Energy Benchmarking


What is Benchmarking?

When it comes to building energy use, a commonly-repeated adage is: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Building energy benchmarking is the process of measuring a building’s energy use and comparing that energy data to similar buildings. Benchmarking provides local governments with a simple pathway to clearly measure and examine their energy costs up close so that those costs, and the associated emissions, can be managed effectively.

Tracking a building’s energy use is a necessary first step toward reducing energy consumption and the associated costs.

Benchmarked energy data can be used to:

  • Measure a building’s energy performance over time
  • Establish energy reduction goals
  • Identify opportunities for reduction in consumption and costs
  • Gain recognition for high performing buildings
  • Comply with local and state energy reporting regulations
  • Quantify energy and financial savings as a result of energy efficiency improvements

As cities gain experience with benchmarking and lead by example, they can encourage commercial buildings within the city to follow suit.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a free energy and water benchmarking software developed by the EPA.

An EPA study of over 35,000 buildings found that buildings whose data was entered into Portfolio Manager averaged a 2.4% savings per year, for a total of 75 savings over the course of the study. 

While cities commonly use Portfolio Manager when starting their benchmarking programs, many other third-party software providers can be used as well.

Case Study: The City of Houston's Benchmarking Program

The City of Houston is benchmarking almost 10 million square feet of its building space in about 400 properties.

The State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), HARC, and SPEER created a case study detailing Houston’s benchmarking challenges, successes, stakeholder process, and lessons learned. This case study is a valuable resource for cities who are beginning their benchmarking programs.

You can read the “Benchmarking City Properties: City of Houston Case Study” here.

Designing a Benchmarking Plan

Cities have a variety of benchmarking methods available to them. Some cities perform internal benchmarking by keeping their own spreadsheets of monthly energy data. Other options include using EPA’s free Energy Star Portfolio Manager software which allows cities to easily compare that monthly data to similar buildings. Additionally, there are a variety of proprietary benchmarking and building energy management software tools available on the market.

No matter what method you choose, the Department of Energy suggests creating a benchmarking plan for your organization when first starting out.

To assist in creating this plan, the Department of Energy created a step-by-step guide to designing an internal benchmarking plan for your organization. The complete “Designing a Benchmark Plan” document, along with additional guidance on benchmarking, is available in the Better Buildings State and Local Solution Center here.

Benchmarking Programs & Ordinances

Some cities have gone beyond internal energy benchmarking by creating benchmarking programs that apply to commercial, multifamily, or even residential buildings within the city. These types of programs encourage increased transparency of energy usage and bring the topic of energy to the forefront of public awareness.

When private buildings participate in these benchmarking programs, whether voluntarily or as part of a mandatory energy disclosure requirement, they often use Portfolio Manager or proprietary software to track and report their energy use.

Mandatory Program: Texas Local Government Energy Reporting

In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 898. This law requires political subdivisions, institutions of higher education, and state agency facilities in Clean Air Act non-attainment or near-non-attainment areas to set goals to reduce electricity consumption by 5% annually for 10 years. These organizations report on their progress each year to the State Energy Conservation office (SECO). Because this law involves identifying total electric consumption on an annual basis, benchmarking can help cities quantify their electric data and meet the requirements of the law.

Mandatory Program: Austin ECAD

Benchmarking disclosure ordinances take benchmarking a step further by requiring public, commercial, multifamily, or residential buildings to publicly share their building energy data – typically on an annual aggregated level. The act of disclosing energy data increases transparency and awareness of building performance, particularly in real estate transactions and tenants decisions on where to rent office space. Energy benchmarking disclosure also encourages building owners to make efficiency improvements if their energy usage is high.

Many cities across the country have benchmarking disclosure ordinances. The Department of Energy created an “Energy Benchmarking, Rating, and Disclosure for Local Governments” fact sheet on this topic which is available for download here.

In Texas, the City of Austin has a mandatory benchmarking and disclosure requirement that applies to homes, multi-family properties, and commercial buildings (10,000 sq. feet or larger). The requirement was passed as the city’s Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) ordinance, and the full text of the Austin ECAD Ordinance is available here.

