Energy efficiency is a vital goal in creating truly sustainable buildings, and green certification programs popularly recognize many such structures. But to maintain sustainability after a hard-won award is its own challenge. The call to continuously monitor and maintain a building’s green performance is growing stronger, creating opportunities for electrical contractors (ECs).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star for Buildings and Manufacturing Plants already allows its recipients to re-earn their award. Meanwhile, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is studying the post-building performance of selected recipients of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system awards. Such study could evolve LEED into a recertification program. LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance already requires an initial first three-months monitoring of water and energy data followed by a recertification on the building’s five-year anniversary. A yearly recertification is optional. Add to that a host of other organizations, code bodies, municipalities and states that want to create ongoing performance standards, and you have a burgeoning movement that can generate a real market for subcontractors and others.

USGBC’s Tom Hicks is the executive director of its Building Performance Initiative, which began in September 2009.

“The initiative is a way for general contractors, owners, architects and other designers involved in LEED to provide feedback and information to ensure a green building maintains or even outperforms its initial LEED certification and building performance,” Hicks said. “By summer 2010, the green performance of as many as 500 LEED-awarded buildings will be assessed. Initially, participants will supply utility information data for point of comparison.

“David Pogue, real estate guru and national director of sustainability for CB Richard Ellis, said, ‘If a building isn’t energy-efficient or green, it isn’t seen as a quality building.’ That’s a motivator for building owners, their brokers and agents to draw and keep tenants,” Hicks said.

In a series of initiative “summits” held in five major cities across the country last fall, participants voiced a need to work with building owners and operators to gather and monitor building performance.

“How that could alter LEED as it exists today was also discussed,” Hicks said. “Ideas put forth ranged from monitoring a building in practice before awarding it certification to recertification to maintain a LEED status. Each idea generated different pros and cons from summit participants.”

Related to the national Washington, D.C., office’s effort is a study the USGBC’s Chicago Chapter and other partners are conducting. In this multiyear inquiry funded by the Grand Victoria Foundation, building performance information has been initially collected from 22 LEED-certified buildings in the greater Chicago area.

“We found building performance to be all over the map,” said Doug Widener, LEED AP and executive director for USGBC-Chicago. “Some buildings exceeded their initial modeling in areas of energy efficiency; others fell below. After this early data gathering, one key conclusion of our Regional Green Building Case Study Project is the importance of adding performance measurement and analysis for those buildings that earn LEED certification.”

Hicks agreed and added, “Now is the time for electrical contractors to get up to speed on measurement and verification [M&V], because this discussion on better capturing and maintaining the green performance of a certified building will ramp quickly. Be prepared, and you can jump in to capture some of this looming business.”

LEED encompasses nine rating programs that include new and existing buildings and even neighborhood development. It rates not only energy efficiency but efficient water usage, air quality, site location, design innovation and other measurables.

Becoming a performance vendor

“Once a building opens, that rating system award is really just a small moment in the building life cycle,” Widener said. “If we want green buildings to operate as intended, they need to be maintained.”

Maura Cantor Beard, director of strategic communications for Energy Star Commercial and Industrial Buildings, EPA, calls this “measure what you manage.”

“Energy Star for commercial buildings and manufacturing plants is an annual recognition given every 12 months,” Beard said. “Recipients are encouraged to reapply once a year to earn a new Energy Star rating, thus promoting continual improvement in their building.”

Under this Energy Star program, there are 13 different types of buildings designated as “commercial.” They range from hospitals and hotels to offices and schools. Nine types of industrial/manufacturing plants also can be assessed, ranging from auto assembly to petroleum refining.

“Some Energy Star recipients display their award plaque as a point-in-history accomplishment,” Beard said. “Others pursue the recognition year-to-year in hopes of bettering their performance.”

Supporting the commercial and industrial portion of Energy Star is the Service and Product Providers Program (SPP). It’s where subcontractors and others can reach building/plant owners and managers to promote their building performance services. Robert Sauchelli serves as SPP program manager.

