Float your boat with operational energy use data

Author: Kerry Mashford 30/09/2015

At the Buildings & Energy Efficiency Event in November, I’ll be presenting on using operational energy use data to improve non-domestic energy efficiency. A timely subject since one of the conclusions in the Committee on Climate Change’s 2015 Report to Parliament was that: “Non-residential buildings emissions have stayed flat, with little evidence of any energy efficiency improvement.”

The committee’s finding is disappointing but illustrates the desperate need across the property industry for a better understanding of how to deliver high energy performance across new-builds, existing buildings and refurbishments.

There is, however, some comfort in that energy performance evaluation is rising up the agenda for many organisations - whether it’s because of the commercial bottom line, the ‘push’ of government legislation and initiatives (such as ESOS and the Electricity Demand Reduction Scheme), the desire to combat climate change, or the wish to improve occupant comfort and productivity. 

At the grass roots level, it's often difficult for those responsible for buildings to understand how much energy is being used, even more so how it breaks down into end uses, time periods, zones and different types of occupants. People often don’t know what to measure, how to measure it, how often it should be measured or how to interpret the data – so the default is to do very little or nothing at all, or, when they do get round to doing something, they assume that data from their buildings’ energy management systems can be recovered and used by ‘experts’.

Operational energy use data can help address the problem identified by the CCC, simply because collecting and analysing it can reveal where and when energy is being consumed, and how this changes over time and under different usage patterns. Not only that, it also enables Energy Managers to identify and prioritise opportunities for energy-related improvements – whether they’re capital investment, occupant education or building modifications.

The first stage of an energy efficiency plan is to gather key data about how a building is currently performing to identify the annual energy use per square metre. Together with the building type (office, shopping centre, depot, etc), this can be used to compare the performance of buildings across a portfolio and, if appropriate, against published benchmarks for different types of building.

Comparing buildings makes it possible to identify potential opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and to prioritise further, more detailed investigations. Our VolDEC scheme can play an important role here. It’s a not-for-profit operational energy performance certification scheme and is based on the methodology used with mandatory Display Energy Certificates.

VolDECs measure and compare building energy performance in an easy, consistent and affordable way. In particular, they solve the issues around the landlord and tenant energy split and they provide property owners and operators with energy ratings for the specific areas of a building that they control or manage, and are therefore able to improve. As more buildings undergo VolDECs, benchmarks for different building types and servicing typologies will be refined, thereby giving Energy Mangers a better understanding of how their buildings compare with others and where the greatest potential for improvement lies.

The CCC’s finding on progress so far might be disappointing but with common sense, easy-to-access tools such as VolDECs now becoming available, there is no excuse and every opportunity for reducing energy costs and improving efficiency, occupant comfort and staff productivity. I look forward to seeing you at the Buildings & Energy Efficiency Event – and to floating your boat on operational energy use data!