Green refurbishment is the key

In the last few years, a difficult conundrum has arisen for many organisations because there is less money available for green business efforts, yet there is also greater pressure from outside sources to be more environmentally responsible. Greater government legislation, tightening emissions targets and the growing presence of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on boardroom agendas have made carbon reduction a corporate mandate. However, tough economic times mean that every low-carbon endeavour must be undertaken on a strict budget. For this reason, the ‘make do and mend’ mantra of the recession has been extended to the UK’s building stock.

No more new builds

Stretched budgets mean that new-builds are, for the most part, off the agenda indefinitely. Organisations must, instead, make do with a vast building stock that dates back decades or more. Such buildings were constructed when good energy efficiency was not prioritised or even fully understood. For historical buildings, the problems are even greater, since the crumbling fabric of these protected buildings makes implementing energy efficiency measures even more difficult.

Older building stock contributes significantly to the fact that the built environment represents almost 50% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Energy wastage within older buildings can occur in a number of ways. Most obviously, there is the heat directly lost through the fabric of a poorly-insulated building. However, energy is also wasted as a result of outdated control systems, which make site-wide monitoring and targeting of energy leaks and anomalies impossible. Investigations by leading consultancies, TNO, Senternovem and ISSO, have revealed that energy consumption in buildings is, on average, 25% higher than it should be, and this is largely because of incorrect climate system settings. In a staggering 70% of buildings, the climate systems do not work at an optimum level.

Legislative drivers

The financial burden of a building with a large carbon footprint has always been substantial, due to high energy bills, but government legislation is increasing the burden to breaking point. The late-stage changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme, as part of the Spending Review, show that the government is serious about getting tough on organisations with wasteful energy practises. For the

large, non-energy-intensive organisations that fall under the CRC, the only way to avoid a sizeable financial penalty when the purchase of carbon allowances becomes mandatory in 2012 is to recoup these impending costs through lower fuel bills.

Though less publicised than the CRC, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and Display Energy Certificates (DEC) remain a headache for organisations that inhabit older buildings. Particularly for public-sector buildings that are open to the public, the requirement to publicly display their poor environmental profile through a low-rated DEC can be a source of constant professional embarrassment and undercut other CSR efforts.

Organisations with older building stock are looking for cost-effective, non-invasive means of achieving their energy efficiency goals. With this in mind, the increasing sophistication of retrofit technologies has brought refurbishment to the fore.

Government financing

The current self-proclaimed greenest government ever has positioned itself firmly in favour of refurbishment as a route

to a low-carbon nation. The lynchpin of its agenda is the forthcoming Green Deal, which, from 2012, will allow business owners to better insulate their premises, while paying no upfront costs.

Though cuts to quangos have been aggressive, it is notable that the Carbon Trust, which advises businesses on cutting their energy use, remains largely intact. Through the Carbon Trust, businesses and third-sector SMEs can borrow up to £100,000 at 0% interest in order to install approved energy saving equipment. Popular refurbishment projects that fit the criteria for financing via the Carbon Trust include intelligent building controls, energy efficient lighting and pipe insulation. For public-sector organisations, funding pots for energy efficiency upgrades are periodically available through the Salix scheme.

Thanks in part to such government-funded schemes, it has become increasingly possible to green-light refurbishment works. Securing the go ahead on such projects is typically made easier due to the projected financial savings that result from improved energy efficiency. The ability to retrofit existing infrastructure, rather than start from scratch also reduces expense and limits disruption to the everyday running of the organisation.

Marlborough College

Marlborough College, an independent boarding school in Wiltshire which dates back to 1843, represents a typical set of circumstances for any organisation inhabiting historical, listed buildings. With historic buildings of this ilk it is always important for the Building Management System (BMS) installations to respect the structure of walls, ceilings and floors. However, because the Priva system does not require screened cabling, it can utilise existing BMS cabling (assuming it is still fit for purpose) thereby safeguarding the building’s fabric. This is a key aspect of the Priva system when applied on these types of installations.

For this reason, Marlborough elected to refurbish its buildings by installing Priva building control technology. Instead of simply ripping out and replacing the existing BMS, installer PA Collacott & Co assessed the quality of the existing cabling and sensors/field devices, and retained them wherever product integrity allowed their ongoing use. By reusing much of the existing BMS cabling, the delicate interior of the building was left relatively untouched, and the equipment remained unobtrusive.

With the new Priva system in place, Marlborough was able to completely overhaul its energy management programme. Now, the college’s BMS operates a state-of-the-art network, which allows site-wide adjustments to heating systems across 40 separate buildings to be made at the click of a mouse, while also monitoring and targeting any inefficiency in energy use. The head mechanical engineer at the school can connect remotely to the system and take control of the internet-compatible BMS from anywhere in the world, via a laptop.

City of Bristol College

For City of Bristol College, one of the South West’s major further education colleges, the issue was not listed building consent, but its older building stock brought up other headaches during the college’s bid to reduce the carbon footprint at its large Soundwell Centre location. The BMS in place at the Soundwell Centre was an unreliable, 1970s set-up that had become obsolete, but could not be wholly removed for financial reasons.

When the opportunity to take advantage of Salix government financing arose, it was a natural step for City of Bristol College to retrofit the Soundwell Centre’s BMS with a new, high-functioning Priva system. One of the key features that drew the college to the Priva technology was the ability to remotely monitor energy use at the Soundwell Centre, making it easier to identify and control anomalies in energy consumption.

The Priva system has also opened the door for the college to provide even better facilities to its students. A sports hall within the Soundwell Centre was recently transformed into a high-spec training kitchen, with operational gas consumption. The state-of-the-art Priva controls were crucial for making this change of use possible, since the old BMS was too crude to manage this type of energy use.

In the year following the installation of the Priva BMS, there has been a significant reduction in energy consumption at the Soun
dwell Centre. Crucially, the building was able to achieve a better Display Energy Certificate rating, clearly communicating the college’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.

City of Bristol College and Marlborough College illustrate the new reality that organisations need not see their older building stock as a barrier for cutting carbon. Since the majority of existing buildings are forecast to remain in operation past 2050, the current trend for low-carbon retrofit works represents an important step forward. Green refurbishment has emerged as a positive response to the recession and it has the potential to create an enormous impact on the UK’s carbon footprint.

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