Voluntary Program: 2030 Districts

2030 Districts are voluntary public-private partnerships comprised of commercial property owners, property managers, cities, and business leaders. These Districts aim to increase the performance of buildings in their cities through no-nonsense, cost-effective improvements that reduce water, energy, and carbon consumption.

2030 Districts commit to reducing building energy use, water consumption, and transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (compared to 2003 levels). Because of this quantitative goal, accurate benchmarking is a crucial aspect of participation in a 2030 District.

Texas is home to the Dallas and San Antonio 2030 Districts. Buildings that participate in the San Antonio 2030 District are required to benchmark their energy and water use in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager in order to quantify the District’s progress towards its energy reduction goals.

Learn more about the San Antonio 2030 District here.

More than a dozen 2030 Districts are operating across the US. Learn more about the national network of 2030 Districts here.

More examples of mandatory and voluntary benchmarking programs can be found in the Energy Benchmarking Toolkit here.

Water Benchmarking

Water is an increasingly scarce resource, and local governments in Texas are seeking creative ways to reduce their water consumption. Just as cities can benchmark their building energy use, many cities have begun benchmarking their water use in order to set a baseline and identify savings opportunities.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager allows users to upload their water bill information to benchmark their water use. Portfolio Manager has two water use intensity metrics: Water Intensity (all water sources divided by the building’s square footage) and Indoor Water Intensity (all indoor water meters divided by the building’s square footage).

By comparing these water metrics against the national median averages, local governments can quickly identify which buildings have the greatest potential for water savings measures. More information on water tracking in Portfolio Manager is available here.


Benchmarking Tools

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a free energy measurement and tracking tool that allows organizations to upload and track energy and water usage data in their buildings. Many cities rely on Portfolio Manager to benchmark their buildings, and cities can get started just by entering their energy bills and basic building information.

Portfolio Manager is the required benchmarking tool for initiatives such as the 2030 Districts, the Better Buildings Challenge, and ENERGY STAR Certification. According to the EPA, 40% of US commercial building space is already benchmarked in Portfolio Manager, including over half of the Fortune 100 companies.

Access Portfolio Manager online  here.

Read the Portfolio Manager Quick Start Guide here to learn more and get started.

DOE Benchmarking Starter Kit

The Department of Energy created a simple step-by-step kit for local governments who are looking to start benchmarking their buildings. This kit includes a data collection worksheet and a catalog of Portfolio Manager trainings.

Access the Department of Energy’s Benchmarking Starter Kit online here.

Texas Benchmarking Toolkit

The State Energy Conservation Office, along with the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), created an online interactive Toolkit entirely devoted to energy benchmarking in Texas.

The Texas Energy Benchmarking Toolkit includes resources, case studies, and instructions on how to create a benchmarking plan for your community.

Access the complete Texas Energy Benchmarking Toolkit online here.

Building Operator Certification Program

The national Building Operator Certification (BOC) course builds on benchmarked data to optimize the energy management of any commercial building. BOC is a leading training and certification program for building operators and facility managers, and research indicates that graduates save their facilities an average of $11,000 per year in energy costs.

SPEER administers this program in Texas and Oklahoma, and several cities, companies, colleges, and utilities have participated in BOC locally.

Contact SPEER for information on how to organize or attend a BOC training.

SECO's Remote Audits and Preliminary Energy Assessments

SECO offers free remote energy audits and preliminary energy assessments to local governments in Texas, including cities and counties.

These assessments are conducted at no charge and are a great way for local governments to learn about energy efficiency opportunities in their facilities.

Utility bill analysis, recommended maintenance and retrofit procedures, informal on-site training, and facility benchmarking through Portfolio Manager are all included in these assessments.


Don’t miss out on this free resource – visit SECO’s website here to submit your preliminary energy assessment request form.

Technical Assistance: SPEER provides benchmarking technical assistance to local governments.  Contact SPEER and we can help you begin or revive your organization’s benchmarking program.