Time to pick the low hanging fruit

Professor David Fisk, President, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) asks if energy bills can be cut by 20-30% by good engineering and informed, effective facilities and energy management?

The UK, for the first time in its history, is a net importer of its energy and it will remain so for some time, with all the vulnerability that entails. Now, facing bills for energy supply investment that are enormous – the going rate for new non-fossil base load is around £3,000/kW from what French energy firm Areva has been saying, attention is turning to adjusting the demand side for energy, at last.

Remember the old joke about nuclear? You knew how much power it would produce, the bad news was that you didn’t know how much it would cost?  For energy efficiency it seems it is the other way around.  We know how much it costs but we do not know how well it will work.

With the UK Government recognising the importance of energy efficiency through the creation of the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office (EEDO), and with many of CIBSE’s members working with clients who have now reached the ceiling on their energy budget, the need and understanding of energy efficient systems is taking centre stage.

Energy bills can be cut by good engineering, and informed and effective facilities and energy management.  We need to make our solutions for buildings more efficient and more affordable, and to do this we need to use a combination of research and practical engineering experience as a basis.

Be involved

The single reason many designs for low energy buildings turn out to be rather ordinary in practice is because the client brief was fuzzy on exactly how the building’s energy was to be managed on handover.

This needs on-going support, so that when the building is handed over we ensure that the operational engineers are involved.  They need to understand the design intent, how the building is intended to work, and how to operate and run the building effectively.  It is vital that the designer and construction team are engaged for an appropriate period to advise the end user and/or operator about how the building and its systems were intended to operate, as well as leaving a usable and practical building operation manual (and not just an O&M manual or an H&S file).

Leaving an end user/operator with nothing more than an operating and maintenance manual is not good enough, and the designer and contractor should be engaged to visit at intervals after handover to monitor the building and systems energy performance and advise upon where it differs from expectation and how the end user might improve the performance. 

Building services engineers also need to work with facilities managers so that they can work with and manage a system that can ultimately be improved on, in order that a building is not just left to its own devices. 

Delivering efficiency

The latest edition of CIBSE Guide F: Energy Efficiency in Buildings looks at the delivery of energy efficient buildings in practice.  The Guide comprises three core parts: Designing the building energy design checklist; Operating and upgrading the building – why buildings fail on energy; and, of course, Benchmarks.

CIBSE Guide F 2012 edition includes a new section on ‘developing an energy strategy’. This reflects the changes to planning policy, which now include targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from new developments and the need to submit a detailed energy strategy report as part of the planning application.  Whilst this may be aimed initially at those working under UK planning rules, it is still relevant outside the UK as it encourages a systematic planned approach to energy use.

In addition, the section on energy efficient refurbishment has been expanded, recognising the urgent need to upgrade existing buildings and the opportunities to improve performance.

The second part of Guide F (covering the operation of the building) has been updated to include more information about carbon management, and the need for improved metering and monitoring.

Energy efficiency often seems to beg the question as to what is being divided by what.   Energy management focuses in a more holistic way on what the business is really about; and energy does need to be closely managed.  Well managed energy flows ensure that we are using energy efficiently, that we do not need so much of it and that we are reducing carbon, without the need for confusing terms such as low carbon coal.


Energy management also needs benchmarks.  To deliver the investment flow paths outlined in CIBSE’s Guide F, we can pick up some clues to this delivery by looking at energy intensive users.  They often have the problems of large extensive plant, often with legacy components and monitoring designed to catch exceptions, not diagnosing performance.  Their answer to this is to deploy benchmarking.

Data pooled (where appropriate, anonymously) and normalised to metrics so that plant performance can be compared with its peers means that expensive diagnostic attention can then be tightly focussed on the worst performing plant to produce viable investment plans.

CIBSE has been pioneering this approach for buildings through the technical memoranda found in the CIBSE Knowledge Portal.  The benchmarking memoranda underpin the English Display Energy Certificates.  Often the improvement has been more precise management but the more that is learnt about the actual performance of plant; the better a case can be made for investment.

Energy management is not just controlling what you have, but through control finding where you can invest to work more efficiently. 

New opportunities

The adoption of BIM will bring challenges and opportunities into the equation.  At the recent CIBSE Conference it was evident that participants foresaw BIM changing the way we all work, driving greater collaboration and co-operation.  Energy efficient buildings demand an integrated supply chain, and Government clients will be focusing more and more on the delivery of the information they need to manage their buildings effectively as a result of the Government’s BIM Strategy.

At a time when energy prices are rising to pay for new generating infrastructure, companies are making plans to meet their Carbon Reduction Commitments and there are even calls for investment in shale gas, focusing on energy efficiency is essential for owners of both new and existing buildings.  Successful collaborative working is the key to achieving a low energy, low carbon future for the industry.

There have been too many schemes in the past that subsidised energy efficiency measures without any formal performance feedback – it’s time to fix that.  CIBSE’s Building Performance Awards, the winn
ers of which will be announced in March 2013, is a way of recognising this in the industry, but we need all of the help which energy managers in the field can give.

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