Local Government Spotlight: Denver, Colorado
Centralizing Energy Data Management Over Time
Denver, Colorado, demonstrates that transitioning from a decentralized to a centralized energy data management structure is possible even in large cities with several dozen departments. Denver worked within their existing organizational structure to centralize energy management, instituted an electronic central energy database, and expanded the role of the Utilities Division to include energy management assistance for most city agencies. As a result, in 2019, Denver achieved a cumulative energy reduction of 10%, relative to its 2011 baseline year.
Goal: Achieve a 20% reduction in energy intensity by 2020 from a 2011 baseline year.
Barrier: Lack of process, team, or unified organizational plan to manage data.
Solution: Worked within existing organizational structure and established the Strategic Initiatives Division dedicated to energy management across the city and county's entire portfolio.
Outcomes: As of 2019, achieved a cumulative energy reduction of 10%, relative to its 2011 baseline year through commissioning, energy audits, and facility assessments.
Denver is the nation's 19th-largest city with just over 715,000 people and a portfolio of more than 150 buildings and 7 million square feet.
Before 2007, the Utilities Division in the Denver Department of General Services was responsible for paying most of the city's energy bills, identifying and solving billing issues, and manually analyzing billing data. In 2007, the Utilities Division started managing the utility bills for the Denver Public Libraries as well. That same year, the division began using a utility billing and tracking software and initiated extensive efforts to correct and verify building occupancy, utility use characteristics, and utility meter information. There was also a city-wide effort to raise awareness of sustainable energy management and utility data analysis was incorporated into facility improvement projects whenever possible. The result was an increased citywide focus and enthusiasm for energy-efficient building projects.
In 2010, utility data were transferred to a new software program to better meet the city's energy management and energy reduction goals. In 2011, the responsibility for energy management, sustainability, records, and utility bill management were officially transferred to the newly formed Strategic Initiatives Division (SI) within the Department of General Services (Figure 1). SI was responsible for maintaining the energy database for the city, performing data analysis and reporting, initiating energy conservation projects, and communicating with facility managers across agencies. In 2013, SI's annual utility budget was approximately $29 million, with more than 1,000 electric and natural gas meters. This budget included the payment of water, sewer, steam, chilled water, solar, streetlights, and storm drainage bills.
Role of Strategic Initiatives Division
SI responsibilities included: oversight of energy management, utility usage and cost, energy savings programs, and sustainability initiatives. SI ensured accurate energy budgeting by commodity and reconciled benchmarks of building energy use with actual consumption trends. The SI team also developed, managed, and administered energy efficiency programs.
Utility Bill Tracking and Payment Process
In conjunction with centralized management, SI instituted an automated data access solution, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), for Denver's primary utility, Xcel Energy. Xcel electronically transmitted EDI-formatted electric- and gas-billing data to SI on a daily basis. Each batch of data was automatically audited by the software. The software flagged billing errors, such as cost mismatches, billing gaps, duplicate bills, late fees, new meter installations, and meter name changes. It also performed cost and consumption comparisons to the prior year's billing period. The management analyst and associate accountant reviewed each flagged item and performed quality-assurance checks. Once the bills passed the audits, they were approved for payment and processed by the associate accountant (Figure 2).
Utility Bill Audits and Energy Management
Consistent communication between SI and city agencies helped to ensure robust stewardship of energy-consuming assets through continuous auditing of utility bills to identify anomalies and analysis of energy use trends.
The SI team audited the EDI import on a daily basis. If an anomaly was found, the facility managers were asked to investigate. Sometimes there was a legitimate reason for the anomaly, such as increased operating hours of ball-field lights; however, about 80% of the time, the auditing process uncovered mechanical issues that could then be corrected. Once the reason for the anomalous usage was identified, it was documented in the billing software.
SI also had oversight responsibility for the city's Sustainability Fund, which provided financial support to pursue energy conservation measures at various city agencies. The energy rebates received from the energy conservation measures were used to replenish the fund for future projects.
When processing energy data, SI monitored the monthly energy cost and consumption by commodity, comparing actual expenses with budgeted dollars. This method of data tracking improved understanding of energy usage and allowed more accurate projection of the spend rate for the upcoming year. Denver tracked monthly data by the individual commodity, including electricity, natural gas, steam, chilled water, water, sewer, storm drainage, solar, and streetlights. Throughout the year, the tracking of spending patterns and potential surpluses or deficits enabled the Budget Management Office to manage the city's overall energy expenditures.
Collaboration With City Agencies and Capacity Development
SI provided data and data analysis to agency supervisors and their budget analysts to assist with the implementation of SI's energy savings recommendations. Each agency received training on the use of the utility billing software for data tracking throughout the year.
Denver realized numerous benefits from centralizing the structure for energy management in terms of operational efficiency, quick data access, and energy and cost savings.
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The energy management team audited bills prior to payment, a strategy that reduced the time and effort needed to reconcile utility billing issues. Denver used the utility database to track energy use for all its accounts. The database supported bill payment and analysis and reduced the need for redundant tracking and accounting systems. Denver coordinated with the Budget Management Office to monitor overall city energy expenditures and tracked spend patterns of individual assets and departments.
Prompt Access to Utility Data
A centralized utility bill collection and payment process enabled EDI with Xcel Energy. The use of a single database for bill payment and energy-use diagnostics greatly increased the efficiency of data capture. With the previous system, bill data collection and analysis were routinely 3 months behind. With EDI in place, the energy manager has access to billing data that is typically only 1 week old.
Energy and Cost Savings
Since its inception, SI has made substantial strides toward improving energy efficiency for the city through commissioning, energy audits, and facility assessments. As of 2019, Denver achieved a cumulative energy reduction of 10% (as measured by source energy use intensity), relative to its 2011 baseline year. This achievement marked significant progress on the mayor's Better Buildings Challenge commitment to reduce energy use intensity by 20% by 2020 from a 2011 baseline year. Figure 3 shows an annual comparison of source energy use intensity for Denver's building portfolio from 2011 to 2019.
Denver's oversight and review of rate schedules from utility bills allowed the management analyst to optimize the rate schedule on a number of commercial properties, decreasing electricity rates for these accounts. The analyst also used rate data to determine the cost feasibility of participation in the transport natural gas contract. The city saved a total of $1.7 million from 2011 to 2013 through competitive bidding on transport gas.
Note: The information in this case study is based on primary research conducted in 2013. Learn more about the guide's research and development.
To learn more about optimizing your organizational structure for energy data management, see Step 6.