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Efficiency benchmarking for buildings gets automated with BC Hydro's new Web Services functionality

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Clients urged to use Portfolio Manager, and it just got easier to use

As consulting engineers, you're often asked by your clients to analyze the energy efficiency of facilities and verify how they compare to others. For this, you might use an industry-standard energy management system like ENERGY STAR's Portfolio Manager, which assesses monthly energy consumption and provides consistent, accurate comparisons against other buildings, or within a specific set of parameters.

Daniel Klemky, a manager at British Columbia's Building Operators and Managers Association (BOMA), helps building professionals improve their properties' energy consumption. Klemky recommends that all BOMA members adopt Portfolio Manager.

"The benefit of using an energy management information system like Portfolio Manager is that you can more effectively understand what is happening with your buildings," Klemky says.

That doesn't just help identify excessive consumption. Klemky says that tools like Portfolio Manager often yield surprising insights on energy usage and how to minimize it.

But Klemky says that there's often initial pushback, especially from small- to medium-sized businesses, because of the monthly process involved.

"I'm talking to our members about the benefits of and how they can better their business practices, the maintenance of their facilities, and general sustainability initiatives," says Klemky. "And then we go to actually set the systems up and we're having days of waiting time to get this information from some of the utilities.

"At that point members are even questioning whether it's even worth it."

Automating the building benchmarking process

Those customer barriers are familiar to BC Hydro policy specialist Katherine King. She says that's exactly why BC Hydro stepped up with improvements to the Portfolio Manager tool.

One key upgrade is a switch from manual input of consumption data to an automated upload of that data. Gone are the days when the only options were to manually copy 12 months of data from invoices, or to download from a spreadsheet, and then upload it to Portfolio Manager.

"We've recently launched new functionality that will automatically send the monthly consumption data to the Portfolio Manager tool," said King. As soon as customers sign up for the no-cost web service, it will upload up to three years of historic data to the tool.

In addition to small and medium businesses, King explains the automation will be of value to large commercial customers who manage buildings across Canada. "To enter that [volume of] information every month, even as a spreadsheet upload, was prone to errors and very, very onerous."

The automation – which kicked off in late October – will also offer significant benefits to Alliance members looking to help their customers with energy management services, facilitating better customer service and retention.

How-to guide for new 'Web Services' automation available online

BC Hydro is showcasing the new functionality, called Web Services, at a new Energy Efficiency Benchmarking web page where you'll find a how-to guide [PDF, 5.1 MB] and a quick start guide [PDF, 42 KB] to help start you on your way.

The team has also created a video to help guide Portfolio Manager users through the Web Services process.

BC Hydro's John McArthur, who is also involved with the automation project, stresses that the process is now a lot simpler.

"Once somebody has set up their building in Portfolio Manager, all they need is their BC Hydro account number and a couple of other small pieces of information to request that BC Hydro do the automatic updating," he says.

McArthur adds that the initial set-up takes no more than 15 minutes, after which information will upload automatically to Portfolio Manager on a monthly basis without any further intervention as long as the customer account is open.

The impact of greater ease of use

BC Hydro is one of the first utilities in Canada to widely introduce the automated functionality, but King and McArthur expect it won't be long before other utilities across Canada adopt the simplified system.

"Manitoba Hydro has launched the functionality, but they have only made it available for the government sector," said King. "They are now in the process of making it available for the commercial sector as well."

Klemky is optimistic that the Web Services functionality will lead to greater adoption and use of the Portfolio Manager tool for his B.C. clients, and beyond.

"Across the board, everyone is very excited about this functionality," said Klemky. "I think it's going to streamline everything. Hydro has been doing a lot of hard work on this project and we are really excited to see it come to fruition."