How To Benchmark Energy Use

Benchmarking a facility is straightforward: it entails compiling one year's worth of utility bills in a spreadsheet. Depending on individuals' aptitudes and internal coordination, the process may take 1−4 person-hours.

Finding the right people is key; it may take only one person or a few. But someone should be comfortable with a spreadsheet and someone should have access to the utility bills. Asking others for help is a good opportunity to foster connections, to build community, and to initiate the group that will continue on to the next steps together.

Although numerous analytical tools exist, JCAN recommends the footprint calculator provided by our great local resource: Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light (MIP&L). This calculator, which we will explain in detail, is a spreadsheet geared specifically for houses of worship.

If at any point you have questions; please contact jewishclimateaction@gmail.com for answers, (also because we are compiling Bentshmarking FAQs).

The following guidelines help you use the spreadsheet and derive useful information from the results.

1. Gather the Data

During this process, you will input at least one recent full calendar year’s worth of data, from January through December, for each utility: electricity, gas, oil, and propane, as appropriate. You will transcribe two figures at a time:

  • Total dollars paid

  • Units of energy (gallons of oil, therms of gas, kwh of electricity)

How to collect the data depends on the utility:

  • You might work from a full set of individual invoices, paper or electronic.
  • A single invoice may show the previous twelve months of consumption. In that case, however, usage might appear only in units of energy, not dollars. Not entering dollars now will save time, but the information will be useful later.
  • In many cases, with the account number(s) in hand, you can just call the utility company and ask for the respondent to read out a year’s worth of bills over the phone. It takes only a couple of minutes.

Keep all the gathered data. It will come in handy as you go forward.

Entering data for more than one recent year can be helpful, but not critical.

2. Enter the Data

The MIP&L calculator is a spreadsheet in Excel. Save it on your hard drive. When you open the file, make sure you are on the Instructions page. Each page in the spreadsheet can be reached through a tab.

In general, all you have to do is fill in the green boxes on each appropriate page, such as “Electricity”, “Oil”, or “Gas”. The tool makes the calculations automatically.

Please report back to jewishclimateaction@gmail.com any problems or questions.

3. Key Results

After you have filled out the MIP&L spreadsheet, the yellow boxes on the "UtilSum" tab will be populated. (If not, they may be set to sum for the wrong year, so a little manipulation might be needed to create sums for 2014 or 2015. For spreadsheet help, reach out to others in your group or to us at JCAN.)

The two final figures are the “bottom line” of the benchmark:

  • Cell B39, "CO2 lbs 2013," is your carbon footprint.
  • Cell B40, "kBTU per SF for 2013," is your energy intensity.

Note that kBTU is a unit of energy, and SF means "square foot."

Please report your figures back to JCAN at jewishclimateaction@gmail.com.

4. Interpreting Your Data

Energy intensity can be compared with other institutions. For synagogues, this statement from the MIP&L website provides some comparison:

The US Energy Information Administration calculates that the average house of worship in the Northeast uses 50 kBTU per square foot per year.

So knowing whether you are much above or a bit below average might provide a decent, rough, initial perspective.

The spreadsheet shows:

  1. Which fuel costs the most money
  2. Which fuel contributes the most carbon emissions

It is important to note that these two are not necessarily the same.

5. You can compare two years

Example: If you entered both 2013 and 2014 data, you can see how the later year's heating energy use compares to the earlier. Degree days for heating or cooling take into account whether a season was especially warm or cold.

  1. On the UtilSum page, look at relative heating use: either cell G32 for gas or J32 for oil. That compares 2014 to 2013.
  2. Compare that number to H32, which shows that 2014 was only about 4% colder (more heating-degree days) than 2013.
  3. If G32 or J32 is close to H32, that provides some confidence that your heating use is “tracking” the weather; that nothing much changed in  your heating system between 2013 and 2014. Changes could be caused by thermostat settings, insulation levels, a new boiler, etc.

Here’s another aspect of the year-to-year comparison:The spreadsheet is set up by calendar year, January-December. Therefore, only the beginning of the 2014-2015 winter heating season is reflected in 2014: you can see that by the end of December 2014, the heating-degree days for the calendar year was only slightly colder than the previous year (H32 = 104%). The record-breaking cold and snow that winter did not start until the end of January 2015, and will be reflected only when calculating energy use for 2015.

Benchmarking the energy use of an existing building, even when done by skilled technicians, is an inexact science and an inexact tool. However, as a first step it is very important.

So, יישר כוח - Yasher koach for achieving this step!

As part of your ongoing energy assessments, you may want to repeat this exercise each year.

Or, for more serious, ongoing energy management of your facility, JCAN recommends that it enroll in Portfolio Manager.