Make energy use transparent

Should all organisations, especially those that rely on public funding, be embracing energy transparency? Anders Norén, UK Managing Director of Priva Building Intelligence, weighs the case.

We’ve entered an era of widespread transparency when it comes to how companies do business. However, energy transparency, which makes public all of the data about energy consumption and carbon emissions, remains a new concept.


Initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project, which works with big corporates to come clean about their carbon footprint, have gained some traction, and government mandates look to be taking things a step further.

Already public buildings must make their Display Energy Certificate (DEC) visible to all visitors, highlighting their good (or bad) energy performance. And, in the coming months, all large, non-energy-intensive organisations will be ranked in a league table according to their CO2 emissions, under the Carbon Reduction Commitment. Many organisations have been understandably resistant to DECs and the CRC, but is this type of energy related transparency something that should be embraced? What is there to be gained by being brutally honest about energy practices and the resulting carbon footprint?

Dispelling greenwash

Total transparency on energy use has obvious Corporate Responsibility benefits. In an age of pervasive greenwash, it’s an impressive way to ‘walk the talk’ on environmental issues. It can help to attract a high calibre of staff and a discerning type of customer. However, such transparency should not just be viewed as a show-off measure by an organisation keen to display all of the energy cutting works it has already undertaken. In fact, transparency can be an energy efficiency measure of its own – a tool to help drive down energy consumption.

Every engineer has a story to tell about a brand new, BREEAM-rated building that still uses more energy than it should because for people in a work environment, where the staff members and visitors do not pay the bills, energy can seem like a limitless resource. This is a huge barrier when it comes to encouraging people to take measures like turning off electrical equipment when it’s not in use, or accept temperature set-points that are lower when heating in the winter and higher during cooling in the summer. Yet by raising energy as an issue and being completely transparent, it can go a long way to engage staff with their working environment, making them into active energy users, not just passive inhabitants of the space.

Whitehall under a microscope

The most high profile example of energy transparency in the UK has been the central government drive to cut CO2 emissions at its own offices by 10% in just one year. The bold pledge might easily have been a disaster, as the government not only tasked the 18 central government departments with making a substantial energy reduction, it made the whole endeavour public. Energy consumption of public servants in these offices could be tracked by anyone with an internet connection, putting Whitehall under a microscope.

Though it has made other energy related missteps, the government’s drive to cut emissions by 10% must be seen as a success. Carbon emissions were slashed by 13.8% in the first year of the programme (and the Coalition’s first year in office). What’s more the Department of Energy and Climate Change says that, as a result, the government has cut its energy bills by £13m. Not bad for an initiative that concentrated on common sense measures, rather than expensive upgrades.

To achieve its 13% energy reduction, the government focused on managing its buildings better, through use of improved building controls and shutting down buildings or floors during periods of low demand (e.g. Christmas). It also invested in retrofit upgrades of HVAC controls and energy efficient lighting. The government departments also instituted a behavioural change programme that targeted everyone in the organisation, from top to bottom.

Being comprehensive

Was Whitehall’s success down to the equipment upgrades it made, like energy-efficient lighting and better building controls, or was it a result of the new level of transparency? The answer is, perhaps, a bit of both. Too often, organisations that are trying to reduce energy consumption focus on either/or. Either they pour their resources into a behavioural change programme to try and encourage their staff to turn off lights, lower the thermostat and be more aware of their everyday energy use. Or they go for a building refurbishment project that fails to engage the staff at all.

In fact, doing both in conjunction – engaging with staff at the same time that energy saving upgrades are made to the premises – is usually the best way to squeeze the best results from a carbon-reduction campaign. The general public is more knowledgeable about energy and environment issues than ever before. Instead of assuming that staff and site visitors either don’t know or care about an organisation’s carbon footprint, it’s worth trying to start a dialogue with them. This is where energy transparency can be invaluable.

Theatre Royal Bath

At the Theatre Royal Bath, a target of reducing the theatre’s carbon footprint by 30% was put in place during a £2.35m refurbishment project in 2010. By installing state-of-the-art building control technology from Priva Building Intelligence, the Theatre Royal has been able to streamline its building services management and add a new transparency to its energy use.

For the first time, control of heating and ventilation across the Theatre Royal’s entire building complex (comprising three theatres) has been incorporated into a single management system, controlled centrally via computer. Instead of running back and forth between the plantrooms of each annexe, the theatre’s managers are able to instantly monitor and control what’s happening with the heating and ventilation in any of the three theatres. The Theatre Royal has two computers hooked up to the system – one used by the theatre’s technical manager, and one by its maintenance manager.

“Using the Priva technology, we are able to view information about how each of the three systems is performing, plus other data about external air temperature and the environmental conditions for the theatre’s audience,” comments Joe Wright, Technical Manager at the Theatre Royal. “From a layman’s point of view, the software is very intuitive, so it’s easy to make changes to the heating and ventilation via the computer interface.”

As a result of the new BMS and the new transparency ethos, the Theatre Royal has also been able to provide its audience with a better theatre experience. Joe says: “We welcome feedback from the audience on air temperature and ventilation in the theatre and we are able to compare this feedback with the temperature data provided by the Priva system. Lots of people packed into an enclosed space naturally tends to increase the temperature in the auditorium, but the Priva controllers make it possible for us to adjust th
e ventilation mid-performance, to ensure the audience stays comfortable right through to the final curtain.”

What of the Theatre Royal’s pledge to cut its carbon dioxide emissions? The good news is that the Priva technology revealed that the old supply and extraction fans in the main auditorium were a weakness in the overall heating and ventilation system. By replacing these fans, the theatre will be able to further improve the efficiency of the theatre.

By being open to starting a dialogue with both its patrons and staff members, plus the help of some intelligent building control technology, the theatre has been able to usher in a new era of transparency.

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