Montgomery County is the first county in the nation to implement a new energy benchmarking program. And it’s just one of the ways we’re on the leading edge of creating more sustainable facilities.
The facilities managers in the Montgomery County government face an array of challenges. Buildings are aging. Budgets are not exactly overflowing. The pressure to do more, sometimes without an equal regard for means, is ever-present.
But Montgomery County leaders are leaning into this challenge, taking steps to improve their own operations and blaze a trail to help others in the county more easily do the same.
The main driver of these efforts is the county’s Department of General Services (DGS). In 2014, the County Executive, Council, and DGS Director David Dise created the Office of Energy and Sustainability (OES) to reduce the County government’s environmental footprint.
The office has a voice in everything from the vehicles the county drives to the cleaning products it buys. But the county’s 412 buildings—covering about 9 million square feet—are where OES has focused most of its efforts thus far.
“We’re always fighting broken buildings and degrading systems,” said OES Chief Eric Coffman. “Other counties are no different in that regard. Maintenance budgets will never be 100 percent flush. So what we can do is optimize our systems to try to keep costs down.”
In May 2014, the County Council passed a law requiring county government and non-residential commercial facilities that are 50,000 square feet or greater to collect and compare, or “benchmark,” energy data in EPA Portfolio Manager and report it to the County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for disclosure. The goal is to find out where, specifically, facilities are inefficient, and give the market the right information to make them more efficient.
The first deadline for private property owners is still a ways out in 2016, but in the meantime, the County is undertaking the exercise first. June 1 was their initial deadline, with about 20 county buildings benchmarked.
Like the benchmarking initiative itself, the real difference will materialize in the details of the execution, not some ribbon-cutting ceremony. That is the essence of benchmarking’s potential.
“It is in data collection, identifying the buildings themselves,” said Michael Yambrach, OES capital projects manager. “There can be discrepancies in occupancy numbers. Square footage can be based on different metrics or databases. Are garages included? The data is currently 30-45 days late by the time it gets to you, so it is a reactionary process. New data would allow you to better react and respond to anomalies.”
The process is detailed and provides significant learning opportunities for building owners, as the county has learned. The Department of Environmental Protection offers resources to DGS and private property owners to help them through the process.
In 2014, a state task force recommended development of microgrids—or small, localized grid systems that can operate on their own—to ensure energy keeps flowing even in the event that a disaster disables the larger grid.
These easily controllable microgrids can lower operating costs and generate cleaner power. OES is working with leading private sector companies to implement Microgrids on public sites. Ultimately, OES envisions two to three critical public facilities being “grid independent.”
The County also is installing a significant number of solar photovoltaic systems across the roofs of a number of County facilities. The first wave will be installed on 12 different county sites, with an anticipated savings of $400,000 annually.
Montgomery County DEP and DGS are working with the commercial sector to bring about their efficiency goals.
By late summer OES hopes to roll out an online tool that allows county energy management staffers to view energy data more quickly and identify opportunities for efficiency. The OES will do this with the help of a third-party vendor.
This encapsulates one of OES’s longer-term goals: leading local businesses and residents beyond benchmarking, into an energy reality more closely governed by data.
“I’ve always seen data as our number priority, we will double down on data and how we use it,” Coffman said. “It’s the next level of data driven energy management.”
With a wealth of data, lessons learned, and cross-departmental collaboration, Montgomery County is poised to become a leader in energy efficiency and sustainability – across its own public facilities and throughout the community.
By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressure, birds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinks, residential solar, and energy savings at Hollywood East Cafe.
An expanded version of this article appears in the June issue of ei, the official magazine of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.