Article Date: 06/28/2013

Contractors, Building Owners and Managers, Among Others Are Expected to Benefit from a New DOE Database, But What Are the Drawbacks?

By Steve Rizer


What are the disadvantages of a new database that is expected to promote more energy efficiency in buildings and benefit contractors, building owners and managers, and others in the process? In an interview with ConstructionPro Week (CPW), National Institute of Building Sciences Director of the Consultative Council/Presidential Advisor Ryan Colker expressed some concerns about the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) new Buildings Performance Database (BPD).  


When asked, “What, if any, drawbacks are there to this type of database?”, Colker responded, “While it is incredibly important to start the initiative to collect all building energy data in a single repository, there are a few drawbacks. First, the buildings represented in the database are likely those that have some level of management and a basic understanding of the importance of benchmarking; this already tends to eliminate poorer-performing buildings. Second, building owners may put too much faith in the results compared to their buildings; if their buildings fall near the average of their peers, then they may be unlikely to invest in any improvements (even if cost effective). Finally, with the constantly changing data within the database, it may be hard to do trend analyses.”


BPD is believed to be the largest free, publicly available database of residential and commercial building energy performance information. BPD, which DOE unveiled last week, will allow users to access energy performance data and perform statistical analyses on approximately 60,000 commercial and residential buildings across the United States.


The database includes information on buildings’ locations, ages, sizes and functions, electricity and fuel consumption, equipment information, and operational characteristics. The data also can be used to compare performance trends among similar buildings, identify and prioritize cost-saving energy-efficiency improvements, and assess the range of likely savings from these improvements. An application programming interface will allow external software developers to incorporate analytical results from the database into their own tools and services.


Database tools have been designed to meet the content and usability needs of public agencies, building owners and managers, contractors, administrators of energy-efficiency programs, and financial institutions, according to DOE, which reported that more than 1,000 users have tested the site since March. The agency hopes that public and private stakeholders will continue to submit data and expand the resource. All data is made anonymously and is protected by stringent privacy and security protocols, the department noted.


Colker further commented, “One significant issue I see with the database is the lack of transparency on the sources of the data. While I understand the need for confidentiality, the trustworthiness of the data is dependent on the manner in which it was collected. There is a significant difference between data collected in conjunction with an application for Energy Star and data submitted by an individual building owner. The data is only as valid as [the] least-trustworthy entry. Until these types of questions are addressed, I do not see widespread use of the data to influence business decisions (particularly financial and insurance) beyond individual building owners.”


The database was developed for DOE’s Building Technologies Office by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Building Energy Inc.


The ConstructionPro Network member version of this article contains transcripts of CPW's interviews with Colker and Alliance to Save Energy Senior Policy and Technology Advisor Jeffrey Harris on this topic, new federal estimates for long-term energy usage in the commercial and residential sectors, DOE's new challenge for cost-effective wireless sub-meters, and new DOE awards for more energy-efficient lighting products. To sign up for a membership, click here.



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