Building in energy efficiency

The introduction of the Government’s Carbon Plan in 2011, and its accompanying Green Deal for homes and businesses, has put energy efficiency firmly on the political agenda. The Carbon Plan sets out the Government’s path in achieving the reduction of UK carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Central to the Carbon Plan is energy efficiency. As the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey pointed out in a recent speech, energy efficiency is: “the cheapest way of cutting carbon – and cutting bills for consumers. It has to be right at the heart of what we do.”

Energy efficiency will play a critical role in the Government’s energy efficiency efforts. The Carbon Plan sets out three key areas of focus and one of those is homes and buildings. This is bound to have a large impact on the building services sector, with new guidelines and regulations expected for buildings.

According to the Government’s Carbon Plan, the nation must ensure that the homes and buildings being built now and in the future are as energy efficient as possible. Indeed, as Davey has highlighted, the UK has some of the most inefficient housing stock in the EU.

How then can the building services sector respond to these new Government plans and what will be the most effective methods for improving energy efficiency in homes and businesses?

The Carbon Plan commits the Government to introducing ambitious energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings. As a result the plan provides for a range of new schemes to help push the energy efficiency agenda.

These schemes range from Voluntary Business Energy Efficiency Agreements with energy suppliers to promote energy efficiency and energy services to SMEs, to awarding buildings energy performance certificates and display energy certificates to give homeowners and businesses better information on the energy performance of their buildings.

Of course one of the main issues the Government is focusing on is the best way to heat homes and businesses as much of our building stock is still poorly insulated and inefficient. The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme introduced by the Carbon Plan will also provide support to homes and businesses choosing to install renewable heat technologies.

Drive down emissions

As well as replacing inefficient heating systems there will also be a focus on measures such as better insulation for buildings. The intention is to drive down the emissions that result from heating our homes and businesses and will also play an important part in meeting the UK’s EU target to source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

However, in my opinion the key to energy efficiency is not just about ‘hard’ measures such as better insulation – although there is no doubt this will help. Moreover, although the focus on providing more and better information through energy certificates is welcome, it is not the critical factor that will significantly improve energy efficiency.

The real key to reduce overall energy use and demand lies in driving long term behavioural changes in how people use energy. It is a more complex problem to solve, particularly for the building services sector, which may focus on improving the fixtures and fittings in buildings, but it is only through modifying how we use energy that we will see major improvements in energy efficiency throughout the home or office.

One of the other central parts of the Carbon Plan is the nationwide rollout of 53 million smart meters in 30 million homes and businesses by the end of the decade. On the face of it these devices promise more accurate meter readings and billing for energy users. However, if that is the sole remit for smart meters then users will still be faced with an overall energy consumption figure and total cost. The fact that those figures are more accurate will not improve energy efficiency.

Areas of focus

Likewise, audits that are promised through the Government’s Green Deal may enable organisations to identify areas of focus for reducing energy usage in their buildings, but how will they know the true impact of any investment they make to change their infrastructure or alter the behaviour of their staff?

Organisations need to be empowered to fully understand the energy consumption of their buildings and the people that work or live in them. Smart meters need to be much more than accurate billing devices because if smart meters can be used more intelligently then there is the potential to drive dramatic improvements in energy efficiency.

Technology innovation may well hold the answer, such as in the form of energy data disaggregation technology from Navetas which is capable of providing a granular level of detail into the energy that is used at every point across a building down to individual appliances.

Energy efficiency will be most effective when this technology is used to transform smart meters from simple displays to intelligent energy management and monitoring systems, empowering energy users with detailed usage data and informative displays to make the behavioural changes required to increase energy efficiency.

It’s a technology that will allow homeowners and organisations of any size and type to identify energy consumption at a detailed level and truly understand where energy is being used, by anything from air conditioning to a kettle. As a result, clear actions can be set out that will make the biggest impact to energy use, the carbon footprint, and of course the energy bill.

Reducing emissions

The Government has set out some ambitious energy reduction targets, supported with high profile schemes such as the Carbon Plan and initiatives like the smart meter rollout. For organisations, this will mean new guidelines to comply with and new technologies being installed in buildings up and down the country.

Organisations need to be aware of these new schemes; last year E.ON announced that UK small businesses were losing as much as £7.7 billion a year by failing to install simple energy efficiency measures. The smart meter rollout and the associated schemes are a perfect opportunity for organisations to embrace energy efficiency and make the long term behavioural changes that will benefit businesses and reduce carbon emissions.