buildings.
  2. GRESB Portal: Using the GRESB portal, you can create a comprehensive benchmark report for your portfolio. It can tell how and where you are outperforming/underperforming your counterparts, how  your company has performed in the energy department over the last few years, your complete environmental footprint, and much more.
  3. CIBSE’s Energy Benchmarking Tool: A free benchmarking tool with a graphical dashboard that produces both regional and national benchmarks. The tool is still in beta, but the full version is expected to be released very soon. 
  4.  Carbon Trust’s Energy Benchmarking Tool: A simple tool for UK based businesses to benchmark their energy consumptions in various sectors. The tool will let you know how good or bad your site is performing compared to its counterparts, but only if you already know your consumption.

4. Create and Analyze The Benchmarking Report

Create and analyze the energy benchmarking report using the selected tool. A sample report created by GRESB for a company’s annual energy performance can be seen here

Energy use intensity by building type

The definition of “normal energy consumption” is different for buildings of different types. E.g. energy used by commercial buildings is usually much more than that of office buildings.  Let’s find out more below:

The Highest Performing Buildings:

As seen in the picture below, the most energy-efficient grocery stores consume 416 kWh/m2/year or less. For office buildings, the number is 128 kWh/m2/year. The highest performing schools consume 117 kWh/m2/year or less, whereas the roof for the commercial buildings (excluding grocery stores) is 150 kWh/m2/year.

efficient energy consumption statistics by building type

The Lowest Performing Buildings:

As seen in the picture below, the least energy-efficient grocery stores consume 798 kWh/m2/year or more. For office buildings, the number is 218 kWh/m2/year. The lowest performing schools consume 180 kWh/m2/year or more, whereas the floor for the commercial buildings (excluding grocery stores) is 309 kWh/m2/year.

Inefficient building energy usage statistics

The Average Buildings:

As seen in the picture below, the average grocery store consumes 569 kWh/m2/year or more. For office buildings, the number is 166 kWh/m2/year. The average consumption for a school is 145 kWh/m2/year, whereas that for an average commercial building (excluding grocery stores) is 207 kWh/m2/year.

average energy consumption by building type

How Much Energy Does an Office Building Use?

Least energy-efficient office buildings can consume up to 218 kWh/m2. For the average office building, the number drops down to 166 kWh/m2. The most energy-efficient office buildings consume as little as 128 kWh/m2. 

Office buildings energy usage per square meter per year

Most of the time, a simple smart retrofit can transfer a building from the least-efficient category to the most-efficient one. Regardless of how old a building is. Smart software like ClevAir not only report energy usage data in real-time, but also automatically adjust HVAC based on changes in occupancy, indoor and outdoor climates, and weather forecast. 

To know more about how ClevAir works its magic, download the free case studies here.

A Clevair Customer’s Journey from the Low Consumption Quartile to the Lowest

When GN Power first reached out to ClevAir, they were already one of the better performing office buildings in the Scandinavian area. They were already in the “low” quartile of the “Office buildings energy consumption per square meter per year” metric. See below:

Scandinavian office building energy usage statistics

However, GNPower wanted to do even better. And ClevAir helped them do just that. Within a few months of ClevAir optimization, their overall energy consumption dropped by 35%. Ultimately, they were able to enter the lowest quartile in the aforementioned benchmark. See below:

Building energy usage before and after clevair optimization - CASE STUDY

Interested in knowing exactly how ClevAir empowered GN Power to become the best?

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