MEES – Just the start
With only five months until Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) are applied to buildings, our round table discussion panel, sponsored by LG Air Conditioning, agrees that MEES should be viewed as the starting point for building efficiency, not the finish.
Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) will be in force from April 1st 2018, only five months from now. Put simply, from that date it will not be legal to let a building that has an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of F or G.
Who’s who on the panel
Simon Clouston – Technical Director, Sustainability and Energy at WSP
Andrew Geens – Head of CIBSE Certification
Debbie Hobbs – Head of Sustainability, LGIM Real Assets
Andrew Slater – Senior Engineering Manager, LG Air Conditioning and Energy Solutions
Jeremy Smith – Sales Director LG Comfort Cooling
Martyn Wilkinson – Associate Director, Cundall
For commercial buildings, the potential impact on financial value is clear.
The link between MEES and EPCs is important, because it is both a benefit and a problem for the scheme. Andrew Geens, head of CIBSE Certification, explains: “EPCs were introduced in 2007 when the UK complied with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. The EPC is an indicator of the energy performance of the building as an asset. It is very important to bear in mind that the EPC is not a prediction of running costs or long-term performance.”
He draws the similarity between a building EPC and a car’s MPG figure. “The MPG allows buyers to see what a car’s likely fuel use might be, and to compare directly with other vehicles. But actual fuel usage depends on how the car is driven.
A building EPC is intended for easy and standard comparison of properties at the point of purchase or lease.”
Simple steps to take now
• Review older EPCs, as they are likely to have changed. They may be better than you thought; but they may be worse.
• Ensure your EPC assessor is well qualified, for example a CIBSE EPC assessor will be able to offer advice on improvements.
• Key areas to look at for improvement are: Lighting; boilers; VAV systems; and air change rates.
• You don’t necessarily have to spend extra: much of this can be done as part of general maintenance and refurbishment, or new fit-out, but it must be planned.
This is a key issue for building owners and tenants alike. Debbie Hobbs, head of sustainability for LGIM Real Assets says: “This is about a theoretical energy rating, which is what the EPC shows. The actual performance of a building in operation has nothing to do with the EPC. That could be better, or worse. MEES alone is unlikely to have a direct impact on building performance.”
Simon Clouston, technical director for sustainability and energy at WSP, adds: “I would certainly agree with that assessment. Feedback from our clients shows that there is a pretty loose relationship between EPC rating and actual energy performance.”
One of the other problems with an EPC is that it is valid for ten years. This means that a building which was certified as D, for example, at the start of 2008 could legitimately be rented using that same certificate in October 2017.
|Coulston: Investors are looking beyond MEES requirements to greater efficiency and carbon management.
There are also deeper issues with the underlying calculation of EPCs which could also be misleading to building owners and managers. Andrew Slater, senior engineering manager at LG Air Conditioning and Energy Solutions, says: “The EPC also falls a bit short in terms of measuring the real efficiency of equipment in a building. The calculation method for EPCs relies on information that may not be available in older buildings. Go into a 15-year-old building and try to find seasonal efficiencies for equipment there – that’s very difficult.”
He also points out that even up-to-date seasonal efficiencies may not be clear: “It’s only in 2018 that seasonal efficiencies for systems over 12kW are going to be regulated by Eurovent. At the moment, taking information from different manufacturers on equipment seasonal efficiencies means you’re not comparing apples with apples.”
An EPC then, is not a reflection of the operational efficiency of a building (and it’s not designed to be). This is unfortunate, because that’s where most buildings are really falling short. The panel agrees that building operation in the UK is generally not very good.
|Smith: We do see buildings where no control is being applied.
Jeremy Smith, sales director at LG Comfort Cooling, says: “We go into buildings to take a look at what’s going with the building services and find that the air conditioning is just running flat-out. No control is being applied.”
Martyn Wilkinson, associate director of Cundall, says: “We find that there’s often not even basic housekeeping in a lot of cases, for example using simple time clocks.” He adds that building owners need to get to know how to operate their buildings more effectively.
“It’s important to have a good building user guide when you move into an office, so there’s some advice for the FM in how to use the space in an efficient way. For example, when it’s 15˚C outside, maybe just open the windows and turn off the VRF.”
Routes to better operational efficiency are relatively straightforward, but the relationship between occupier and owner makes achieving them more complex.
Andrew Slater says: “If the building is owned by the occupiers, it’s easy to implement an operational change. But in a leased space you end up with a situation where you have a lot of dilapidated equipment that’s not running effectively. Yet the tenant won’t invest because the benefit would be more to the landlord. Even if the tenant occupies an A rated building, the performance they’re getting may be more like an E.”
|Wilkinson: Good paybacks are possible if you consider the overall building improvement.
