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Work Continues on Updated Commercial Building Energy Survey

By Pam Hunter

The article originally appeared in Engineering News-Record.

June 05, 2012

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's Office of Energy Consumption and Efficiency Statistics is working on the latest version of a national survey of commercial buildings' energy consumption and expects to begin releasing its first sets of data in April 2014, says the office's director, Tom Leckey.

The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) is a national sample survey that collects baseline information on U.S. commercial-building stock, their energy-related building characteristics, and their energy consumption and expenditures. The survey data underpin much of the work that has been done in the energy benchmarking of commercial buildings and in the development of the energy standards by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and others.

"CBECS data are used by ASHRAE in the development of its building energy- efficiency standards, which are used by the federal government and most states," says ASHRAE President Ron Jarnigan.

But the most current data date back to 2003, Leckey says. Further, cost concerns could stymie current efforts, he adds. The survey uses a combination of sophisticated sampling techniques as well as in-person interviews, both of which "make CBECS very costly," Leckey notes.

When the EIA opted to use a simpler, less exhaustive sampling technique to gather data as a cost-saving measure for the 2007 survey, errors were made, and EIA decided not to release it. In 2011, EIA halted work on CBECS because of congressional appropriations reductions.

Funding was restored in the fiscal 2012 budget, and currently data are being collected for reference year 2012. The sample in CBECS 2012 will include about 8,500 buildings.

But with much of the most labor-intensive and costly work about to begin, further budget cuts could put the survey "in jeopardy," Leckey acknowledges. The CBECS will cost approximately $12 million to $14 million to complete.

The president has requested $116.4 million for EIA for fiscal 2013, but so far, the House Appropriations Committee has approved $100 million, which is $5 million below enacted fiscal-2012 levels. But Leckey is optimistic. "We think there is a good understanding in Congress about what CBECS is" and what funding levels are needed to do it, he says.

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