Expert Voices: Sam Brooks, Associate Director, Washington DC Department of General Services

With Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s visionary Sustainable DC Plan, the District of Columbia strives to be a global leader in sustainability.

Our Department of General Services (DGS), which manages roughly $75M in building utility costs, is moving aggressively in the energy space to support Mayor Gray’s vision. For instance, work is underway to secure a landmark renewable energy deal that reduces costs, hedges against long-term price risk, and delivers carbon-free electricity for as much as half of the government’s needs.

In that spirit of forging new ground, today we launched another bold initiative: Build Smart DC. By providing transparent, detailed, timely, and actionable energy information, DGS seeks to leverage energy data in a transformative way to drive unprecedented energy savings. 

Supported by a daily feed of interval data made possible through work with the local utility (PEPCO), Build Smart DC has several notable features:

  • Tens of thousands of data points delivered daily, containing 15-minute or hourly electricity usage information for the majority of DGS facilities.
  • Real-time narratives about efficiency projects. These include a range of initiatives, from low-cost building management system upgrades to full-scale school modernizations.
  • An eagerness to engage in collaborative efforts. We realize that we don't have a monopoly on ideas to improve energy performance – and, through this website and other vehicles, DGS is welcoming community-based ideas to eliminate energy waste.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of granular and timely data. Whereas building energy performance is typically seen in a delayed and monthly format, Build Smart DC provides 35,000+ data points, per building, per year, in near real-time. This "actionable data" is a game changer: inefficiencies in building operations — such as buildings with scheduling that doesn't match building occupancy (a major issue in many commercial buildings) — are immediately seen and addressed by the entire ecosystem that impacts building performance, including facilities mangers, executive management, occupants, the public, etc. 

Ultimately, Build Smart DC enables more information-sharing among energy efficiency stakeholders, greater accountability of spending and performance, and a larger pool of information from which our community can learn and build. Moving forward, some of the additions to Build Smart DC will include: building-to-building (and perhaps even city-to-city) competitions; additional project profiles; natural gas, water, and recycling data; comprehensive next-day electricity data; additional buildings and portfolios. 

It’s worth pointing out that Build Smart DC is a key component of the DGS program, 'Game Change,' which aims to rapidly reduce energy consumption and save millions of dollars annually. By leveraging our now-robust data acquisition, the initiative seeks to dramatically improve building operational efficiency, and we will design efficiency retrofits that have maximum return on investment. (Learn more at Build Smart DC.) 

As DGS Director Brian Hanlon says, "The goal is clear: Make our portfolio of real estate one of the most sustainable in the world." 

At the end of the day, we’re hopeful these efforts – and the wide range of activities spurred by Mayor Gray’s leadership – will encourage other governments, private firms, and non-profit institutions to join the District in making investments that benefit the environment, the economy, and the bottom line.