Major initiative brings property managers and owners closer to better energy management

This article originally appeared in the “Building Strategies and Sustainability” section of REMINetwork.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.

By Rebecca Melnyk, Online Editor, MediaEdge

With energy reporting initiative Green Button currently being rolled out in Ontario, property managers and building owners are a step closer to better managing their energy consumption.

After the U.S. White House initiated Green Button—challenging utility companies to provide energy consumption data to consumers in a downloadable format, adoption across Ontario has been successful.

The Ontario Ministry of Energy introduced Green Button in November 2012. MaRS Discovery District, which coordinates the initiative reports about 60 per cent of the province can now access the first component of the standard: Download My Data.

This standard allows property managers and business owners to download electricity data via utilities’ web portal in a readable format which can be shared with solution providers.

John Smiciklas, director of energy and environment with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada (BOMA), says that a standard to streamline and simplify the data gathering process could be a real advantage for BOMA members since there are currently 71 utilities in Ontario, each providing information in a unique way.

“The initiative in Ontario or Canada would allow our members to receive electrical consumption data in a consistent format, regardless of where their building is,” says Smiciklas. “It could be very significant going forward because in a lot of cases, tracking overall electricity consumption is a manual process based on the bills you receive.”

Green Button

Green Efficiency for Green Opportunity

According to Sasha Sud, energy data project manager for the MaRS Discovery District, users who need energy consumption data for reporting and benchmarking purposes, like BOMA BESt, LEED, GRESB and Race to Reduce, normally spend a considerable amount of time collecting bills in paper or digital format.

“It can be time-intensive and you’re not spending a lot of your energy analyzing that information or doing added-value things to help you manage your building better,” he says.

But now that data can be compounded, Sud points out that the second component of Green Button offers an opportunity to leverage its access, as users could automatically integrate the data with helpful solution providers.

One example utilizes the known benefits of benchmarking tools like Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a tool under consideration for connection to Green Button. With this integration, property managers will be able to tell their utility to send electricity data directly into Portfolio Manager, easing the process.

Building owners and managers can contact their utilities to know how to access their Green Button data.

Green Pilot

Now in a pilot phase with London Hydro and Hydro One, the second component called Connect My Data will enable building managers and owners to permit utilities to safely share their usage data with solution providers who can offer dynamic energy management services.

Users will also have an array of building management services to choose from as innovators and entrepreneurs begin to develop new services using the approved data they receive.

There are about 50 Green Button users participating in the pilot program, which ends sometimes next summer. Syed Mir, vice-president of corporate services and chief information officer at London Hydro, explains the utility is also promoting self-service through a property manager portal, which is helping users to analyze their own data and notice trends between buildings they own or manage. The goal is to provide more applications moving towards an application store where each app is tested for security reasons.

Managing Energy Costs

Financial empowerment is a key factor in the Green Button standard. The data is free for users, who can also set target amounts for billing cycles. Somewhat like a phone with a set data limit, users could also set a limit for how much energy their buildings use with continual updates. For example, if the target rate is $10,000 a month, halfway through the month, the third party application could alert the user that the bill has reached $7,000, and could exceed the identified target. The application might then provide even more sophisticated feedback on the set-point temperature in the user’s building, suggesting how to maintain the target and save energy.

Data Privacy

Privacy of this data is one concern when it is shared with third party recipients. Smiciklas points to recent data breaches and says he anticipates some building owners might not be as open as others. However, from his general impression, the membership is supportive and excited about the various ways business might be simplified.

“The customer is always in control; they determine how much information is sent to the service provider, at what granularity, at what frequency, how long, and they can change their mind at any time,” adds Sud. “If they’re not happy with the service that a provider is giving, they can contact the utility and cancel that shared information at any point in time.”

Tenant Engagement

Caroline Bordeaux, project and partnership coordinator at MaRS Discovery District, says the standard can also support building managers with tenant engagement strategies since tenants help conserve energy. Trying to improve literacy of people who are not experts in energy will drive energy conservation instead of struggling to find ways to engage them.

The pilot program is expected to be completed sometime next summer, along with feedback and survey results.

To learn more about how to access your Green Button data and take advantage of the pilot, you can visit Green Button website (greenbuttondata.ca) and contact your utility.