WegoWise: Surprise Lessons from a Massive Database on Buildings

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WATER FAUCETWith data comes wisdom. And true to its name, WegoWise has plenty of both.

The Boston-based software company has amassed what it describes as the largest energy-related database on North America’s multi-family buildings. That’s 16,500 buildings, accounting for over 400 million square feet (and growing).

What’s the data say?

Energy efficiency companies might be surprised to learn they often miss a big market. It’s not about saving energy exactly, but water.

“Any retrofitter who is not looking at water is leaving a lot of savings on the table,” said Daniel Teague, WegoWise director of business development, in a recent interview.

Water equals energy

The savings are two-fold. Water is often heated with natural gas, so reducing use of hot water leads to lower energy bills. Plus, water costs are rising and becoming a growing concern for building owners. Water now rivals natural gas costs in many apartment buildings. Over the last 12 years, water bills have more than doubled in one in four US communities surveyed by USA Today. Moreover, water costs are expected to double again, or even triple, in many areas by 2035, says the American Water Works Association. Rural communities are often hardest hit, since they have less people to spread the costs among when their water companies make  infrastructure upgrades.

“Water has become a bigger and bigger issue for multi-family building owners,” Teague said. “We try to encourage our owners who are often thinking in terms of electric and gas to try to understand their water bills. A low investment can often yield good savings – on the water side ofcourse, but there are also savings on energy as well.”

Where’s the love?

Dan Teague, Wegowise

Dan Teague, Wegowise

Water doesn’t get much love when it comes to building retrofits, at least compared to energy. WegoWise’s database shows water retrofits a lowly third in popularity to lighting and mechanical equipment replacements.

This is surprising, given that water-related improvements are three to five times less expensive than their energy counterparts. Payback often occurs quickly, generally in six months, but in as little as one month. Multi-family buildings achieve an average 12 percent savings from water retrofits, although many have seen 30 to 40 percent savings, Teague said.

“It is not the sexiest retrofit going. But the economics make sense,” Teague said. “And you get a nice additional benefit of natural gas savings on top of the water savings.”

In addition to offering the eye-opener about water, the WegoWise analysis confirms some common assertions about energy use in multi-family buildings. For example, it does make a big difference who pays the utility bill: the tenant or landlord. WegoWise found that when tenants pay, they use 25 percent less electricity and 8 to10 percent less natural gas.

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So, where possible it makes sense to switch to tenant-pay systems. However, this isn’t typically an option in low-income housing. And unfortunately, low-income buildings tend to be some of the least efficient.

“It’s tricky to get at that piece. People are trying to figure out other ways to do behavioral change in those units,” Teague said.

It helps to discuss ‘comfort’ when talking to building owners, he said. For low-income housing, it goes like this: Energy efficiency improvements bring greater comfort to tenants, and more comfortable tenants are less likely to complain and demand additional service of building owners. So energy efficiency saves the building owner money and hassle over the long run.

WegoWise - benchmark-comparisonsAmassing the multi-family data base is just one part of what WegoWise does. The company offers services that measure and analyze building performance (homeowner, multi-family and commercial) before and after retrofits based on a building’s utility bills and physical characteristics.

“We do this without installing expensive hardware in buildings. We deliver good measurement verification for people who cannot afford to spend $10,000 or $20,000,” Teague said.

Too often building owners install energy efficiency improvements blindly and then stop there, he added. This bodes poorly for the future of energy efficiency.

“We have building owners come to us all the time. They don’t have the data tracked,” he said. “Instead, they do retrofits and have no idea whether it works or doesn’t work – which is a big problem because they are not going to make any more investments.”

The wise part

WegoWise started just three years ago, but its name already is well known in energy efficiency circles. Among other things, the company recently struck a deal with Peabody Properties, which is benchmarking 10,000 units in more than 100 multifamily properties across New England, New Jersey and Florida.  WegoWise also recently announced its first major commercial customer, Liberty Property Trust. The company was selected as an Energy Innovations Pioneer at IHS CERAWeek 2013 in March.

WegoWise also gets praise for having one of the most memorable names in the industry. And by the way, the pronunciation is not like Lego, but is We-Go, which stands for water-electric-gas-oil — the kind of data the company collects.  As for the ‘wise’ part, Barun Singh, a founder and chief technology officer, offers interesting insight here into what’s to come for energy efficiency in the next decade. He sees utility consumption data becoming a metric used in all building transactions, as basic as today’s square-foot-measurement.

Do you agree with what WegoWise says about water and energy measurement? Let us know by joining the discussion on our LinkedIn Group, Energy Efficiency Markets

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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