Wisconsin Multifamily Benchmark

October 29, 2015
November/December 2015
This online-only article is a supplement to the November/December 2015 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Multifamily

Sometimes you get a grand idea for something. You work and work on it. And it goes nowhere. And it dies. On other occasions, you start this simple thing that was really only meant to answer one question or to solve one problem. But instead it takes off, and the more you work on it, the more you realize that it’s turning out to be way more valuable than you thought. And can be used to answer many questions.

In 2007, Scott Pigg and I described how Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) set out to measure the actual energy performance of Madison, Wisconsin, multifamily buildings (see “Wisconsin Multifamily Benchmark,” HE Mar/Apr ’07, p. 32). At that time, MGE's goal was simply to give its customers a sense of electricity and gas costs across a range of larger multifamily properties.

We had no idea how valuable the experience would be.

Multifamily Building Comparison Tool

Eight years later, MGE has transitioned from the original study to a free on-demand service that our multifamily owners or managers can apply for on our website. MGE calls this service the Multifamily Building Comparison Tool.

The Multifamily Services department at MGE has continued to work with our Web Services department and with Seventhwave (formally known as the Energy Center of Wisconsin) to expand the scope of the original project. We now provide the Multifamily Building Comparison Tool to almost 100 buildings or groups of buildings. Each building or group of buildings has been assigned a confidential site number, known only to the building manager and to MGE. Building managers may enroll sites containing 8 or more living units. The average site so far contains 66 living units.

Once a multifamily manager applies for this free service, the whole site's aggregate energy use is visible on our website, indexed by the secret site number. The site’s performance rating is updated every calendar year with that year's data.

Managers can now compare their own buildings, in myriad ways, to other multifamily buildings in the same geographical area. And this is accomplished without revealing the identity of any site. Of course, managers can reveal their property's site number, brag about its performance, and even link to our website if they wish. Or they can get to work on improving their rating and brag later.

MGE provides these comparisons using actual metered energy use of both gas and electricity, and the cost of each to both owner and tenants. We compare annualized energy costs in different ways: by total dollars; by owner, residential, or commercial tenants; by heating type; by weather- normalized heating and cooling; and by base load (see Figures 1–6). Weather normalization is performed where heating and cooling use is disaggregated.

In addition to energy cost comparisons, MGE provides energy use comparisons. These comparisons are expressed in kilowatt-hours, in therms, and in site and source KBtu per square foot per year (see Figures 7–9). Like the cost comparisons, the use comparisons are broken out in terms of annual total, heating, cooling, and base-load use per square foot per year.

These breakouts enable discussions to take place between the managers regarding performance and budget in these categories.

Additional Benefits

Could the Multifamily Building Comparison Tool be used in other sectors? The jury is still out on this, but the service does appear to perform well with any residential or commercial building that has a fairly predictable and consistent gas and electric base load. This makes possible a more accurate heating and cooling disaggregation. Our multifamily owners and managers have found this service valuable as a comparison tool and as a predictor of budgets. It also gives MGE a good conversation starter when discussing and promoting energy conservation, and when solving specific energy problems. In some ways, the tool allows us to know more about their building's energy use than they do. That usually places us in a good position to get and keep their attention.

MGE's voluntary Multifamily Building Comparison Tool is in stark contrast to the mandatory energy benchmarking ordinances now in effect in cities like New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. Many building managers in those cities skip the hassle of using EPA's Portfolio Manager to report those benchmarking requirements by paying an energy service company to handle the reporting requirements.

Mark Faultersack recently retired after 30-plus years in the energy industry. He most recently served as Madison Gas and Electric’s multifamily services manager.

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