Wilkinson agrees that even for landlords, priorities are not easy to change: “When we survey a building, the landlord goes first to the statutory elements such as fire alarms and emergency lighting. Energy efficiency comes right down towards the bottom of the list.”
All agreed that where the occupant is also responsible for building performance, better results can be a achieved when someone takes responsibility. Jeremy Smith says: “If someone makes decisions about how comfort levels are achieved in an energy efficient way, that can result in better long-term performance than if the building services operate unmonitored.”
Wilkinson says that in its own offices, Cundall has adopted simple strategies for better energy and comfort performance. “We have city centre offices in Birmingham and we use ventilation via the windows when possible. We have also put light fittings just over desks to provide task lighting. That has enabled us to take the energy for lighting down from 12.5 W/m2 to 4.5W/m2. All those simple approaches work.”
The landlord-tenant relationship has long been recognised as a sticking point for improving building performance. Jeremy Smith says: “Unless there is a financial driver for tenants to manage the building better, I can’t see what could happen. I think the Government should think about incentivising better performance. If someone rents an office and operates it at better-than-expected energy usage levels, they could receive and incentive payment against energy costs. So if you rent a C-rated office and keep it at that level for 12 months, there is a financial reward for achieving that.”
|Slater: It’s better to aim higher than an E rating now and to achieve more for the long-term.
Debbie Hobbs agrees: “We do need some kind of incentive for performance in use. Australia has an excellent example with NABERS – the National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme. An operational performance level is guaranteed at design stage, but it must be delivered in use or penalties are charged. So, if you’re a tenant and you ask for a four-star building under NABERS, if the landlord doesn’t deliver that, you get a rebate.”
She also points out that Australian commercial property generally operates at half the energy use of similar buildings in the UK, even though the buildings use the same building services equipment in a much warmer climate.
However, it may be that, while MEES and EPCs are a starting point for thinking about energy efficiency, other drivers are pushing beyond that. Many of the major property investors, often the large pension funds, are focused on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as energy use.
Simon Clouston says: “We are working with one of our large real estate investors to develop a carbon-neutral strategy for one of their property funds. They want to push robust and consistent measurement of the carbon impacts of their properties. We are also advising a UK client that is focused on 30 of their largest energy-using buildings and on reducing those energy costs over the next three to five years.”
Wellbeing in buildings is also becoming an important measure of performance, and building services equipment is increasingly designed to deliver comfort as well as efficiency. Andrew Slater explains: “We are moving to a stage now where automated controls will deliver system performance based on occupant activities. For example, we offer smart load control which alters system performance depending on ambient temperature, internal humidity levels and exact load conditions. We’ve tracked a 33% improvement in energy performance – and it’s much more comfortable for occupants.”
|Hobbs: MEES alone unlikely to affect energy performance directly.
The drivers, techniques and technology are readily available to support more efficient and comfortable buildings. The problem is that old habits die hard, and the industry has not yet moved to adopting them. “We find that specifications are out of date and based on equipment that’s 15 years old, so it’s very hard to put new equipment with these capabilities in front of the client. Our specification engineers are trying hard to educate the market,” adds Slater.
Debbie Hobbs agrees that more training and education are vital if building performance is to improve: “People are putting specifications together without really understanding what they’re doing. When you come to commissioning you find things like badly-placed sensors, which are simple but important things to get right.”
Martyn Wilkinson adds: “And we still find that architects are designing full-height glass facades which is making it very hard to achieve energy efficiency. That sort of thing pushes us way over the target emission rate and we have to think about how we’re going to bring it down through building services. Some architects do understand that; but not all.”
So, with five months to go the approach of MEES may seem like a major challenge. However, it may not be all bad news. Andrew Geens says: “Your EPC may be ten years old by now. Having your building re-assessed may result in a better rating because of improvements made since or simply better information. Although the rating may be worse as a result of changes in calculation methods and changes in the relative carbon factors in fuels. A current EPC will remove uncertainty.”
|Geens: The EPC is intened to provide standard comparison.
Martyn Wilkinson advises: “Start now, because if your building is G rated, you need to think about an approach to improving it. That’s not impossible, but takes some time. Good paybacks are possible, particularly if you consider overall building improvement and not just the rating.”
The panel advises going beyond current legislation. Andrew Slater says: “We need to make people aware that just lifting the rating to an E won’t be enough. It’s better to aim for higher than that now, and to target more than the rating. Long-term efficiency and comfort will be just as important.”