Benchmarking Overview

What is benchmarking?

Building energy benchmarking measures a building’s energy use and compares it against past performance and to similar buildings.

Why benchmark?

Comparing similar buildings – or benchmarking buildings – may highlight inefficiencies, act as an impetus for more in-depth analysis, lead to smarter and more cost-effective energy efficient and low-carbon improvements, optimize building operations, and reduce energy bills and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), buildings that used the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager and received scores for 2008-2011 reduced their energy use intensity (EUI) on average by 2.4 percent annually with a total reduction of 7 percent over the three years. Programs that require energy audits or energy reduction measures may produce greater energy savings and GHG reductions in their city or county.

ENERGY STAR “DataTrends Benchmarking and Energy Savings

Designing a Local Benchmarking Program

A local benchmarking program allows cities and counties to customize California’s benchmarking requirement to align with their energy, resiliency, and climate change plans. Some local programs mandate energy assessments or retro-commissioning improvements to encourage water and energy conservation and reduce GHG emissions.

Customized programs can provide a better understanding of energy use in specific building types and neighborhoods that can be used to develop more focused environmental, energy, or equity programs. They may reduce the energy burden on building owners, stimulate the local economy since energy consultants are needed to complete benchmarking and audits for building owners, and provide opportunities for local contractors to retrofit, install, or maintain low-carbon or energy efficiency equipment.

What local governments are saying about benchmarking:

"These efforts will help building owners recognize opportunities for cost-effective improvements, while cutting energy and water waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
– Los Angeles Energy and Water Efficiency Resource Center, "Benchmarking Guide," - PDF

"By reducing energy costs, this effort will improve competitiveness of commercial stock, support the economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help electricity reliability."
– San Francisco Department of the Environment, "Existing Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance: Overview" - PDF

"With a local ordinance, the city can build and foster relationships with its building owners and business community to connect them with available resources, as well as to help inform future rebate and incentive program design using data locally collected."
Moriah Saldaña, Climate Action Plan Program Coordinator, The City of San Diego - PDF

Find out how a state reporting exemption works before designing a local benchmarking program. Building owners within an exempt jurisdiction must report to the local jurisdiction, but not to the CEC. To receive an exemption, a local government must adopt and implement a benchmarking program that publicly discloses specific information and submit a request to the CEC.  

At a minimum, the program must publicly disclose: 

  • Building address(es) 
  • Year built 
  • Gross floor area 
  • Property type 
  • Building energy use data, unless unavailable or exempt 
  • Report disclosed information to the CEC by August 1 annually 

Contact the CEC at and 855-279-6460 for guidance in the process. 

  1. Gather data on the quantity, size, and energy utilization of buildings in the jurisdiction. View the benchmarking dashboard on the CEC benchmarking page to gather information on the buildings in a jurisdiction and the energy use data. Download submitted information from current and previous years.
    CEC Benchmarking Page
  2. Review the jurisdiction’s climate, energy, and water conservation goals and how the program can help meet the sustainability objectives.
  3. Research potential elements to include in the program and asses which options may work best. Consider including requirements to help building owners assess or improve the building performance after benchmarking. Examples include an energy audit if the energy consumption or EUI of a building is high, mandatory improvements for buildings of a certain size or type, and referring building owners to rebates, tax credits, and local or utility programs. Provide resources on how building owners can implement improvements voluntarily, even if the local program may not require them to do so.
  4. Examine existing exempt local programs in the state and other programs nationwide for ordinance language. Connect with program administrators to learn why they chose to include elements and lessons learned.
  5. Determine which elements to include in the program.
  6. Conduct a fiscal analysis to determine the implementation costs and financial impacts to stakeholders associated with the program.
  7. Submit draft documentation to the CEC for feedback.
  8. Complete the jurisdiction’s internal review process and to propose the adoptions.

Financing and Partnerships

Financing may exist at the state level to fund GHG reduction, energy efficiency, and sustainability programs. State organizations or regulated organizations can serve as an advocate, technical partner, and provide funding for the program or aspects of it. Engage with stakeholders to learn about local opportunities and explore the financing and partnerships available.

