Acclaro Advisory - Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings - Part One - Image 1 - London city buildings at night

Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings: What’s changed in the last 25 years?

Acclaro Advisory - Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings - Part One - Image 2 - The Gherkin and The ShardThe introduction of Net Zero – the UK’s contribution to stop global warming by aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 – provides a significant driver for energy efficiency and a means for the real estate sector to step up and have a voice about how organisations can help to deliver on this important target.

This is the first of a series of blog posts which aim to provide coordinated information on: optimising energy performance in buildings; strategy, target setting and culture; and procurement and supplier impacts.

This article will focus on the first area – optimising energy performance in buildings.  Whilst this area has been discussed for many years – the PROBE studies¹ from 1995 helped to identify and quantify the challenges with existing buildings – the fact is that little progress has been made.  Many of the issues raised in these reports are common across the building stock standing today, so we have few surprises about the ongoing challenges and issues.  Business as usual is no longer sufficient, a different approach is required.

Why is energy performance in buildings an issue now?

Whilst Net Zero regulation has led to some positive changes, the greatest driver has been with investors who are requiring more of an evidenced-based approach including an understanding of risk.  The issues of energy and, more importantly, climate change are becoming incorporated into how funds are invested.  Regulations such as ESOS and SECR² raise the need for accurate data and public reporting to be made by some 11,000 UK organisations.  This provides a greater level of exposure – increasing reputational risks, and the potential to not be selected for bids and tenders.

As such, organisations at a senior level need to have a better understanding of the data and information provided from an enterprise risk perspective.  There is a role for the real estate sector to understand how energy is used and most importantly, why.  Better understanding within organisations of the difficulties associated with data collection and reporting without a joined up approach is necessary³.

What does good look like?

The increased prevalence of digital technologies has led to the disruption of the business-to-business or customer model as seen in Uber and WeWork.  The Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning is helping to deliver efficiencies by looking at more variables, and co-ordinating the insights into outputs.  Examples include:

  • DeepMind saved 40% of energy in Google’s data centres;
  • At The Edge (a building in Amsterdam)⁴, 28,000 sensors track items such as desk use, power use, water, meeting rooms, temperature, coffee.  Data is used to allocate space for staff, provide targeted cleaning, vary lighting and AC levels, maintenance schedules;
  • ABB Copenhagen utilise actuators on lighting, heating, audio, blinds, but FM decides on the prioritisation;
  • Predictive Maintenance – Disruptive Technologies such as Ravti, OpenSensors, Demand Logic

Acclaro Advisory - Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings - Part One - Image 3 - A man in front of a computer with a chart on the screenAlthough these ideas are becoming mainstream, the differentiator is to enable decision making by the end user, supporting positive behaviours.  Savings in the region of 20% to 40% (cost and carbon) can be realised from the use of the technology, with payback substantially less than some renewable energy and low carbon options.

‘The barriers to uptake are well documented: a lack of information; a lack of access to capital; high upfront costs and long payback periods; misaligned incentives between tenants and landlords; disruption to normal business activities; and competing investment demands within companies resulting in other business growth investments taking precedence’ – BEIS Committee Report⁵

Development of a business case and early engagement is critical to align the energy programme with the Business Goals and help overcome these barriers.

Common Issues

To start with, there are four key areas to focus upon to understand whether a building can be optimised, looking at the knowledge of the building, its means to be optimised and for this performance to be maintained.

1. Legacy⁶

Understanding the original intent of the building, the changes made and current use of the building, will help to determine whether it is fit for purpose.  An older building will naturally have more changes, but there are common issues related to heating and cooling demand, lighting provision and levels and controls (BMS) accuracy across all buildings regardless of age.  Looking at these areas will help determine the potential opportunity – remember, predictive maintenance tools typically find 20-40% improvement.

2. Skills 

The skills of building occupants are at odds with the complexity of the systems in new buildings; where offices have previously employed technicians, skilled facilities managers on high salaries are needed to look after new high-tech buildings.  A lack of competency will damage the ability to maintain a building’s performance regardless of the controls.

3. Contracts⁷

Clients have various departmental responsibilities from cost pressures and supply chain metrics, through to wellbeing and mental health and also environmental reporting and compliance.  Each of these areas have different drivers for their areas of the business and typically engage different contractors to deliver.  It is important to have a common goal and set of requirements that all parties can agree to which can reduce the level of conflict – higher office temperatures will improve wellbeing, but will also increase energy costs and may change the energy procurement criteria.

4. Internal barriers

Client engagement is vital; many case studies are illustrating scenarios where aspects are paid for but not necessarily fully delivered.  An engaged client is more likely to recognise this.  Education and awareness of the client is important – the optimisation of the building as a concept is set at management level, but is measured at the operational level.  Therefore the role of FM enables informed decision making to be made.

Acclaro Advisory - Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings - Part One - Image 4 - A large modern glass building

How to improve and succeed

The first step is to understand at a broad level where you are under the four common issues. A light touch approach to the energy performance can be taken. The development of a business case will match the current position against the business goals and objectives. Most organisations have public stated carbon reduction goals and any business over 250 employees will need to provide a Directors Report as part of the SECR. The key impacts revolve around disclosure, inability to bid and resilience of the business.

In my next post, we will look at developing a strategy and plan from this business case to take the programme forward so that it doesn’t just address the short term issues.


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³ – BEIS Committee – Energy Efficiency: building towards net zero

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⁵ – BEIS Committee – Energy Efficiency: building towards net zero

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