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Building a better measure of energy efficiency

| February 18, 2014

All energy expenditure is not created equal. At least, that’s what engineering consultancy Buro Happold says.

energy efficiency

The building energy-efficiency coefficient measures economic output to assess how green a building may be. From Wonderlane.

The worldwide professional problem-solvers developed an innovative new way to evaluate a building’s energy efficiency. Their approach looks at how the energy is being used, not just how much energy is being used.

This all started with a law that went into effect in New York City in 2011, known as Local Law 84. The law stated that, if a building measured more than 50,000 square feet (as many New York City buildings do), those responsible for the building must submit an “annual energy benchmark” detailing energy expenditures.

The idea was to hold building owners accountable for energy usage, but the benchmarks raised some problems. “Overnight, available in a big spreadsheet, was a huge set of information for almost all buildings in New York City,” said Buro Happold associate Steven Baumgartner in a recent Fast Company feature.

The benchmarks reflected Energy Use Intensity (EUI). EUI measures energy output per square foot.

Suddenly, with information on EUIs for all large NYC buildings publicly available for the first time, a game of “Nyah, nyah, nyah, we’re more efficient than you” was born. A lot of the information revealed proved surprising to many. For instance, the Fast Company feature notes, “One Bryant Park, a LEED platinum certified building, consumes twice as much energy as the Empire State Building.”

These surprising results are precisely the crux of the issue. Buro Happold representatives assert that EUI shouldn’t actually be conflated with efficiency.

Thus, they set to work on a new measure that would, in their opinion, more accurately represent the energy efficiency of a building. The result: the building-energy-efficiency coefficient. (We’re going to have to find it in our hearts to forgive them for that incredibly cumbersome name.)

The building energy-efficiency coefficient measures energy use per unit of economic output. That’s a big difference from measuring energy use per square foot. Baumgartner explains, “To me, efficiency is how productive you’re being with energy. You’re using energy to drive commerce.”

The building energy-efficiency coefficient essentially means that, to be green, you have to produce green. (Sorry for the pun. We couldn’t resist.)

Creating the building energy-efficiency coefficient and applying it to New York City wasn’t exactly a simple process. Since economic output for individual buildings isn’t readily available, Buro Happold had to collaborate with a commercial real estate information company to compile data on standard industrial classification codes. Those codes are linked to GDP data, which helped paint a picture of economic output per building.

Unfortunately, that convoluted route to information means that the building energy-efficiency coefficient isn’t readily translatable to other metropolitan areas just yet. But, if Buro Happold has their way, it will be in the future.


Category: Energy

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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