Building Energy Use Program Changing How California Companies Conserve

Benchmarking is beginning to change the way California’s companies conserve energy. Statewide benchmarking, or measuring a building’s energy usage compared to similar buildings, has emerged through legislation and programs established in San Francisco, Berkeley, and most recently, Los Angeles.

During a recent presentation, California Energy Commission staff Erik Jensen and Erik Lyon highlighted the changes and challenges associated with monitoring the energy consumption of large buildings. They delved into the intersection between data and constituency that is at the forefront of benchmarking policy.

“We want existing buildings to use less energy,” Jensen said. “The potential savings from buildings that are already in existence is great and if building owners will make the changes voluntarily, that’s even better.”

Commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 70 percent of California's electricity consumption and 55 percent of its natural gas consumption. An estimated 50 percent of existing buildings in California were built before California Building Energy Efficiency Standards were established in 1978.

In gathering data through reporting, Jensen and Lyon anticipate that the benchmarking measures can encourage practices that reduce energy use and increase savings. In the short term, such data could improve data quality for all consumers, with a long term goal of promoting a greater understanding of building efficiency.

“The main motivation for this program is for the real estate market and building owners to understand their own buildings and other buildings in the market,” Jensen said.

The Building Energy Benchmarking Program stemmed from legislation requiring electric and natural gas utilities to provide building energy use information to building owners starting in 2017. As of June 1, 2018, owners of large commercial buildings more than 50,000 square feet are required to report building characteristic and energy use information to the Energy Commission annually. Owners of large multifamily residential buildings (17 or more utility accounts and more than 50,000 square feet) must do the same by June 1, 2019, and annually afterwards.

Of the program, Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister said, “The Energy Commission developed the infrastructure for getting highly relevant information to the right places at the right moments. Armed with this knowledge people will be able to make better decisions when buying or renting buildings. That is good for the economy and good for reaching our state energy goals.”

After the first year of reporting, the Energy Commission will disclose certain building-level energy performance information online. Tracking energy use, which is one of the largest controllable costs in a building’s operation, can be vital. Investing in energy efficiency improvements and disclosing the savings could open the possibilities of lower energy bills to tenants and owners, creating spaces that are more efficient, inviting, and comfortable.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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