Commercial Building Asset Rating Program Focused HEA and REA Stakeholder Webinar (text version)

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) held a Webinar discussing the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Commercial Building Asset Rating Program. Cody Taylor, who works on commercial building energy-efficiency policy at DOE and is managing the development of the program, discussed DOE's recent Request for Information to solicit input on key issues associated with the program's development. This Webinar was recommended for Hospital Energy Alliance (HEA) and Retailer Energy Alliance (REA) members.

Below is the text version of the Webinar titled "Commercial Building Asset Rating Program Focused Stakeholder Webinar," originally presented on August 31, 2011. In addition to this text version of the audio, you can view the presentation slides and a recording of the Webinar (WMV 6 MB).

Nora Wang:
Hey, good morning everyone, and welcome to the DOE Commercial Building Asset Rating Webinar. We'll be starting in a couple minutes. Thanks for your patience.

Welcome everyone. I'm Nora Wang with Pacific Northwest National Lab. I am the moderator for today's Webinar. I'm glad you could join us for our Webinar today about the Department of Energy's Commercial Building Asset Rating Program.

Today's Webinar is a targeted group Webinar, and through this Webinar we hope to facilitate your review of the RFI, also address some of the specific questions you may have. Our audience today is mainly the corporate building owner and user of the asset rating tool in the future.

A few logistical announcements before we begin. Today's Webinar—we didn't set to broadcast mode, which means everybody can talk through the phone and you can ask questions and make comments. So please mute your phone when you're not talking and please also do not put the call on hold, otherwise everybody will be listening to the music. When you speak, please let us know your name.

We are very happy to have our presenter today, Cody Taylor. Cody works on commercial building energy-efficiency policy at the U.S. Department of Energy and is managing the development of the Commercial Building Asset Rating Program. I would now like to turn the call over to Cody. Cody, please begin.

Cody Taylor:
Thanks, Nora. Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us today. One additional logistical note is that I really want to spend our hour today not as a big presentation from DOE to you, but as a chance for us to have a conversation about this. And I know for those of you who were able to attend the larger Webinar last week that was very one-way, just sort of going over what was in the RFI.

But the purpose today is for me to learn what you think about some of the key issues. And obviously, the official way to put in comments on the development of the Asset Rating Program is through the RFI, and those are the comments that DOE can consider. But I think that having a little more conversational approach here today can help me better understand the thinking behind some of those comments that may come in.

So thanks for taking the time to be here. So I'll jump in—I have a few slides that I will go through again to try to set the stage and then to give us jumping-off points for discussion. So I invite anybody to interrupt me to ask questions or make comments whenever appropriate, and the rest of the time please do keep your phone on mute so that we don't end up hearing your background noise wherever you are.

So this first slide is just noting some of the objectives of the Asset Rating Program. And—I'm sorry, can you identify yourself? All right, I'll assume I should keep going.

So our objectives here include allowing—enabling stakeholders to better understand the energy use by particular energy systems within the buildings, establishing a national standard to help stakeholders make decisions about building energy efficiency, cost-effectively helping building owners initiate energy-efficiency actions, that is, upgrades to the buildings, helping buildings advance and move toward best in class, and providing a feedback loop so that as they do that, buildings can demonstrate their improvements, and providing a system that can act as a trusted signifier of energy-related attributes, that is, something that is standardized and that you know what it means when you see a report from the DOE Asset Rating system.

So the first thing I just wanted to address was how this may line up with EPA's ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager tool. So we're working with the EPA in coordination on this and our intent is to create a tool at DOE that provides an asset rating as a complement to an operational rating, which is what I would characterize Portfolio Manager as. So that operational rating that you can get out of Portfolio Manager today measures the outcomes, that is, your energy bills, but doesn't really allow much differentiation between what's driving those outcomes.

That is, is it—is a particular outcome because of the physical systems in your building or because of the way it's operated? An asset rating, on the other hand, is something that can measure the efficiency of the actual building systems and control for differences in operations. So the two are intended to work together, and if they are used together, they can potentially differentiate opportunities for improvement in the building systems or on the operations and maintenance side, and one of the goals of an asset rating system is to allow us to relatively rapidly add new building types to the system so that it doesn't take years for us to include new building types as they come along.