Some state programs:

  • Transformative Climate Communities
    Provided by the Strategic Growth Council, the program funds projects that achieve environmental, health, and economic benefits in California’s disadvantaged communities.
  • Electric Program Investment Charge Program (EPIC)
    EPIC is a CEC program that invests $130 million annually to advance clean energy technologies for the benefit of investor-owned utility ratepayers. Documents for each solicitation will specify applicant eligibility which may include local governments.
  • Energy Conservation Assistance Act
    The CEC offers a 1 percent interest rate loan to cities; counties; special districts; and public colleges, universities, care institutions, and hospitals to finance energy efficiency and energy generation projects.
  • California Climate Investments
    Funded by cap-and-trade dollars, California Climate Investments provides funding toward reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment in disadvantaged communities. Local governments can receive funds to reduce climate pollution through clean transportation, waste prevention, and clean air initiatives.
  • Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds 
    The California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority issues Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds designed to provide low-interest financing to promote the use of alternative energy and energy efficiency in state, local, and tribal government facilities.
  • Cool California Funding Wizard
    A searchable database of funding opportunities for sustainable projects.
  • Energy Partnership Program 
    Technical assistance for cities; counties; special districts; and public colleges, universities, hospitals, and care facilities.

Financing may exist at the federal level to fund energy efficiency and sustainability programs. Local organizations can serve as an advocate, technical partner, and provide funding for the program or aspects of it. Engage with stakeholders to learn about local opportunities explore the financing and partnerships available through these federal programs:

  • Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office (WIP)
    WIP is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It provides funding for state and local governments, overseas U.S. territories, and Native American tribes to reduce energy use, expand economic opportunities, and increase renewable energy capacity.
  • Pay for Energy Initiatives 
    Learn how to access and use financing to maximize energy and cost savings through the DOE’s Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office.

Develop a financing program:

Financing may exist at the local level to fund energy efficiency and sustainability programs. Local organizations can serve as an advocate, technical partner, and provide funding for the program or aspects of it. Engage with stakeholders to learn about local opportunities and explore the financing and partnerships available through these organizations:

California Association of Council of Governments (CALCOG) 
Councils of governments represent member local governments, mainly cities and counties, that seek to provide cooperative planning, coordination and may provide support to develop the program.

California Map for Local Air District Websites 
Air Pollution Control Districts (APCD) and Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) are responsible for controlling air pollution from stationary sources and may offer grants and other programs to fun energy efficiency programs. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has a list of air districts.

Northern California:

Coastal California:

Central Valley and Sierras:

Southern California:

Measuring Progress and Additional Resources

Measuring the benefits is key to see if a program is meeting its goals or requires some changes. Benchmarking metrics should align with local energy, water, and climate goals and could include:

  • Number of buildings reported, audited, scored, or rated.
  • Annual or lifetime water and energy use reduction of buildings since implementation.
  • Number of buildings switching from fossil gas to electricity.
  • Number and location of buildings with PV and storage.
  • Track workforce development by number of certified auditors, raters, and other energy efficiency professionals.

Use these tools to estimate progress:

CEC Benchmarking Page
Download data from current and previous years to evaluate trends and identify sectors for outreach. View and compare other exempt programs.

Local GHG Inventory Tool
Created by the EPA’s State and Local Program to compile GHG inventory for a community.

GHG Reduction Strategies
Provides an overview of GHG emissions reduction strategies that local governments can use to produce benefits. This was created by the EPA’s State and Local Program.

Climate Action Plans in California
CARB developed this open data tool to recognize local government climate action planning efforts.

Governor’s Office of Planning and Research General Plan Guidelines 
Templates and resources for drafting a general plan.

Cool California Portal
CARB’s Cool California portal has quick, easy-to-use, and reliable tools to save money and reduce climate impact. The local government guide has a toolkit, strategies for specific issues, and a funding database.

Local Ordinances
Local jurisdictions wanting to enforce locally adopted energy standards must receive CEC approval. The webpage includes information about how to apply.

Building Decarbonization Coalition
The coalition connects building industry stakeholders with energy providers, environmental organizations, and local governments to power California’s homes and workplaces with clean energy.

Effective Practices for Local Energy Programs
Information from other local communities compiled by the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program.

Guide to Community Energy Strategic Planning
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides information on how to create a plan for local governments and communities.


Benchmarking Hotline


Building Energy Use Benchmarking and Public Disclosure Program