Six leading US cities are experimenting with an energy benchmarking approach to address information gaps in the real-estate market. Understanding how a commercial building uses energy has many benefits – for example, it helps building owners and tenants identify poorly performing buildings and subsystems, and enables high-performing buildings to house more occupants and increase rents and property values.

The researchers investigated the impacts of a national energy benchmarking mandate by using their version of the National Energy Modeling System. "Our findings show that benchmarking would increase the purchase of energy-efficient equipment, reducing energy bills, carbon dioxide emissions and conventional air pollution," said study lead author Matt Cox. "Achieving comparable carbon dioxide savings would require almost tripling existing US solar capacity or building four new nuclear units. Nearly 90% of the energy saved by such a national benchmarking policy would accrue to metropolitan areas, and the policy's benefits would outweigh its costs by more than $60 billion."

Cox, with co-authors Marilyn Brown and Xiaojing Sun, developed a series of policy scenarios where benchmarking requirements enabled commercial building owners to consider the advantages of superior energy performance more carefully. Beyond the immediate energy-related benefits of such a policy, the building owners might also be motivated to seek out highly energy-efficient tenants, perhaps even providing them with incentives. Third-party organizations or governments could recognize such high-quality energy management for specific tenants, enabling market-based rewards for good energy practices. An approach like this could manifest itself as something similar to the ENERGY STAR programme for tenants that allowed them to signal quality practices.

Overcoming some of the information barriers in the real-estate market looks to be a worthy investment, with energy savings leading the way. "We believe that cities can help improve the functionality of this marketplace for the benefit of all," said the researchers.

Cox and co-authors report their findings in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

Related links