“Energy Star is really an energy-performance rating system and recognition program for high performers,” Sauchelli said. “The SPP is an opportunity for ECs who provide energy-efficiency services. Once accepted into the program as ‘SPPs,’ they are listed on our Web site and can be found by building owners and managers.”

Central to this Energy Star program is a free online resource called Portfolio Manager (www.energystar.gov/istar/pmpam). This interactive energy management tool (ideal for commercial structures) allows the user to track and assess a building’s energy and water consumption. To get a performance snap shot, the user inputs building square footage, number of occupants, hours of operation, energy bills (12 consecutive months), building location and ZIP code, and the number of computers in use. It helps establish a baseline and subsequent benchmarking.

The Portfolio Manager results are rated on a scale between 1 and 100. A rating of 75 (the threshold for Energy Star consideration) or higher represents the top 25 percent of similar buildings in the user’s region. By tracking and rating actual energy consumption, users can discover if a building’s energy design intent translates into efficient operation, energy savings and pollution prevention over time. Building commissioning is recommended to ensure that energy performance meets the intended goal. Sauchelli said California, New York and others are mandating the use of Portfolio Manager to yearly benchmark their commercial buildings’ performance. The tool can be useful regardless if an Energy Star rating is being pursued.

Plants are rated through a separate benchmarking method called the energy performance indicator. Plants must score within the top 25 percent of energy efficiency within their industry nationwide to earn Energy Star designation.

Other tools to measure ongoing performance

“This topic of maintaining green building performance is growing very quickly,” said Dan Harris, senior project manager at the New Building Institute (NBI). “Our institute is getting a lot of inquires on this topic from manufacturers of advanced meters and energy performance software companies, to building owners, general contractors and others.”

Headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., the staff of NBI strives to improve energy performance in commercial new construction by working in concert with national, regional, state and utility groups. NBI also manages projects involving building research, design guidelines and code activities.

NBI is embarking on a new initiative called “Design for Monitorability.”

“We are working to encourage methodologies and codes that result in persistent measured performance for buildings through a few key meter points and simplified analysis methods,” Harris said. “Careful consideration during design would incorporate measured performance to ensure simplified energy management for owners and operators.”

Energy Star notwithstanding, Harris agreed that if green certification programs (e.g., LEED) move to a recertification model, there is growing market opportunity for electrical contractors and others in the building industry. Harris suggested that while M&V of installed lighting systems, or alternative-energy sources, is certainly one avenue of service in helping keep a green building green, there are other sources, too.

“For example, while utilities may increasingly turn to installing technologies, such as smart meters, to create two-way communication for gathering whole-building energy usage, a building owner may turn to an EC to install a submeter,” Harris said.

“Submeters record and indicate exactly where energy is being used, be it specific equipment to broader office and plant spaces,” he said. “Energy use is recorded by when, where and how much. In fact, a meter can be assigned to monitor one thing while another can monitor something else.”

“In whole-building performance measurement, the utility-installed meter reads entire-building energy use,” Harris said. “Submetering allows you to categorize more easily and better problem solve. For instance, engineers can make determinations by capturing energy usage at a moment of time and isolate load for the purpose of load comparison.”

Energy information systems, which feature software packages that dig deeper into energy usage, are also of note for ECs. They can extract and plot performance and provide information on energy costs for financial managers. Offices can be equipped with dashboard displays showing carbon usage to provide feedback to employees (for more on these types of systems, see “On the Right Track,” on page 72).

“The ECs who can be a data acquisition resource have well positioned themselves for building performance work,” Harris said. “Learn about submetering products. Know the difference in the software platforms of energy information systems, and understand their data gathering capabilities. Learn whole-building sustainability rating programs. And know what’s going on in your state or municipality. They may have established their own building performance guidelines borrowing elements from both certification programs.”

Of note, Harris mentioned organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and ASTM International (originally American Society for Testing and Materials), are looking at developing their own tools to characterize building performance.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at gavocomm@comcast.net.