Putting energy issues above politics

Published:  25 October, 2008

CIBSE gold medallist and former president Brian Moss believes the expertise of engineers could transcend politics in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions — even to the level of CIBSE partnering with the Government.

Less than 20 years ago when Brian Moss was president of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers [1992] he was asked by presidents of other institutions why building-services engineers complained to vociferously about not being included in the early stages of a project when broad strategic questions were invariably met with the reply that it would take several hours to input numbers into a program to find exact answers.

Brian Moss in his gold medal address to CIBSE members, asked, ‘How could we expect early inclusion when building-services engineers were unable to competently argue their concerns and present their advice in a way which advanced the conceptual stages of a project? Clearly they were not impressed with the calibre of CIBSE members and, furthermore, we not convinced of their importance.’

Times have changed, and building-services engineers are increasingly consulted at the very inception of a project. Their advice often determines the viability of a scheme and almost always affects the design and construction of buildings.

Brian Moss acknowledges that global warming, energy costs and security of supply, and stringent and often very complex regulations have driven this change. However, he also believes that the way CIBSE has handled these issues has enabled members to respond to the needs of the construction industry and enhance the standing of the institution itself.

More recently, CIBSE has started to take an active role in campaigning to help address climate change. In 2006, the institution launched its 100 days of carbon clean-up campaign, which encouraged 550 companies to reduce their carbon emissions over 100 days. That campaign continued into 2007. The concept continues in 2008, with participants dedicating 100 hours of staff time to carbon clean up receiving help to reduce the costs associated with getting an Energy Performance Certificate or a Display Energy Certificate.

Looking to continuous and longer-term involvement in reducing carbon emissions, CIBSE launched a register of low-carbon consultants for those with particular expertise in reducing carbon emissions and who had undergone relevant additional training. The intention was to allow these consultants to carry out calculations relating to Part L of the Building Regulations, and over a thousand are now registered.

What frustrates Brian Moss, and it is just one of his frustrations, is that recognition of those on the register as competent persons under Regulation 17 of the Building Regulations has not been forthcoming. — in spite of them being the most qualified and experienced engineers operating in this specialist area. Brian Moss asserts, ‘They could provide real value to building owners and developers and the Building Control process if they were recognised as Competent Persons.’

More positive has been official reaction to CIBSE Certification Ltd’s accreditation scheme. CLG approved the scheme early in 2008, and certified engineers can provide Display Energy Certificates and Energy Performance Certificates for all types of building in the UK and also air-conditioning assessments for complex systems.

Stressing CIBSE’s position on carbon emissions, Brian Moss says, CIBSE has played a major role in educating firms in how to lower their carbon emissions, in helping them actually reduce them and putting in place expertise to take the process further.

‘The institution is concerned only in achieving genuine reduction. It has no interest in carbon offsetting — likened by some to be a modern equivalent of selling indulgences and, in my view, as capable of modifying the climate as the ancient church was of influencing entry into heaven via an admittance charge.’

This is in marked contrast to Government concerns. Whereas CIBSE currently sees the reduction of energy and carbon emissions almost as its raison d’être, Government, unfortunately but understandably, regards it as just one of a number of intractable problems demanding attention.

Just as building-services engineers now influence buildings from their concept stage, Brian Moss suggests that CIBSE and the Government could act in partnership, with the institution taking responsibility for the day-to-day implementation of the energy-efficiency provisions of the Building & Energy Performance Regulations and, perhaps, the relevant elements of the proposed Construction Products Regulations too.

He says, ‘CIBSE can offer the technical competence to meet Government’s needs in this critical area. At a stroke, technical competence, transparency, and accountability to the industry as a whole (supply and demand sides) would be available.

‘As a very worthwhile bonus, they would be less exposed to the whims of politicians and the mercy of electoral timetables. Part L 2005 was delayed by the general election and became Part L 2006 — and another six months were lost in the fight against climate change!’

He likens his suggestion to the USA, where the International Code Council [which is concerned only with the USA] supervises the drafting of a whole series of city, council and state codes — including those concerned with energy conservation, fuel gas, mechanical and plumbing.

Supporting the case for such a partnership is that the UK Government has for many years lacked sufficient good internal scientific and engineering staff. Lord Brown, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has also expressed ‘dismay at the lack of engineers involved in the formulation of the Energy & Climate Change Bill’.

Perhaps such a role for CIBSE might have avoided the recent announcement by CLG that campus-style sites can produce a Display Energy Certificate for the entire site rather than for every building. The original NHS estimate, for example was that it had 10 000 to 18 000 buildings — which has been reduced to fewer than a thousand. Similar proportionate reductions might apply to universities and secondary schools.

Not only might the cause of energy efficiency be jeopardised, but the abrupt change of policy is costing the industry dear.

Brian Moss explains, ’13 accrediting bodies, each of which invested in software and start-up costs, based their business plans on income from 40 000 DECs — £1.2 million at current charges — but fewer than 10 000 will be needed in year one, representing an income of only £300 000 between them. This is possibly not enough to enable them all to continue, and those they have accredited may be left without an accrediting body. In particular, CIBSE will certify some 400 fewer DECs than budgeted this year, representing a lost income of £120 000.’

Brian Moss is concerned that the money invested to deal with the original higher estimates for DECs must now be withdrawn from learned-society functions such as research and technical publications.

He asks, ‘Is this what Government wants? And does it understand that a substantial number of its buildings now cannot be monitored effectively. No wonder the Parliamentary environment watchdog recently announced that the Government is lagging far behind in its own targets to cut emissions.’

Brian Moss’s final question is, ‘How can the Government reject the partnership I’m proposing? Surely it can aspire to the idealism motivating CIBSE so that together they can drive the UK towards a more effective energy- and carbon-reduction programme, for the greater comfort, survival even, of mankind.’ — a conclusion that drew a very enthusiastic response from his audience.

This article is based on Brian Moss’s CIBSE gold medal address ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’. The full presentation can be read and watched on the CIBSE web site



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