So again, just a little more on the scope of asset rating and operational rating and how they relate to each other—so the asset rating, as I mentioned, addresses the physical systems in the building or installed components—so envelope systems, heating and cooling, lighting systems, all of those specific pieces of the building. While the operational rating addresses the building overall outcomes, and that includes schedule—that includes the operational characteristics such as scheduling, maintenance that is or is not happening, specific facility management or building management systems, and the rest of the plug loads that may or may not be present in a particular building.

So I want to go over some of what we see the potential role as here. And there are a number of different pieces. You can see I've denoted on the left some of them we think that—you can get these uses simply by using the asset rating tool, and some of them we think you might want to use an asset rating and an operational rating in tandem to extract additional value from this.

So these potential roles include that the asset rating tool can help to disaggregate energy use components and guide building owners toward efficiency improvements in specific building systems, that is, helping you understand whether it's your boiler that is inefficient or your air handling unit or your lighting system, something like that. At the whole-building level, you may have an overall efficiency rating, but how does that break down at the system level? It should also allow an apple-to-apples comparison across buildings that controls for operations maintenance and occupant behavior, since those things can be unique to a particular owner or operator.

And because we know that building performance is impacted by a number of different factors, controlling for these can help to—help potential investors or lessees of a new building to understand how it compares to another building. We also hope this can provide a means for owners to evaluate and compare the operational performance of their buildings. And again, this is something that requires both asset rating and operational rating together so that you could differentiate that a particular building is performing well because of its operations if you know that its physical plant is similar to another building.

It can also help provide some insight into the potential for capital improvements and provide tenants with a means of understanding their impact on the building. If they can understand what the base-level efficiency of the building's systems are, then they can tell how much they're affecting that through their operations and actions. And it can also, I think importantly, allow some recognition of improvements in efficiency for buildings that are not necessarily meeting the ENERGY STAR level of a 75 to get the ENERGY STAR score in that system, but still are making improvements over time and want to be clearly recognized for that.

So the asset rating also, I think, is intended to provide a simple tool that can give initial efficiency recommendations for buildings. That really serves as a starting point for more specific and detailed analysis. We don't, as I mentioned on the Webinar last week, expect anyone to substitute using this tool for an actual energy audit.

That's not the intention here, but it may provide some directional help, again, in saying which systems are most ripe for energy upgrades based on a systems-level efficiency. And used with operational rating it may, across a portfolio of buildings, be helpful in differentiating where the opportunities for capital improvements are as opposed to operational improvements or, say, facility manager training, for example, by helping you differentiate which buildings are performing well because of their physical plant or poorly because of their physical plant, vs. those buildings that are performing well or poorly because of the way they're operated. As I mentioned before, it can also allow a little bit more disaggregation of tenant activity and the impacts of tenant activity, since tenants in some buildings may have limited ability to actually affect the physical plant of the building, but can still change operations.

Overall, we hope that the asset rating can provide a feedback loop for owners and operators, designers of buildings, modelers, and a number of other stakeholders who you can see here, to better understand improvements in buildings over time. And finally, and this is the last slide in this set—we think that the asset rating can be something that really drives value in buildings and can become the basis for—become a basis for lending on building efficiency projects by helping to have a standardized definition of building efficiency and providing a method for tracking both before any changes are made and then potentially, in companionship with an operational rating, tracking over time the persistence of those improvements.

So I want to go to some of the issues that were raised on the RFI. And the first of those are the types of metrics that the asset rating system would actually present in a rating report that a building owner would receive after using the asset rating tool. And we have a number of metrics that we think are likely to be valuable, including site energy use differentiated by field, that is, electricity, natural gas, purchased steam or chilled water, and any other fuels used by the building on site.

There's source energy use, which is—takes all of those individual site energy uses and rolls them up into a single figure that can be comparable from one building to another, and comparable between fuel types. There's a cost metric and there's a greenhouse gas metric. All of these are potentials.

Now these are—this is one of the areas where it would be helpful for us to know how you would use various of these metrics. Which would you find most useful, how would you put these into use in your organization? So that's something I'm curious about. Do any of you have thoughts about that now?

Mike Roby:
How—this is Mike Roby with Cibiari. How—you mentioned earlier the ability to parse specific load segments, specific pieces of equipment even.

