The energy being wasted every year by a few thousand office buildings across five UK cities could power over 100,000 homes and is costing businesses £60m annually in unnecessary energy bills according to a new report from the think tank, Green Alliance. 

Despite ever heightened public awareness of the pressing need for us all to be more aware of our carbon footprint and strive to be more energy efficient, the general rule remains that energy control in many buildings is poor. Despite the availability of a range of well-tested systems, guidance on how to implement these systems is perceived to be overly complex resulting in poor uptake. 

Building controls, whether standalone units or full building energy management systems (BEMS) are designed to provide a comfortable climate for building occupants while using the lowest possible amount of energy. Controls can be used to manage heating, cooling, air-conditioning and lighting systems, blinds, fire and security systems and lifts. They should also be used to collect and display data from meters so that energy information is then displayed and transparentHaving good quality data giving insightful insight into actual energy use is the key to achieving an energy-efficient building. 

Energy accounts for about 40% of the running costs of a building in its lifetime 

The report for the Green Alliance Tech Force revealed that most of the UK’s commercial buildings are energy inefficient and, overall, energy consumption per square metre has flatlined since 2002. 

The report highlights that better use of digital technology is one obvious solution, to save both money and carbon. Examples of how it can help reduce energy use include smart sensors and algorithms, to track and modulate energy use in different parts a building. Evidence shows that these technologies can vastly improve the energy performance of commercial buildings. 

There are substantial opportunities for immediate and easy gains. Artificial intelligence energy optimisation systems already on the market could cut energy use by as much as 14 per cent in commercial buildings with pay back in just a few months.  

Smart sensors are increasingly affordable solution that can effectively pay for themselves in a single billing cycle. Anything that can be done to manage energy effectively equates to a benefit to your bottom line.  

Your decision on which solution to be installed should be based on life-cycle costs, not short-term thinking about initial capital outlay. Demand-based control is the most energy-efficient approach. It certainly isn’t rocket science! This means turning systems off when not needed or if this isn’t practical then at least turning them down – just as the last thing you do before you leave the house in the morning is turn the lights off. Companies that own and occupy at least part of their corporate real estate have an inherent advantage. You can choose to treat your facility as value creators instead of cost centres thanks to deployment of energy management solutions.  

Retrofit and remote access  

Controls can be applied equally to new or refurbished building. A growing trend is greater integration which is best achieved through using open communication protocols such as BACnet, KNX, LON, Modbus and M-bus. Remote access is also worth considering. This allows an FM or service energy to interrogate the system from another site to diagnose issues and resolve or control them without having to be onsite. Yet another potential cost saving especially if you have sites in remote or hard to reach areas.  

When establishing your energy management system, FMs should consider the following issues: 

Future Proofing 

Energy management can be seen purely as a cost-cutting exercise with the temptation to cut capital costs without a long-term vision. Standalone controls are cheap, but several will be required so this could represent a false economy. Pre-programmed BEMS are more flexible so have a higher installation price. To fully realise the potential savings from energy efficiency, programmable BEMS, albeit the costliest initial outlay, are your best long-term bet. 

Technology soon gets old and to ensure that your system does not become redundant it needs to be programmable. A programmable system is likely to be flexible enough to take into account changes in use and can be upgraded to benefit from tech and software advances.  

Occupancy patterns  

Knowing how the building is used improves the estimation of savings and, following installation, allows commissioning of the controls to fully realise those energy savings. These range, for offices, from a potential of 34 per cent for zonal controls to 54 per cent for a fully programmable BEM. 

Monitoring and targeting  

Energy management relies on the adage ‘if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it’. This means that the control system (the BEMS) needs to be linked to the metering, so that all the monitoring and targeting functions can be carried out in the same place, thus allowing management to be instantaneous. 

To justify business cases, it’s vital for the performance of new assets, including control systems, to be verified. A fully integrated system can allow collection and analysis of this data, thus allowing this step to be simple and relatively painless.  

Set-up, process and training 

It is essential to understand your business and building(s) when producing a servicing and controls strategy. The next step is to ensure that the controls are installed and commissioned to achieve this strategy. But it is an unending process to resolve operating problems, improve comfort, optimise energy use and identify retrofits for existing buildings and central plant facilities. 
Training is only as current as the last person trained so, like commissioning, it should be a continuing process to ensure that facilities staff, the FM contractor and other users know how to use the system properly.   
Maintenance: planned upgrades  
This runs alongside ongoing commissioning, requiring the hardware to be monitored and upgraded as appropriate. This is especially true of sensors where the system will still run if they are damaged or have drifted owing to old age, but not at optimal performance.  
Management reporting  
For energy management to be effective, the data must be presented in a concise manner and in a form suited to the audience. What is required for management of the system will be far more detailed than that required for the financial department to reconcile the bills each month. Board reports need to be concise and should highlight any issues.  

 For example, when managing services, you need to ensure that they are delivering the right amount at the right time. Modern systems can be set up to alert key staff by email when services fail to switch off when expected, use more energy than expected or when communications go down.   

What does all this mean for the bigger picture? The government’s adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, says cutting energy waste is vital to reach the UK’s net zero emissions by 2050 goal. Although the government has committed to cut business energy use by 2030 by at least a fifth, existing policies will not achieve it. We all need to do our bit. 

To find out more about how Keystone could help you implement your energy management strategy, contact us today.