The Higher Efficiency State: Massachusetts or California?

In 2017, Massachusetts was ranked No. 1 in energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) for the seventh consecutive year. On the other side of the country, California was ranked a close second after tying with Massachusetts for the top spot in 2016. 

To anyone following the news, California’s runner-up status may come as a surprise. In the past year, the Golden State has issued mandates requiring solar panels be added to all new buildings; spearheaded efforts to integrate distributed energy sources with the grid; and became the first state to approve efficiency standards for desktop computers, laptops and monitors. 

That said, there are lots of ways to measure energy efficiency. The ACEEE rankings are based on commercial and residential building codes, utility incentives, state energy initiatives, transportation, conservation goals and policies and combined heat and power policies. So, while Massachusetts may lead the pack on those fronts, the FirstFuel team set out to confirm the most energy efficient state based on the metric we most care about: energy performance of commercial buildings. 

The Methodology

To identify the most energy efficient state by commercial building performance, weather-related energy use had to be taken out of the equation. It goes without saying that the climates in Massachusetts and California are vastly different, so removing weather-related data (e.g., data pertaining to HVAC unit efficiency and usage) was the first step in leveling the playing field. The second step was to exclude data related to thermal energy sources like oil, natural gas and firewood, given they are largely used for heating purposes. 

Once this information was stripped out, we were able to explore electricity usage data in office buildings between 50,000 and 500,000 gross square feet. This data includes energy usage related to lighting, personal computers, printers, copiers, kitchen and break room equipment, computer servers, device chargers and other plug loads.

The Verdict

The sample analysis revealed that the average non-weather consumption was 30 percent lower for California buildings (11 kWh/square foot) than for Massachusetts (16 kWh/square foot), suggesting that commercial buildings in California are, in fact, more efficient than those in Massachusetts. 

It’s important to note, however, that this analysis does not negate the ACEEE’s findings, which are based on a broader set of energy efficiency programs and standards. There are several factors which may account for our findings. First, our analysis did not distinguish whether buildings have on-site solar power, which is currently more common in California and therefore may reduce the apparent consumption of California buildings. 

Additionally, most people would agree that the buildings on the East Coast are generally older than buildings on the West Coast. If that is true, it is also possible that California’s buildings have more updated efficiency codes and practices. However, analysis of the millions of commercial buildings on our platform has shown that newer buildings don’t necessarily use less energy than older ones.

In our eyes, both states are winners. California and Massachusetts are each making serious strides toward increased energy efficiency, and their efforts will help ensure smarter energy use from coast to coast. 

Lead image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay

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Andrew Klein is a building energy engineer at FirstFuel Software, a SaaS company that provides a business customer engagement platform for utilities. Through the analysis of building energy use, Andrew arms utilities with recommendations on energy efficiency measures for their business customers. Andrew is also a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) in MA (Environmental) and holds a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) credential.

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