Cody Taylor:
Right.

Mike Roby:
It seems to me that's—I mean, can you talk a little about that because I mean, you talk about a site energy metric by fuel, which is nice, source energy metric, which is nice, and so forth, but it seems to me where potentially the real value is being able to point to specifically the systems that, you know, potentially could be improved. And I guess a broader question is, one way to characterize this rating essentially what the potential of the building and its in-place systems are?

Cody Taylor:
Let's see. So a couple thoughts there ....

Mike Roby:
When operated well, let's say?

Cody Taylor:
Yeah, I think that to your last point first, that we're not trying to define it as the potential in the sense that it's sort of the best that the building could possibly be—rather, that we would use some standard operating assumptions, and of course, need to define what those would be for a particular building type. But using some standard operating assumptions to control for operations and only look at the physical plant side, but not to say that that's the highest that it could potentially—the highest efficiency that could potentially be reached. So that someone who did better than the standard operating assumptions could in fact be a better score or a lower energy use than we estimated.

Mike Roby:
So a diagnostic, more than anything else?

Cody Taylor:
Yes, yeah. And I think that to your point about the systems-level metrics, let's talk a little more about that. I only put the whole-building-level metrics on this page, but what would you find the most useful at the systems level? Our current thoughts are that we could have systems-level efficiency ratings and then recommendations at that level, but I'm not sure what you would actually find useful.

Mike Roby:
I think anything that would be indicative or would allow us to focus investigation along a particular line for a particular building, so something that might say, for instance, well compared to something. And we'd have to agree what something is.

Cody Taylor:
Right.

Mike Roby:
You know, your lighting systems are not, you know, not the most efficient they could be. Or you have, you know, chillers—your cost, wire to water efficiency of your chiller plant and cooling towers are high or low. Your overall plug load consumption is high or low.

The characteristics of your envelope are very efficient or not, so—I mean, something along those lines. I mean, we can get a certain level of building-level metrics out of ENERGY STAR now.

Cody Taylor:
Right.

Mike Roby:
Agreed. They have to be normalized for all kinds of things, like whether or not hours of operation and numbers of computers and things like that, but I'm probably more intrigued—and this is honestly the first I've had a chance to take a look at what you're doing—but I'm probably more intrigued with the diagnostic capability than anything else.

Cody Taylor:
Great; that's good to know. And how does that strike others—OK?

Mike Roby:
Well, maybe I'll throw something out there, again as a question …

Cody Taylor:
Sure.

Mike Roby:
… and see what other people say, but one concern I have with this on an overall basis is, you know, we have ENERGY STAR, we have, you know, the DOE's Superior Energy Performance Program, we have ISO 50001, we have ISO 14001, we have—ASHRAE has an asset and operational rating system of some kind. It seems to be—we seem to be multiplying these rating systems. Do we really need—has anybody asked the question, do we really need another system?

I guess what's driving this is—the bottom line is kind of what's driving this? What's the agency trying to accomplish by deploying this? And, you know, what kind of conversations maybe you've had with owners around how it might impact the value of their facility, which I think is going to be a pretty sensitive thing? So I'll just, you know, throw that out there as kind of the big question I've got, and see if anybody else wants to chime in.

Cody Taylor:
Sure. So I can note from the DOE's side that the agency intent with this is sort of the things I went over in the previous several slides about the goals that we think we can meet with this in terms of accomplishing—giving building owners the ability to have a little more insight into their buildings than they can get currently out of Portfolio Manager and moving toward a national standard rating system that we can use for commercial buildings that separates out operations and can look just at the physical plant. But I'm certainly curious to hear from other folks what you think about what Mike just said.

All right, we're a quiet bunch today. And that's fine. So Mike, from your perspective, if we do use this to communicate information about system-level efficiencies and what's working well or not working well or what is high performing or not high performing, that's something that would be a value add from your perspective, as long as we were able to do that in a way that didn't cost too much to use the system?

Mike Roby:
Well, perhaps. There are also other tools out there that can do that.

Cody Taylor:
Right.

Mike Roby:
Commercially available tools that are also pretty inexpensive. Yeah, I think anything that helps us focus on, you know, potential areas to improve is possibly useful. I think you're assuming that because this information would be available, that means building owners would take more actions in terms of energy efficiency than they're taking today. I'm not sure that's a valid leap.

