Walking the carbon walk

David Frise
How to reduce carbon emissions — David Frise
Most companies and individuals are finally ready to tackle their carbon emissions, but few actually know what to do, says DAVID FRISE.The launch of CIBSE’s 100 Days of Carbon Clean-up scheme last month (June 2006) was a watershed for the champions of energy and sustainability. With almost 500 significant end users — including major players like Land Securities, Boots and John Lewis — committing themselves to tackling their own energy consumption and measuring the difference they make in the period between two utility bills, the whole pace of carbon reduction suddenly stepped up. Or did it? This initiative is certainly the most impressive yet attempted by the industry to drive the rhetoric about energy into the real world of practical action, but an implementation gap remains. The CIBSE scheme offers a free measurement tool to track energy consumption to help participating organisations monitor the savings they make. An awards scheme has been set up to further motivate the participants. Phil Jones, chairman of the CIBSE Energy Performance Group, added that the campaign meant, ‘We are no longer just preaching to the converted. Building-services engineers have been bashing their heads against a brick wall on this issue for years, but finally people who haven’t done much about energy yet are coming to us for the practical steps.’ And, according to CIBSE President David Hughes: ‘This is about getting to grips with the biggest problem area, which is existing buildings. The secret is motivating people to change their habits, because it is people who cause carbon emissions not the buildings.’ Base load Measuring your energy use, and therefore your contribution to carbon emissions, is a vital first step. A number of organisations have discovered anomalies such as energy consumption way above the base load being consumed over weekends and Bank Holidays when the building should be empty. It recently came to light that our schools could be wasting more than 35% of their energy after commissioning and energy-management specialist Commtech ran a series of surveys. ‘One school was at least 500% over the DfES (Department for Education & Skills) benchmark for energy consumption,’ said the company’s head of energy Mike Malina. ‘Another is paying over a quarter of a million pounds annually for electricity — more than double what it should be. At one school Mr Malina measured 45 kW of electricity consumption on Easter Sunday when the buildings were deserted. Imagine what our hard-up education sector could do with that wasted money. At least, if you have the information, you can start to work out why. Getting staff to use equipment more efficiently will represent a massive awakening for building users, who are indirectly responsible for 50% of the country’s carbon emissions. However, we will have to go much further and faster to meet the 60% carbon-reduction target needed to mitigate the effects of global warming. The Carbon Clean-up will, hopefully, sow the seeds, which will hopefully make it easier for organisations to move onto the next stage and make the necessary serious investments in low- and zero-carbon (LZC) technologies like solar water heating, ground-source heat pumps, mini-CHP and photo-voltaics. Energy-efficiency improvements will have to be tied to spending on LZC to make the impact we need on building emissions. Users will also have to be persuaded about the benefits of reducing the load on heating and cooling systems by upgrading control systems and putting strategic maintenance programmes in place. Transformed Legislation can be a real force for change, as we have seen in the domestic-heating sector with the surge in high-efficiency condensing boilers since the implementation of the new Part L in April 2005. That market has been transformed in record time. In 2000, only 7% of the market was accounted for by condensing boilers. Last year it was 70%, and it will be well above 90% in the coming years. The Government aims to deliver 25% of the country’s total carbon reduction via the new Building Regulations by 2010, but the changes recognise that the Achilles’ heel of past attempts to address this area is the fact that buildings rarely perform ‘as designed’. Poor scheduling and compressed construction timetables have led to many buildings never being properly commissioned. with air and water systems left unbalanced when the building is occupied. This in turn has had a disastrous effect on energy performance and occupant comfort. The catastrophic contractual muddle at Wembley Stadium is well documented, as is the fact that the build cost has soared to almost £800 million, but has anyone actually considered what the long-term impact of that building will be? It would be nice to be proved wrong, but we have to be concerned about the likely implications for running costs and carbon impact of a structure that starts life in such an inauspicious way. However, now that the new Part L is in force, commissioning sits right at the heart of the new regulatory framework, and designers should now be held accountable for ensuring that what is built can be sustainably operated and maintained. Contractors are used to working at the ‘coal face’ when it comes to implementing designs, so we are the right people to bridge the implementation gap between users and Government. Building Control Officers are poorly equipped to deal with Part L compliance. They are desperate for individual industries to take on this task, which is where self-certification under competent-person schemes is going to be critical. The Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association is well placed to help its members to meet these new challenges and self-certify their work. Our inspection and assessment regime means our members have already proved their competence to third-party assessors and so are ideally placed to join the competent person schemes and provide the skilled people required to drive the carbon-reduction programme. There is no argument now that most organisations have woken up and are making 2006 the year when they finally tackle their carbon emissions. Many are now asking for detailed guidance on what to do, but only a few people are currently technically qualified to actually implement the required measures. That must mean even more demand for the skills of building-services contractors. David Frise is chairman of the Sustainability Issues Group of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association.
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