Next Step After CBECS: Defining the Path Forward

As reported in our June 14 post, the 2011 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) was suspended following Congressionally-mandated budget cuts to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). CBECS has been the nation’s only source of statistical data on energy use and related characteristics of commercial buildings, and its disruption creates a dearth of credible data on building energy use and poses serious challenges for the green building and energy sectors. With the failure of the 2007 CBECS, the latest available data is from 2003—nearly a decade old. While problematic, this has also opened the door to addressing data needs not covered by CBECS. NBI is particularly interested in the addition of information about how the latest technologies and high performance building characteristics are performing. There is also an opportunity for data users to define practical methods of collecting data thereby ensuring timeliness, continuity, and validity.    To this end, on July 18, 2011 the National Institute of Buildings Sciences (NIBS) organized a hearing for users of building performance data.  The objective: defining current needs for and possible sources of information to achieve organizational and national objectives for high performance buildings. NIBS began investigating an alternative option for data collection and dissemination after the statistical problems in the 2007 CBECS were announced, ultimately proposing a High Performance Buildings Data Collection Initiative, which NBI supports, as a path forward.  At the hearing, NBI’s Cathy Turner (joined by twenty other individuals representing ASHRAE, BOMA, AIA, NEMA, USGBC et al.) gave testimony on data needs to achieve high performance buildings, including what they need for their work and what they gather in their respective organizations.NBI is particularly interested in capturing reliable and up-to-date data on new construction, renovations and deep retrofits to relate performance levels to the latest building characteristics, technologies and systems.  Additionally, it is essential to know the actual energy performance being achieved in buildings compliant with recent energy codes and in those complying with voluntary programs such as stretch codes and utility incentives—information that is fundamental to developing effective energy code policies. Any new data collection process should ideally provide the basis for benchmarking and interpreting energy use levels, including the ability to separate whole building performance into base building and occupant-driven components. These characteristics would also enable transition to a stable and forward-looking rating scale with energy usage benchmarked on a consistent basis over time using a fixed baseline. This, in turn, will support continual and meaningful performance tracking and benchmarking.

Last week, presenters also gave recommendations on potential roles for NIBS and other entities going forward. Unfortunately, at present no organization appears to have the budget to promptly implement a new effort.  As such, the most realistic approach will likely involve a collaborative of several interested public and private organizations.  From NBI’s perspective, a beneficial role for an organization such as NIBS is as a long-term manager of the process, defining and communicating agreed-upon standards and definitions, potentially hosting the data repository, and even spearheading the scope expansion for targeted segments of the marketplace.This October NIBS is scheduled to release a full report synthesizing all the input received.  Read the all testimony from the hearing or visit NIBS’ High-Performance Building Data Collection Initiative for updates on this and related information.