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Gamification of Tenant Energy Use

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Regardless of how buildings plan to save energy, much of buildings’ energy use is outside of the operators’ control. According to ENERGY STAR, 50 percent or more of a building’s total energy use is spent in tenant spaces. This energy is mostly from plug loads, lighting, water heating, and HVAC needs.

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This piece is part of a new series that was created in conjunction with The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help educate the real estate community about the positive impacts of Real Time Energy Management.

Fortunately, tenants often have an interest in saving energy whether for environmental impact and meeting their sustainability goals or to lower expenses. Real time energy management (RTEM), like an Apple Watch or FitBit for a building, collects and displays energy statistics that are monitored continuously and used to create benchmarks for future improvement. RTEM keeps track of individual energy use in real time and offers tenants access to the information for their individual spaces.

Tenant energy use can be impacted through a few simple ways including education, process creation, and RTEM monitoring. 

Plug load is directly impacted by individuals and a good place to start for education. Plug load is energy used by products that are powered by means of an ordinary AC plug and exclude HVAC systems, water heating, and general lighting solutions. In other words, it’s the energy used by anything plugged into an outlet such as computers, monitors, phone chargers, printers, space heaters, fans, desk lamps, etc. The average number of devices per user in an office environment is seven. Although these sources may seem insignificant, plug loads are very relevant as buildings become more energy-efficient and can account for up to 50 percent of an energy efficient building’s overall energy use.

It is up to the building managers and operators to find tenants that want to make a difference and then start a chain reaction of education through them and into their spaces. This education should include what plug load is and how individuals can immediately impact their contribution to energy savings. Once individuals in tenant spaces realize the value of mindful conservation and modifying daily habits like automatic monitor sleeping, unplugging unused printers, using blankets instead of space heaters, and more, energy savings will follow.

Quickly following education is the creation of new processes. While including what can be done for plug loads, this process also expands to large systems like HVAC, lighting, and water heating. Many commercial tenant spaces have one main heating or cooling zone which can be manipulated to save energy when the space isn’t in use such as after hours, holidays or weekends. Since this one zone is shared by many people who hold varying opinions of what a comfortable temperature is, this will continue to require the willful participation of tenants. Saving energy in lighting can look like turning off conference room lights or installing light switches with sensors so that it’s done automatically. Offices with kitchens can save on electricity used for heating water by using a dishwasher instead of a dozen or more people washing dishes throughout the day. Once these new processes and others like them are in place, they will become habits and automatically done by tenants.

People change habits to see results and these results need to be available and shared. Giving tenants a way to track and compare energy use is a powerful way to reward efforts and keep the momentum going. RTEM makes this much easier than before smart buildings systems existed and displaying a live dashboard of the space’s energy use in a public area like the lobby is an effective way to keep track and strengthen the team aspect of a shared goal. Determining benchmarks of current measurements, creating goals, comparing the current week’s use to the past week’s, and other data points can great a game-like setting for energy use within the space.

Gamification is the process of taking something that already exists and using gaming techniques to promote participant engagement. By allowing tenants to access RTEM data, the competitive aspect of energy use is born and, depending on how minutely the space is measured, energy use can be tracked by department or team and elevate the gamification aspect of energy management.

Finally, building operators and managers can share success through newsletters, announcements, and fun meetups like happy hours or potlucks so the space’s tenants are tangibly rewarded for their mindfulness and hard work.

Energy conservation, for both sustainability goals and saving money, is a team sport and without keeping score, buildings cannot win. RTEM and creating benchmarks are necessities to accurately measure and monitor energy use for tenant spaces and give tenants the knowledge and power to get better.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA, promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. With a focus on developing a less polluting, more reliable, and more affordable energy system, NYSERDA works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce consumer energy bills. NYSERDA partners with stakeholders throughout New York to transform New York’s economy through advancing energy innovation, technology, and investment.

NYSERDA offers cost-share incentives to support RTEM projects that serve consumers in commercial, industrial, and multifamily sectors. Its Advanced Efficiency Solutions team evaluates and qualifies vendors to ensure high quality RTEM projects, and analyzes RTEM market data to publish case studies and best practices.

Prospective customers can learn more about RTEM benefits and how to get started here. The list of NYSERDA-Qualified RTEM vendors can be found here. All of NYSERDA’s informational materials can be found in the RTEM Resource Center. Vendors interested in qualification should apply today

For questions and help, email [email protected]

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