Portfolio property owners face unprecedented pressure from the market to upgrade their building stock to be more intelligent, comfortable and environmentally sustainable. Yet, most retrofits miss the distinct needs of their owners, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). The diverse nature of commercial buildings, combined with a proliferation of emerging technology and consequent performance and financial uncertainty, make simple energy optimization initiatives – which could greatly reduce energy use and improve building value – challenging to evaluate and costly to access. But by using a new toolset encompassing tested and proven best practices, portfolio owners can overcome these challenges and reap savings, RMI says in a new report.
Over the past two years, RMI has been developing tools and processes specifically for portfolio owners. The tools and processes have proven themselves with positive savings, via hands-on testing with companies like outdoor clothing retailer REI.
REI Explores What’s Possible, Drives Environmental Change
For example, working with the Rocky Mountain Institute and using these best practices, REI conducted a portfolio energy analysis that revealed the company could cut energy use in its stores by 39%, with a four-year payback. “This is surprising considering that REI stores already perform better than the industry standard, with an average Energy Star score above 75,” says Kirk Myers, the company’s senior manager of sustainability.
Myers says the goal of working with RMI was not just to cut the company’s own energy use: like other companies devoted to helping improve environmental responsibility across all industries, Myers and his team wanted to “drive real change to protect the outdoors for generations to come… We want to show other companies a process they can use to reduce their own energy use. We want to show real estate owners what’s possible,” says Myers. “If we can use RMI’s process to minimize our environmental footprint while enabling and guiding others to follow our lead, that’s how we’ll really win.”
Real Companies, Real Challenges, Real Opportunities
Despite the rewards of energy retrofits, building owners face challenges in making them happen. Constantly changing technology – and the difficulty of quantifying savings from such new technology – lead to uncertainty in terms of evaluating the potential failure or success of such projects.
These challenges contribute to a slow adoption rate by property owners in terms of smart building technology and energy retrofits. But by taking a streamlined, portfolio-based approach to building performance optimization, commercial portfolio owners will be able to treat energy as an investable asset in the portfolio. In fact, says RMI, such an approach will allow commercial building owners and investors to capture their share of a $290 billion net-present-value opportunity that has so far been untapped by more traditional, building-by-building retrofit approaches.
Report & Toolset May Help
The RMI Capturing Value through Portfolio Energy Optimization report outlines the best practices that it developed through hands-on engagements with four clients. Additionally, RMI has built a new consulting-based model, supported by a software toolset, to “aid portfolio property owners seeking rigorous financial analysis on a holistic set of energy opportunities across their portfolios,” the organization says.
Why a consulting model backed by software? “Our reasoning is to ensure efficient information about a building portfolio is collected, while maintaining a user-friendly experience,” according to RMI. The result so far is software with a heavy focus on analytics, but without a clean user interface, the company explains. It currently requires a trained consultant to use and is executed through the computer’s command prompt. RMI is collaborating with Blueprint from University of California Berkeley to develop a web-based data collection platform for property owners, but intends to retain the consulting-based model for the analytics, RMI says.
“Asking organizations to deploy difficult and time intensive energy projects can be challenging when building energy isn’t part of their core business. To directly support this industry need, Rocky Mountain Institute has focused on developing a toolset that eliminates the challenges of identifying and prioritizing investment in energy projects across portfolios of buildings,” says Phil Keuhn, manager of the buildings practice at RMI. “Having an actionable investment strategy rooted in project economics can help jumpstart retrofits at an unprecedented scale, as well as enable portfolio owners and investors to capture new sources of value.”