ENERGY STAR® Scores Are Down. Here’s Why That’s Good

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Matt Pittinger Senior Energy Manager, CEM, CEA

In August 2018, ENERGY STAR® started a process to update performance metrics for U.S. buildings in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager based on the 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). ENERGY STAR certification scores must be recalibrated from time to time as buildings in a particular peer industry group become more, or less, efficient.

Because most industries have seen energy efficiency improvements with their buildings, many organizations saw their building scores drop—not because of inefficiencies, but because of more stringent criteria. Of course, as scores dropped, so did the number of buildings that qualified for certification (on a scale of 1-100, a score of 75 or higher is the threshold).

After receiving input from its partners, ENERGY STAR temporarily suspended certification of certain property types (offices, hotels, retail stores, supermarkets, warehouses, worship facilities, and K-12 schools) to gather feedback and conduct further analysis of its scoring methodology. After the review period, not a whole lot changed—only office buildings saw a slight adjustment. This validated that the methodology they used for the score updates was solid, and the new scores accurately reflect the industry changes.

So now comes the moment of truth: evaluate what these changes mean for you and your organization and get your applications for certification submitted by December 31. Remember, regardless of your score increasing or decreasing, ENERGY STAR’s 1-100 rating system now more accurately reflects energy consumption of your industry’s properties, making it a more powerful tool to drive your decision making.

Strategies and Considerations for Your Application

There are a couple of strategies to think about as you’re entering building data that could help you improve your score, including:

  1. Check Default Values: Across the application, many values default to zero (0). The biggest mistake that reporters make is not updating those default values to reflect actual use. If any default values are left unchanged, it can impact your score.
  2. Update Property Details: Review and edit all property use details and basic property information, such as gross building size, number of workers, hours the building is occupied, days of the week the building is occupied, number of refrigeration units, area devoted for food preparation, etc. Perhaps you’ve been relying on information submitted in prior years, but best practice is to review and update these details each year.
  3. Execute on Low Hanging Fruit: Although you likely have implemented some of the “low hanging efficiency fruit” in your properties, it’s worthwhile to review some of our previous tips for reducing energy consumption that should be standard practice in every building type, from restaurants to schools.

In addition to these universal tips, ENERGY STAR provided a few key takeaways and impacts for facility and energy managers across the following property types:

Office Buildings

After extensive review, this was the only category that ENERGY STAR adjusted during the additional review period. Analysis found that an adjustment was needed to account for energy used for heating so, the EPA reintroduced heating degree days (HDD) into the scoring algorithms for certain climate zones, to more equitably score buildings in colder climates.

Also, the minimum building size requirement for an office building to receive ENERGY STAR certification was reduced to 1,000 square feet from the previous 5,000 square feet. And if your office has a data center, a new option (Data Center Estimated Energy) is available to buildings that have a Data Center tenant to receive a score and certification if the data center is not properly metered. This option is not available to standalone data centers.

Hotels

The hotel landscape is changing. There’s a marked difference in energy use between upscale hotels and other types of hotel properties. Upscale hotels have more space devoted to common areas, such as grand lobbies, corridors, large conference rooms, and banquet spaces, which increase overall energy use.

Owners and managers of upscale hotels suggested that the previous model did not adequately reflect the lower room density and amenities that their businesses require, so the current model better reflects this market differentiation.

Warehouses

ENERGY STAR calls out that one additional use detail—percent used for cold storage—is now required but defaults to zero (0) for non-refrigerated warehouses and 50 for refrigerated warehouses. Another use detail, the number or walk-in refrigerator/freezer units, is no longer required or used in the score calculation. Just be aware of those values.

Worship Facilities

ENERGY STAR’s new model scores facilities of all sizes more evenly, so smaller facilities, which tended to have higher scores, may have seen their scores drop more than larger facilities. A question about commercial food preparation was replaced with Gross Floor Area Used for Food Preparation, which has a default value of zero (0).

K-12 Schools

The new model removed the adjustment for computer density, so schools with higher computer density are likely to see greater score drops. Number of Workers on Main Shift is a new required detail, so pay attention to and adjust that number.

What’s Next? ENERGY STAR Certification Applications Are Due by December 31

Deadlines are now looming for the above property types to submit certification applications for both 2018 and 2019. This year ENERGY STAR waived its rule for applying within 120 days of ‘period end date’ (PED) and instead all 2018 and 2019 applications are due no later than December 31, 2019. If you intend to apply for 2018 and 2019 certification for the same property, you must first apply for 2018, wait for ENERGY STAR approval, and then apply for 2019 certification, as long as the PED for 2019 is at least 11 months after the PED for 2018.

As the leader in ENERGY STAR benchmarking, ENGIE Impact submits data from more than 46,000 client locations to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager each month. By combining our breadth of data with the expertise of Professional Engineers and Certified Energy Managers, ENGIE Impact helps companies develop long-term plans to improve efficiency year over year, facilitates ENERGY STAR Certification for all building types, and supports clients’ state or city-based regulatory reporting needs.

Please contact us for more information about how you can leverage EPA’s ENERGY STAR program to reduce resource consumption, improve your bottom line, and gain industry recognition as an environmental leader.

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ENERGY STAR Benchmarking