Cody Taylor:
Well, I wouldn't say that it's ever that easy.

Mike Roby:
Yeah.

Cody Taylor:
But certainly, information availability is just one step.

Mike Roby:
Right.

Cody Taylor:
OK, well let's keep moving on. And if other folks want to chime in, please feel free to do so. So I wanted to talk a little bit about potential scales for a rating and how to represent differences in buildings.

So a couple options we have here are a straight numeric scale similar to the miles per gallon that you would have on a vehicle. For a building, that might be something like source BTUs per square foot per year. That would be an energy intensity rating without a score, and some kind of reference that would change based on building type and climate zone.

And on the other hand, we could translate that into a point scale so that a specific number of BTUs translated into a point and therefore, rather than having to understand what energy intensity really meant, it could just be very simply presented as a 1 to 100 score, similar to what you see with Portfolio Manager. That kind of divorces it from the actual energy use a little bit. So I'm curious about which of these options, or perhaps something else, you think would be most meaningful.

OK, if there are no comments or thoughts, we can keep moving on. So I wanted to talk a little bit also about the time and effort required to use an asset rating system. And what we're currently envisioning is the use of a centralized tool on the Web, so that modeling costs for actual building owners are reduced.

And this is a substantial difference between what we're considering and the ASHRAE system, for example, as I currently understand it, although it's not final. And that we'd like to present a user experience that is fairly similar to what you see with Portfolio Manager. That is, you enter some data through a Web form and you get your results right there.

And so that is quite different from something that requires you to collect data and hire an energy modeler to create an energy model and then have the results based on that, which is my understanding of the ASHRAE bEQ system. And so I'm curious to hear how this strikes people, what I've laid out here.

So the other issue here is on some kind of credentialed signoff. And that's something we're considering, whether some specific credentialed professional should be required to sign off in order to receive an official rating, that is, whether it be a professional engineer, a certified energy auditor, something of that nature, and separately, whether any kind of third-party verification should be required on ratings. Would either of these have bearing from your perspective on making this a credible rating in your eyes? OK, happy to keep moving.

This was just a graphical representation of what I described in terms of a user simply using an asset rating application on the Web and directly getting out a rating as a set of potential improvement opportunities that have been identified, and then also possibly what the potential rating of the building would be after completing those improvements. And we would also envision potential links to Portfolio Manager so that if you had already put your buildings into Portfolio Manager, you could at least port over what information was there in terms of existing address labels and things like that to the asset rating tool. And there may also be links to other third-party applications.

LEED is one clear example. If the LEED system were to utilize asset rating scores as part of its interview points, then the system could—our asset rating system could directly link to LEED online in order to assist those buildings pursuing LEED certification in efficiently transferring the data. Does this raise any questions or concerns for anyone?

So I wanted to ask a little also about how you think the ASHRAE—or pardon me, how you think the asset rating tool might interact with some of the other systems out there, and those include the ASHRAE bEQ system and Green Building rating systems, such as LEED. On the bEQ side, we envision that the DOE Asset Rating may provide an entry point for the greater depth of analysis required in the ASHRAE bEQ program for those wishing to complete the full bEQ rating. And for those who don't, it may be a lower cost alternative.

I'm also curious, again, to the question we heard from Mike earlier, if anyone has any thoughts on how this, in your mind, would best interact with something like Portfolio Manager or exporting data to something like LEED or ASHRAE's bEQ system.

So I know there's not a lot of feedback, but I'm going to keep asking questions in case you have any responses. And do you have any thoughts on how an asset rating could be used to support other programs that you currently participate in or run internally in your organizations?

In that case, I'm going to ask if there are any final comments or questions from anyone else. This group has been very quiet today, but if you have anything else on your mind, now would be a great time to mention it.

OK, well thank you for your time today and for joining, and I look forward to chatting with any of you who have any specific suggestions. And of course, if you do have comments on the RFI, please submit them through the process described in the RFI, which is at the link on your screen. And I look forward to talking with you as we continue to develop this program. Thank you very much.

Nora Wang:
Thanks to all of you for your participation today. This concludes our Webinar. You may all disconnect, thank you.

[End of audio]