Taking advantage of the carbon tax

Managing the CRCEES necessitates an effective process for measuring and managing energy performance. Building services engineers have an important role to play in selecting the best systems, suggests David Bell of Causeway’s Sustainability iQ division.

When the Government changed the whole basis of the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRCEES) in the Comprehensive Spending Review, it certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. Overnight, what had been a scheme to reward energy efficiency improvements with refunds of carbon allowances effectively became a carbon tax.

This has clear implications for the organisations that are captured by the scheme, but it also has significance for the building services engineers who advise them – for example, when operating as carbon consultants. In fact, one could argue that the underlying imperative to drive down carbon emissions has now been reinforced by the increased cost of not doing so.

This highlights one of the major challenges facing building services engineers who are involved in carbon management. Their engineering skills are certainly invaluable in proposing more efficient designs, but first there has to be an understanding of current energy performance. And that’s the tricky bit, because measuring energy consumption at a granular level, and then analysing the mass of resulting data, isn’t as easy for most organisations as one might think.

Assessing the carbon footprint of a building is a case in point. Measuring overall carbon emissions from buildings may be relatively straightforward if automatic meter reading (AMR) has been installed – and this will be required for the CRCEES, Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates. However, most AMR only measures bulk consumption of gas, electricity etc across the building.

For instance, you may know the total gas consumption of a building, but how much is used for catering and how much for heating and hot water? So more detailed information, ideally through sub-metering, is required to identify areas of waste and excessive consumption. This, in turn, means much higher volumes of information has to be gathered if the data is going to be genuinely useful.

At the same time, it’s not just important to get a handle on carbon management, it’s important to make it quick and easy. If it’s just seen as a nuisance the end client won’t gain the full benefits – and this really could be seen as a great opportunity to reduce overheads as well as emissions.

Managing the data

In a typical organisation that has already been captured by the CRCEES (and there will be many more as the threshold is lowered) the required energy data will be spread across many buildings throughout the country. Furthermore, it will exist in a range of different formats, quite possibly involving data held by sub-contractors as well as in-house data.

As a result, analysing the data and generating the necessary reports can be a major, time consuming and tedious task. In fact, we recently came across a large organisation where two people were taking two weeks every month to generate the required carbon data.

Specialist tools

Clearly this situation is untenable, so it makes sense to harness the power of computers to crunch the numbers and do the donkey work. In the example above, the time taken was reduced to less than a day.

Unfortunately, generalised information management systems aren’t configured to deal with energy or other sustainability data. The specialist nature of this kind of data calls for specialist tools and I would suggest the building services engineer can play an important role in selecting the right tools. To that end there are certain criteria to look out for.

Firstly, such a system needs to provide a comprehensive end-to-end solution from collation of energy data to reporting on financial and carbon performance, tracking trends and calculating carbon footprint. Financial and usage tracking will support trend analysis and forecasting for informed decision making.

Because of the time factor, human intervention should be minimised with as many automated functions as possible – backed by fail-safe mechanisms that recognise discrepancies and refer them to a person. Configurable user permissions will enable each person to be assigned a defined role with proscribed routines to minimise the risk of human error. It should also allow data to be input in different ways from different sources.

Alongside these criteria are practical issues such as ease of use and the ability to change key data, such as meter IDs and responsible personnel.

Cost may also be a consideration, of course, but with the growing use of hosted services – sometimes known as Software as a Service (SaaS) – this needn’t be a problem. Rather than buying the software outright, the end user can access it for a small monthly fee, so there’s no need to dip into the capital budgets. This approach also makes it easy for all authorised stakeholders to view data using a standard web browser, wherever they are located.

Scalability is another important criterion, so that as the property portfolio changes the software configuration can change with it. This could be particularly important for those organisations that aren’t yet fully participating in the CRCEES but expect to be as thresholds are changed to capture more revenue. There is also added value for the end client in being able to extend a carbon management system to encompass other areas of sustainability.

Pinpointing areas for improvement

As the purpose is to facilitate energy savings as well as understand current consumption and carbon footprint, the more detailed the data is the better. So, for example, it’s helpful to be able to view data at different levels (from global and country down to building and business unit and even individual meters) so performance comparisons can be made at each level.

Given the volumes of data, exception reporting is particularly useful as it will highlight figures that fall outside pre-defined ‘norms’, enabling the user to drill down to more detail.

For example, following major improvements to the insulation of one building a company anticipated significant reductions in gas consumption for heating. The sustainability management system flagged up that consumption was exceeding this target, triggering a detailed examination of the heating system. They found that not only had the building management system not been reconfigured but there was also an increase in boiler dry cycling because heating loads had fallen. An investment of £6,000 in boiler load optimisation gave a payback of just two months.

In parallel, the data needs to have its quality maintained throughout its life cycle, so that any changes or updating comply with the established quality assurance procedures and any changes are recorded to provide a step-by-step audit trail. This is particularly important when submitting data for the CRCEES because inaccurate data can incur fines.

Similarly, the software should help with the compilation of evidence packs for when they are audited by the Environment Agency for the CRCEES, including uploading of supporting documents.

In sourcing a suitable system, therefore, it’s important to ensure that all of these criteria are addressed, as indeed they are in the new CRC module within the Sustainability iQ suite from Causeway.