When energy efficiency went on the back foot

Mike Malina, Energy Solutions Associates, DEC, EPC
What is the point of having laws passed by Parliament where no enforcement is carried out?

10 years on, we’ve taken steps forward, tripped a bit and on occasions banged our heads against some pipework. Mike Malina looks back and to the future.

Congratulations to MBS on 10 years of covering a great range of subjects and pushing the boundaries of the building-engineering-services industry. I am pleased to have contributed to this process, writing articles on the importance of energy management, commissioning and training during this timeframe.

This 10th anniversary issue gives me an opportunity to review where we’ve come from, with some of the progress made as well as reflecting on the frustrations of some missed opportunities.

Many of these disappointments can be laid at the door of a total lack of joined-up Government, past and present. They clearly do not understand our industry nor how we can be so key for delivering sustainable buildings that work and helping meet our collective role in reducing carbon emissions, saving energy and making the UK a lot more competitive and efficient.

Back in 2004 I was looking at the impact and potential opportunities that we could look forward to with the prospect of the UK’s implementation of the new European Performance of Buildings Directive.

In June 2005 I wrote an article in MBS (first link at the end of this article) looking at the real prospect of laying out a promising future for our industry as we embraced and implemented a greater role for increasing energy efficiency, and a higher promotion for commissioning, building controls and systems integration.

All in all, the outlook for moving sustainable buildings forward and creating great opportunities for growing our industry, both in business terms and prominence looked fantastic. The industry has indeed moved forward, and, in a number of areas, recognised the real opportunities. It is great to see the growth of the Commissioning Specialists Association (CSA) and the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA) representing and promoting the commissioning and controls industry respectively.

With legislation on our side promoting energy certificates for buildings (eventually for new and existing, commercial and domestic) I could see the prospect of driving real incentives to raise energy standards and performance. After all, you would think we would have an interest in wanting to achieve as close to an A rating and avoid wherever possible being at the bottom of the table with a G. The A to G rating would surely drive energy performance and raise awareness with building owners who demand the best for their building, as they could see the prospect of reduced energy bills and operating costs. This would then stimulate the building industry to respond and deliver all the processes to achieve this, expanding the energy efficiency elements to comply with the development of lower energy using and more sustainable buildings.

Well, I have to say how disappointed I am with the real failure of compliance on energy ratings. One year on from when the revised EPBD came into effect, the minimal amount of compliance, especially in the domestic sale and rental sector, is woeful. The same applies to any enforcement of air-conditioning inspections. It very clearly states on the Government’s website (third link below): ‘Your air-conditioning system must be inspected every five years by an energy assessor to make sure it’s energy efficient. If you don’t get your air-conditioning inspected every five years, you will be fined £300.’

This is hardly a serious penalty or a deterrent, as not a single case of prosecution has been made by any authority. The same applies to the extensive F-gas regulations, where the Environment Agency admitted it had failed to prosecute anyone for F-gas non-compliance, instead preferring to rely on raising awareness to encourage participation. Well, it’s been a dismal failure. To top it all, we saw the Prime Minister, who once pledged to lead the 'greenest government ever', flip and tell officials to ‘get rid of the green crap’.

Mike Malina, Energy Solutions Associates, DEC, EPC

What is the point of having laws passed by Parliament where no enforcement is carried out?

The industry is clearly moving on and wants to do well, but is constantly being undermined by a disjointed and gimmick-ridden Government. The catalogue of more badly-handled and half-baked schemes goes on. The Carbon Reduction Commitment later became the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, the Feed In Tariff, the Renewable Heat Incentive and finally the Green Deal —amounting to so much paper work and hot air.

So where is the UK Government going next with regards the advancement of saving energy?

In the near future we will start to see greater promotion of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and increasing energy efficiency standards. This is laid out in the 2013 Building Regulations. For example, translating the requirements for the EPBD II- 2016 should see higher energy-efficiency standards, leading on to 2018 with new public buildings required to be zero carbon and the rest following in 2020 for all new builds.

We shall see.

I look forward to another 10 years and very much remain the critical but eternal optimist who hopes the prospects for finally achieving a much higher profile for driving energy efficiency and awareness becomes the norm.

I hope to be able to write an article 10 years on in 2024 where it doesn’t warrant any more of a novelty in reporting the lack of energy-efficiency commitment or the need to go back and look at another missed opportunity!

Mike Malina is director of Energy Solutions Associates and the author of ‘Delivering sustainable buildings’, published by Wiley-Blackwell. Readers of MBS can get a 20% discount using the code VBB09 at the second link below.

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