Seattle is the latest in a series of major cities to join the burgeoning building energy efficiency initiative designed to save up to 50 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S.
It’s all part of a joint program by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which operates under the ENERGY STAR label to provide a software tool called the Portfolio Manager.
This software-based, building-energy-use program allows building owners and managers to “benchmark” their building’s electricity (and water) use against others of similar size, use and configuration. There are numerous definitions for benchmarking. The best simply states that benchmarking is a metric which allows us to compare apples to apples, rather than oranges.
These upgrades are important for two reasons. First, energy conservation is critical to the nation’s financial security. Second, the added jobs – 150 in Seattle alone – provide a much-needed economic boost. Lastly, the improvements provide real estate professionals with a tangible incentive to future buyers or renters. A 2009 study shows a definite correlation between higher rental rates and sales prices for energy-rated buildings – a position reinforced by the Institute for Market Transformation, or IMT (an energy policy think tank) which identifies the same trend in its 2010 white paper.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system instituted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC; a nonprofit sustainability agency) to evaluate “green” building metrics. The AP (accredited professional) recognizes Low’s training in certification management and organizational sustainability analysis. Kidder Mathews is a large, full-service West Coast commercial real estate firm.
As a first step, in 2010 the City of Seattle passed Ordinance 123226. Then, the city sent letters to more than 800 large (50,000 square feet or more) non-residential property owners and managers announcing the new, citywide initiative – one that will be extended in April 2012 to cover smaller (10,000 sq. feet +) residential and non-residential buildings, using the same Portfolio Manager program.
Low, who as a result of his training provides s a building manager’s perspective, says that the benchmarking process is a “way to start a conversation” with an owner to describe where his or her building fits in terms of energy use.
From this vantage, Low can even provide a ballpark estimate of how much any given upgrade will save, in terms of dollars and cents, though actual figures require a licensed contractor and more precise calculations. Kidder Matthews has so far enlisted about 75 of its 300 buildings in the program. Next comes the all-important step:
“Improving a building’s energy performance, which for us at Kidder Matthews means picking off the lowest-hanging fruit first,” Low notes. “That is, making sure that the lighting is upgraded, and that insulation is up to speed.”
Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVACs) come last. This, according to Low, is because:
“While upgrading HVACs might provide the most energy savings, they are very costly. For the most part, upgrading lighting (from T-12 fluorescent lighting fixtures or T-8s to the newer and more energy-efficient generation of T-5s) is a great way to save energy and money without as much investment.”
But one of the best and less expensive paths to immediate energy efficiency, Low observes, may simply be installing lighting control systems, which turn off the lights in an office when the occupant is gone, for example.
How will next year’s program make out, when Seattle’s smaller buildings – whose owners may have less access to capital - are forced to compete with large buildings for their own economies of scale?
Portfolio Manager is already adept at calculating this shrinking metric, thus allowing even two-unit rentals to achieve impressive energy-savings at affordable costs.
Image credit: Daniel Ramirez via Flickr
Any opinion contained in this article is solely that of the writers, and does not necessarily shape or reflect the editorial opinions of Energy Boom. Energy Boom content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be advice regarding the investment merits of, or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of, any security identified on, or linked through, this site.