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CRE Players Try Out New Test Program For $100M In Annual Savings

A four-year, 104-institution smart energy analytics campaign by the federal government saved Jamestown, Stanford University, MGM Resorts International and other participants a combined $95M in annual energy costs, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said Monday morning. 

Designed to expand and measure the use of energy management and information systems, or EMISs, in commercial buildings, the campaign sets an important new benchmark for commercial energy efficiency, especially for owners of large facilities or a portfolio of properties, according to Jessica Granderson, a staff scientist with Berkeley Lab, which facilitated the federal campaign. 

“We had a lot of commercial real estate participants in this cohort," Granderson said, adding that Kilroy Realty Corp. and Tishman Speyer were among the other big CRE companies that participated in the program.

Jamestown's America's Square office property, part of its 13-building involvement in the Department of Energy energy management campaign detailed Monday.

The campaign entailed installing energy management systems across a wide range of properties, giving owners and managers greater insights into energy usage and a better ability to fix inefficiencies. It involved over 6,500 buildings totaling a combined 560M SF of floor space, according to Berkeley Lab.

It was started by the Department of Energy under its Better Buildings initiative, which looks to help innovate ways to optimize energy efficiency in homes and commercial buildings to promote cost savings and sustainability. As a whole, residential and commercial buildings account for almost 40% of U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

Alongside the Department of Energy, Berkeley Lab brought a wide variety of owners and institutions into the study with the help of industry partners like the Building Owners and Managers Association. Also involved was Sprint, which used fault detection and diagnostic software at its headquarters in Kansas, and Kaiser Permanente, which also used FDD technology, across 69 buildings.

Annual savings for the median portfolio across the 100-plus operators was $3M, with average installation and software costs ranging from $0.02 to $0.08 per SF, according to Berkeley Lab, which also said the investments had a two-year payback period.  

Granderson said EMIS technology is most applicable right now at larger scales.

“The technology is best-suited for a multi-building case or for a very large building case," Granderson said. "If you’ve got either large facilities or a portfolio of medium-sized facilities, then that is the sweet spot for today’s users.”

Jamestown participated in the campaign through a 13-building, 2.5M SF portfolio that included its America's Square office property in Washington, D.C. It saw first-year energy savings of 4%.

Through an EMIS, Jamestown could view its energy performance in ways that helped inform decisions to adjust factors like HVAC schedules, equipment and lighting to enhance energy efficiency. During a March to May period this year in which workers vacated its offices because of the coronavirus pandemic, it saved $230K in energy cost savings with adjustments enabled by its EMIS, according to Becca Rushin, Jamestown's vice president of sustainability and social responsibility. 

“Today’s building stock was not built with efficiency in mind,” Rushin said. “There’s been a lot of low-hanging fruit for commercial owners looking to improve the efficiency of their operations and save money."

Even though large owners are able to see the most savings, Rushin said owners of smaller properties have a wide range of options to better their building performance. The smart energy campaign alone saw users implement 40 different EMIS products, and Rushin said companies can set up systems just measuring utility data for as little as $250 per year.

For more complicated properties and portfolios, costs go into the tens of thousands of dollars, she said.

Granderson, who is also the deputy head of Berkeley Lab's Building Technology and Urban Systems Division, said the campaign's impact will go beyond cost savings toward much longer-term goals, thanks in part to a wealth of data collected across participants. Such changes include healthier, grid-interactive buildings and ultimately more widespread energy efficiency. 

“There’s a whole world of modernizing operations and maintenance practices and moving to a data-driven, continuous-feedback kind of paradigm," she said.