A Challenge to Building Portfolio Owners

You may have heard this before: Integrative design is more effective at achieving deep energy savings than one-for-one replacements of individual building components. RMI has told this story many times, through iconic deep retrofits like the Empire State Building and Byron Rogers Federal Office Building, the latter of which is on its way to becoming one of the most energy efficient office buildings in the nation.

As seen in the examples above, integrative design might lead to a strategy involving chilled beams and thermal energy storage, or could make use of direct digital controls and superefficient windows. Whatever the case, reducing energy loading requirements reduce costs on big-dollar items like chillers. The process leads the design team toward avoided capital costs in unneeded places and helps to get a building to deep energy savings.

RMI has been working on a new twist to the story. How do we cost-effectively apply the fundamentals of integrative design and deep retrofits across multiple buildings in a portfolio? To do a whole-systems analysis on each building, one by one, would be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, too resource-intensive to be feasible and too slow for the nation to achieve aggressive energy reduction goals. The industry needs a scalable approach for transitioning to very-low-energy buildings across a portfolio.


Besides saving time, a portfolio-wide strategy will save costs and maximize total real estate asset value. RMI, a proven think-and-do tank with 30 years of experience in integrative problem solving in energy, together with our partners New Buildings Institute and True Market Solutions, is setting out to address this need in our 2012 Portfolio Energy RetroFit Challenge. We are seeking to partner with six leading portfolio owners to develop this approach and are accepting applications through the challenge website.

“We’ve known there is a real need for a streamlined strategy to address retrofits on a portfolio scale,” said Elaine Gallagher Adams, senior consultant at RMI. “So far response to the challenge has been great. Consensus is supportive, saying that deep energy savings across portfolios is very exciting and long overdue.”

Cathy Higgins, research director at NBI, said her organization and RMI are working together to create technical and best-practice solution sets for deep energy retrofits. “The Portfolio Retrofit Challenge is an innovative means to deliver the results of this work to a large audience,” she said. “We’re excited to work with the participants to make this a reality.”

New Buildings Institute will contribute its vast technical knowledge of commercial real estate, providing access to its extensive collection of existing building energy performance data and scalable energy analysis tools. True Market Solutions will facilitate post-challenge networking groups with other participants to share best practices, tools, and discoveries to support implementation of the planned improvements.

“RMI utilizes its distinctive expertise, taking an integrated systems approach to achieve very large gains in energy efficiency. Compared to incremental approaches, it is not only more cost-effective, but more sensible,” said David DuBois, PhD, of True Market Solutions.

RMI, its partners, and challenge participants will develop a replicable approach to portfolio energy management by adapting some specific strategies from previous retrofit projects. A streamlined whole-building analysis will let the team and owner quickly and comprehensively understand how different building systems interact to reap the largest savings across many buildings. Right-timing improvements helps to understand when, in a building’s lifetime, it is most cost-effective to intervene with a deep retrofit. Determining the technical potential allows for goal setting based on understanding what’s technically possible for the portfolio’s buildings.

“This is a terrific opportunity to look at building portfolio energy management in a different way than we have before,” Adams said. “This presents opportunities to work with the owners and some of their service providers—teaching them how to set aggressive and achievable energy goals and map a path to the finish line.”

We look forward to showing that deep energy efficiency across a portfolio is possible and prudent. If you think you might be a good fit as a partner in the challenge, please visit our website for more information and an application.

This is the first of two Outlet posts on building retrofits. Wednesday, read how retrofit initiatives are gaining footholds across the nation.