Trends In Green

Harness the Power of ENERGY STAR

“You pay for what you get.” In the world of facility operations, this statement is especially true. But thankfully for school districts, there are exceptions to the rule. One of these is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. In addition to being the most comprehensive and reliable energy management tool in the world, the ENERGY STAR program has one feature that every administrator is sure to love. It is free.

The EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a standardized, third-party way for school districts to benchmark their facility energy costs. Getting started is easy. Typically, it takes less than a week to gather data and upload information to ENERGY STAR’s website. After that, you have access to a world of resources for making data-driven decisions regarding energy management.

The benefits of plugging in

ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager is used to benchmark the performance of existing buildings. The program takes historical utility data and compares building performance to the performance of other similar facilities in the area. Once benchmarked, each facility receives a score of 1-99. A score of 75, which is the minimum score to be ENERGY STAR certified, means the building is in the 75th percentile for energy efficiency. In short, you get to see how you stack up.

However, while big picture numbers are valuable, the true benefits of ENERGY STAR are found as you drill down on your building analysis. Portfolio Manager shows you where and how energy is being used. Are lights being left on when they do not need to be? How much extra energy is used by computers left on day and night? Portfolio Manager answers these questions and helps you to quantify the energy impact of day-to-day decisions and operations. In fact, after utilizing Portfolio Manager, many facility managers comment that they feel as if they are truly seeing their building for the first time.

A community of energy efficiency

Another powerful element of Portfolio Manager is the ability to share best practices nationally. In addition to accessing your own information, you are able to see how other school districts are managing their assets. Information can be as detailed as the number of kitchens in a building or the impacts of a recent lighting retrofit. All this data is accessed through the Portfolio Manager database. Essentially, you become part of a large user group devoted to sharing energy-efficient strategies and encouraging best practices.

The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program also provides a suite of online resources to assist even the most veteran ENERGY STAR user. These range from an online help desk to strategies and materials for implementing various energy conservation programs.

Taking action

When is the best time to begin using ENERGY STAR? For school districts looking to establish an energy management policy or anticipating facility improvements, joining ENERGY STAR is a great first step. Portfolio Manager is an excellent tool for collaborating with architects and engineers to review options and examine the energy impacts of future building initiatives. For new projects, ENERGY STAR offers its Target Finder tool, which provides energy modeling data and projections.

As always, it is important to have a professional involved in the process. In fact, ENERGY STAR requires energy data to be reviewed by a licensed architect or engineer before benchmarking results are provided. However, this investment represents a minimal amount of time and energy, especially compared to first costs and subscription costs related to using energy management tools offered by for-profit companies.

At the 2014 ENERGY STAR Awards Ceremony held in Washington, DC, eight school districts or educational organizations were honored for their commitment to energy efficiency. This recognition shows that these communities are successfully using ENERGY STAR to manage their buildings and to make the best use of taxpayer money.

Any school district is able to achieve similar results using the ENERGY STAR suite of tools. All it takes is a small amount of time to join the ENERGY STAR community and the willingness to learn from others and share your own success. Compared to the minimal investment in time and energy, the benefits you receive are invaluable.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Terrance R. Liette, PE, LEED-AP, tliette@fhai.com, is the director of Engineering for Fanning Howey.

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