Why commercial buildings in the US don’t need a National Asset Rating Program for Commercial Buildings

Back in August the Department of Energy issued a request for information to develop a voluntary National Asset Rating Program for Commercial Buildings (AR Program). The thought was that an AR Program would establish an Asset Rating system for commercial buildings based on a national standard and would evaluate the physical characteristics and as-built energy efficiency of these buildings. It would also identify potential energy efficiency improvements.

The department of Energy is hoping to facilitate cost-effective investment in energy efficiency and reduce energy use in the commercial building sector. However, this proposed move has come under criticism in some parts as the request follows on from the announcement earlier this year that Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) funding was being suspended due to budgetary constraints. Industry commentators also point to the fact that a number of states are already in the process of rolling out similar initiatives at a state level including Massachusetts and California and a voluntary program from ASHRAE in the form of Building EQ which captures this information.

However, with such a fractured approach to collecting asset data – on a state by state basis are the government right in trying to implement a national and voluntary measured approach? A recent response from BOMA stated that whilst it approves of benchmarking as a means to reduce energy consumption, it must find a way to complement the existing and successful Energy Star Portfolio Manager initiative.

Whilst Energy Star Portfolio Manager typically bases any energy performance on historical utility bulling data and does not take into account when buildings are partially filled and multi-tenanted, it can complicate matters. That’s why the government is promoting an as-built energy performance that is not dependent on occupational behaviour and building operation. Ultimately, as BOMA suggests you need a hybrid solution where you can benchmark one against the other- a methodology prescribed by ASHRAE’s Building EQ system.

It is also worth noting that EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager relies in large part on CBECS data. By any statistically supportable measure, the number of buildings relied upon by EPA in their benchmarking is going to be jeopardised by the inability to draw upon up-to-date and robust dataset. For example, Energy Star Portfolio Manager relies on only 498 office buildings (bank/financial/courthouse) located throughout the country to establish the office baseline for benchmarking, a fraction of the total number that could be available if CBECS was updated and expanded.

By implementing a national asset rating scheme which would publicise asset ratings would leave commercial properties exposed in a very competitive market. Although this may ultimately act as a driver for retrofit and enhanced performance, this would have an adverse affect on property that is located in areas where there are mandatory requirements for data disclosure on energy performance. This may expose buildings, unnecessarily, to risk despite of possibility of any unique qualities of the building that may impact upon any rating.

DOE plans to have an initial program design available soon and will launch a pilot program in early 2012, though they have promised that there will be future opportunities for stakeholders to provide input.

CADmeleon are a GSA approved contractor under 871 211 Energy Consulting Services, 871 207 Energy Audit Services and 871 208 Resource Efficiency Management (REM) and have developed an online energy and carbon benchmarking portal for the built environment called Carbon Estates.

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