EPA Upgrades its Energy Star Portfolio Manager

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An upgraded online management system will better track buildings’ energy consumption.

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Commercial and industrial buildings are one of the largest consumers of energy in the United States – accounting for roughly fifty percent of the nation’s total energy consumption and imposing more than $400 billion in costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). To improve energy efficiency in the building sector, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an upgrade to its online energy management and tracking tool, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

The Portfolio Manager is a “no-cost, interactive energy management tool” that allows building owners “to securely track and assess energy” across their building portfolios, according to the EPA. In addition to energy performance, the Portfolio Manager also measures water usage, utility costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The EPA suggests that such consistent benchmarking of energy performance reduces buildings’ energy consumption by an average of 2.4 percent annually. The EPA believes that such reductions in GHG emissions and energy usage may be “substantial” for many commercial buildings “with annual energy bills in the millions of dollars and that emit tens of thousands of metric tons of GHG emissions each year.”

The Portfolio Manager also allows building owners to apply for Energy Star certification, a voluntary program that identifies and promotes energy-efficient products and buildings. The Portfolio Manager rates buildings on a 1-to-100 scale against similar buildings nationwide. According to the EPA, a score of fifty represents median energy performance among buildings’ peers. Only buildings that score seventy-five or higher, meaning that they outperform seventy-five percent of their peers, are eligible to earn Energy Star certification.

According to the EPA, Energy Star certified buildings use an average of thirty-five percent less energy and produce thirty-five percent fewer GHG emissions than typical non-certified buildings. The environmental performance Energy Star certified buildings achieve serves to increase their public “credibility and visibility” as well as deliver financial benefits, according to the EPA. The EPA suggests that these financial benefits accrue “across the board – from asset values to shareholder values to operating income.”

In addition to maintaining features of the original Portfolio Manager, the upgraded version EPA has released offers a more user-friendly interface, enhanced data sharing capabilities, and better reporting ability. For the first time, the upgraded version also has the ability to plan and set energy goals and manage buildings across lifecycles, according to the EPA. Janet McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, posits that “the new ‘turbo-charged’ Portfolio Manager makes it easier than ever for building owners to make strategic business decisions that are good for the environment.”

Some users of the Portfolio Manager are also partners with the Better Buildings Challenge, a public-private partnership through which organizations agree to accelerate the energy efficiency of their building portfolios by twenty percent over ten years, according to the DOE. The Better Buildings Challenge is a cornerstone of the Better Buildings Initiative announced by President Obama in 2011, which seeks to encourage buildings to become twenty percent more energy efficient by the year 2020 and achieve billions of dollars in energy cost savings.

Tens of thousands of organizations currently use EPA’s Portfolio Manager and more than a hundred of these organizations participate in the Better Buildings Challenge. So far, partners of the Better Buildings Challenge have reportedly expended more than $1.1 billion to finance energy efficient improvements that have achieved more than $58 million in energy savings. Some have even already claimed to have reaped more than 2.5 percent annual energy savings.

With these numbers, the DOE expects that the United States will meet President Obama’s 2020 energy goal. According to the DOE, the Better Buildings Challenge is “turning the tide on industrial and commercial energy use” – although it concedes that there is still “plenty of work left to be done.”