ASHRAE introduces new labelling program

Building Energy Quotient's database allows participants to compare building performance
Thursday, May 31, 2012
By Barbara Carss

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) new Building Energy Quotient (bEQ) labelling program appears to be the underdog entering markets in Canada and the U.S., with more established and widely recognized assessment and benchmarking tools.

It duplicates elements of both BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) BESt (Building Environmental Standards) and the Real Property Association of Canada’s (REALpac) energy use normalization methodology, which are gaining prominence among Canadian building owners and managers. Meanwhile, the prospects are arguably even more uncertain for a lesser known alternative to the U.S. government’s dominant Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

“It’s difficult to compete with Energy Star in the U.S. market because it’s both robust and free,” says Nada Sutic, director of sustainability with Bentall Kennedy (Canada) LP.

Many Canadian property managers and energy management specialists are looking forward to the 2013 launch of Portfolio Manager for Canadian office buildings and schools. The recently updated BOMA BESt version 2 already incorporates Energy Star references in anticipation of the industry’s take-up of the program.

The bEQ label, which grows out of a pilot program introduced in 2010, is largely based on a Level 1 ASHRAE audit and an associated assessment of how a building’s operations comply with original specifications and protocols. Program enrollees must contract an ASHRAE-certified professional to perform the work.

Level 1 ASHRAE audits focus on finding potential for low-cost and no-cost energy-saving initiatives. The bEQ program introduces a scoring system and database that will allow participants to compare their building’s performance against other similar buildings. The building’s rating will be inscribed on an official plaque that can be displayed publicly.

Energy Star Portfolio Manager similarly conveys a percentile score to pinpoint a building’s rating relative to other buildings in the program’s vast database, which currently encompasses more than 270,000 buildings in 15 different categories. Although the benchmarking aspect of the program is essentially a simple self-reporting exercise based on meter and billing tallies of energy consumption and costs, buildings must achieve a score of at least 75 to merit an Energy Star label. A professional engineer or registered architect must verify that data.

In contrast, bEQ relies on a trained diagnostic eye to drive the benchmarking process. This could be useful for building owners and managers who need some direction but energy management specialists suggest it’s unlikely to provide much new insight or value for owners and managers who already have monitoring and benchmarking programs in place and/or buildings that have already achieved comparable certifications.

From a business perspective, the timing could be good to launch a labelling product. Regulators in municipalities, states and provinces have begun to mandate or consider imposing requirements for owners and managers to reveal a building’s energy use to prospective purchasers, tenants and/or the general public, and ASHRAE has certainly been an aggressive player on other energy-related fronts. Perhaps, most notably, plans to release a revised version of ASHRAE 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Lowrise Residential Buildings, in 2013, represent the fourth update of the standard within a decade.

Given the organization’s standing, bEQ is likely to be credible even if it’s redundant.

Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management magazine.

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