Understanding Utility Benchmarking Software
As you get started thinking about how to manage the utility consumption and expenditure in your building or across a portfolio of buildings, utility benchmarking software tools should surface as the first step in your utility management plan. Utility benchmarking is, fundamentally, an act of providing context for the data you're collecting; it tells you how your building is performing compared to other similar buildings.
One of the fundamentals of utility benchmarking, and the one that I see as the first priority in developing good utility management practices, is understanding your building or portfolio's energy and water use. Before we can ask the question: "Is my building performing efficiently?" we need to ask: "How much energy and water is my building using?"
Utility benchmarking platforms provide a place to collect, organize, and track your utility consumption and spend. It's quite common for large organizations to have utility bills routed directly to accounting to be processed, without having anyone lay critical eyes on the bills or record the data they contain. In this case, what is a variable and controllable expense is treated as a fixed cost. Utility benchmarking starts with recording the data contained on those bills and organizing it in a way that is useful, such that you can see how much energy and water each building is using.
Most benchmarking platforms will pair your incoming utility data with building characteristics such as heating fuel, square footage, number of apartments and building construction. These data points provide the characteristics needed to work the real magic, comparing your building to its peers.
It's a fine thing to know how much you spend each month on utilities at your properties, but it's a finer thing still to know whether that's higher or lower than it should be. The benchmarking provided by software of this kind answers this question by comparing the performance of your properties to that of buildings which share important characteristics to yours. Benchmarking provides context for the data that you're collecting each month, and when it comes to data, context is what turns figures into understanding. By drawing in the usage histories of thousands of other buildings in the database, benchmarking software is able to provide the frame of reference that you need to understand your buildings' efficiency and identify opportunities for savings.
Utility benchmarking software combines an understanding of the physical characteristics of your buildings with consumption and cost data to arrive at a profile of how your building, and other buildings of its type, uses energy and water.
Most benchmarking platforms offer a base group of similar buildings that the platform uses to deliver its initial benchmark for your property. These stock benchmarks are a great way to give you an idea of where your building stands in relation to a general peer group, but benchmarking can go further than this to provide more targeted analysis, outlook, and comparison.
Flexible utility benchmarking software goes the next step and enables you to choose your own characteristics to include in your peer group.
For example, a standard WegoWise benchmark compares the following building to its peer group of cold-climate low-rises with gas heat. This benchmark tells us how we stack up to buildings with very similar characteristics. But say we're interested in how much we could save by bringing the building up to efficient standards. The report below includes an additional custom benchmark for similar buildings that have achieved a green certification such as LEED.
Custom benchmarking can help a property owner understand not just where their buildings are, but where they could be. In the chart below, we see that Green certified buildings with similar characteristics to the building in question use about 50% less gas every year than the property we're looking at. Using custom benchmarks, we've begun to make the case for efficiency upgrades to this building.
Understanding Your Tools
Utility benchmarking software is fundamentally a data organization tool. One of the most important and useful features that I see WegoWise customers taking from the platform is the creation of a central repository for building information and utility data. As a data organization tool, utility benchmarking software platforms can leverage the insight-generating power of networked data to allow us to answer the most fundamental questions when beginning to manage your utility use and expenditure:
-How much energy and water are my buildings using? How much does that cost?
-Are we spending/using more than we should be? How are other buildings like mine performing?
-What could we do to reduce out utility burden?
If you're ready to take control of your utility spend, and make steps to reduce your utility footprint, I recommend checking out our Energy Management Primer. It's a great overview of the issues you need to think about when beginning this kind of project, and will help frame your conversations moving forward.