Why building sustainability ratings matter and what to do about it

Stock image ex Canva for use as feature image for Wattwatchers blog series on Net Zero in buildings

This is the first in a series of articles, also available on request as an eBook, in which Wattwatchers explores the challenges and opportunities building owners, managers and installers face with electricity metering and monitoring for achieving and maintaining Net Zero, ESG and sustainability trajectories for the built environment.

ARTICLE 1: Built Environment Net Zero Series

To set the scene, electricity metering plays a vital role in sustainability frameworks, including Green Star compliance that helps achieve star ratings in new construction, and NABERS and GRESB that property owners participate in to enhance asset valuations. 

It’s also crucial for delivering on mandatory requirements in the National Construction Code (NCC) Section J8/9.

Good-quality, readily-available electricity data can be a superpower in keeping building energy costs and carbon emissions down, while increasing property value and identifying issues that operations need to manage. 

All of this can now be addressed with smart engineering, and by choosing the right technologies – including cost-effective metering that is ultra-compact, cable-free and cloud-connected.

First, let’s understand the problems that need to be overcome.

It’s a busy agenda

Today’s property owners, facilities managers, and sustainability and energy professionals in the built environment space need to:

  • Support progress to Net Zero with good quality data
  • Drive asset-level implementation of ESG
  • Accurately track energy, water and carbon metrics
  • Drive and support tenant engagement

Sustainability ratings matter because they can impact the value of the building, and how attractive it is to tenants. 

Electricity data is high-value in building ratings, especially to understand solar generation impact and tenant consumption, and to measure exclusion areas or different kinds of floor space.

Best-in-class solutions for electricity metering will support all of the above, and will automate data capture into platforms for calculating carbon emissions, reporting on sustainability, and making public disclosures that need to be accurate. 

Tenant expectations rise alongside energy costs

With rising costs of energy, tenants have higher expectations that impact on property managers and owners. As a result, leading property companies are upping their game in tenant engagement,

Getting great quality data to respond to these heightened expectations, and to support a growing array of requirements, is not easy and has some challenges.

This means that it is common for the right kind of data not to be readily available, and for the lack of good metering/monitoring and data capture to make often-onerous manual processes the only alternative. 

There are many examples of this, but there’s a couple of common ones worth discussing.

Scope 3 emissions: Getting tenant data is painful, and often results in ‘burnt’ relationships and low levels of compliance

Tenant consumption data is often required for sustainability ratings, with business parks and warehouse logistics being good examples of relevant asset classes where this applies.

In large property companies, there can be a metaphorical village of people trying to obtain this information. In Wattwatchers’ experience, however, the manual approach burns relationship equity and has much lower levels of compliance. In addition, because it’s manual, data collection is typically done annually for the reporting cycle, which misses an opportunity to use more timely data to support tenant engagement, or reduce emissions from a tenancy. 

Timely information will help you manage the performance of assets and support pro-active tenant engagement. Typical traditional options, and challenges that come with them, are listed below:

Get bills from tenantsA lot of manual effort that can detract from the core relationship. Typically has inconsistent results resulting in low levels of compliance.Many tenants do not want to share cost information.Typically done infrequently, so the data is not useful for managing performance week to week.
Get interval data from the meter data agentThis requires permission from the tenant. Every time the tenant gets a new electricity retailer, you have to repeat the process.There is a cost to getting this data, usually charged per destination it’s pushed to.Data is for yesterday, and only includes kWh and kVar, and misses valuable measurements like voltage.Data has limited value for supporting remote solar investigation.

Solar generation: PV systems may not be monitored, particularly if they’ve been around a few years. 

Apart from having no metering or monitoring at all, it is not uncommon for there to be no communications onsite to get the monitoring data out, even though metering has been installed. 

Solar systems tend to be rolled out progressively, and use a variety of equipment – such as inverters – that were competitively priced at the time of deployment. 

Depending on inverter types and capabilities, there’s often no way available to get data out, or to coordinate data from different types and generations of inverters and other equipment.

This in turn leads to higher data integration costs, which becomes more complex if you’re operating in multiple jurisdictions or countries, potentially with a greater variety of inverter technologies to work with.

If you have an existing solar system that doesn’t have communications, and you’d like to get data from it, you’ll have to send someone to site to add WiFi capability or a cellular router, and configure the inverter (which you hopefully have the password for).

It’s clunky, and you are unlikely to achieve the results you need. Indeed, by the time you’ve done this, often for disjointed data that lacks richness and accuracy, you’ve probably invested as much as it takes to fit a new high-performing metering/monitoring device.

The next article in this series (Article 2) looks at the operational and data downside of traditional electricity metering in the built environment.

James Clements is Director Net Zero Property with Wattwatchers.