Maintaining pressure on energy consumption

Schneider Electric, energy efficiency, lighting, control
The importance of constant evaluation — David Lewis.

Existing buildings can benefit from a considered approach to substantially improve their energy efficiency. David Lewis outlines four simple steps to achieving energy efficiency and the notable savings that can be made in the process.

In the UK, new-build developments are subject to strict guidelines when it comes to delivering energy efficiency, with tough requirements on everything from the efficiency of concrete foundations through to the effectiveness of lighting and building-management systems. In existing commercial properties built five or more years ago, however, estimated to be approximately 98% of existing UK building stock, the process is not quite so straightforward.

Thankfully there are various steps that can be taken in any building to help improve energy performance and, ultimately, save money.

The first basic principle to consider is measurement. Building a commercial case for any capital expenditure on a building is vital, so it is essential to gain a full understanding of existing energy commitments upfront.

Simple though this may sound, there are still many UK business owners that are unaware of how much their quarterly energy expenditure is — despite almost certainly knowing how much their car insurance or food bill costs for the same period.

By measuring energy consumption through energy audits, metering and simple bill analysis, it is possible to generate data that can help businesses gain a detailed understanding of how much energy they consume, how it is consumed and when they consume it. The technology required to do this doesn’t have to be expensive either, as many measurement systems fall under the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme, which gives businesses an investment incentive against the company’s tax bill.

The second step in the process involves a focus on engagement. Initially, this should work towards getting all employees in a business to buy into simple behavioural changes like turning out the lights and making sure computers, fax machines and photocopiers are all switched off. While this may seem trivial, it is vital that equipment used on a day-to-day basis is not overlooked as this is very often where the greatest energy savings can be achieved.

Consider lighting controls, for example. According to statistics from the International Energy Agency, 30 to 40% of total energy consumed in offices and homes is used for lighting, and 90% of the associated cost is unnecessary due to over-illumination.

Effective use of lighting controls based on room occupancy and ambient light levels, alongside the right lighting solution, can generate potential savings of up to 75%. The solution need not be at the expense of style either, thanks to the variety of products on the market that combine form and functionality, such as Sphere from Schneider Electric.

The right lighting solution combined with effective controls can achieve savings of up to 75%.

The third step in the process involves the use of automation, where businesses can reduce their reliance on human participation in more monotonous or dangerous jobs, while bringing about greater production and energy efficiencies. For example, the ability to handle heating and ventilation, lighting and potentially even security requirements from a single automated system can bring about major efficiency solutions and enable the end user to assess energy-consumption patterns and the use of energy much more easily.

Further savings can also be made through the application of specialist equipment such as variable-speed drives (VSDs), pumps and motors — such as those commonly found in heating and ventilation systems. This type of technology can generate impressive savings of up to 50%.

The fourth and final step is to monitor, maintain and improve. Any business needs to continuously assess energy consumption and patterns of usage. What’s more, maintaining equipment and ensuring services are up to date is paramount if technology is to work efficiently. In this regard, energy management systems are a great tool to help businesses track trends in consumption to help them manage costs — both for current day-to-day business operations and those of the future.

Unfortunately, there is no one quick fix that will immediately bring about energy efficiency in the business environment. Evaluating your energy needs today is a good place to start, but it is crucial to plan for tomorrow. Sadly, for many businesses, the ‘fit-and-forget’ culture is still prevalent and, while perhaps understandable in today’s tough economic climate, can only lead to costly downtime and unnecessary expenditure in the future.

Ultimately, the route to securing energy efficiency over the long term lies in constant evaluation. By following these tried and trusted techniques, businesses can ensure they are prepared to meet the energy challenges of the future, while reducing their carbon footprint and, ultimately, saving money that can be ploughed back into day-to-day operations.

David Lewis is an energy-efficiency expert with Schneider Electric.

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