We’re all in it together
Making information about a building’s energy consumption available to those who work in it will help to bring down energy use. Anders Norén, shares his views on how a fairer model of energy management can act as a springboard for behavioural change programmes.
The traditional model of energy management in large, tenanted buildings is rapidly becoming obsolete. The use and availability of energy, which was once taken for granted, can no longer be ignored by landlords. Energy is costly — both financially, since the spike in fuel prices of 2008 ended our illusions about the stability of energy prices, and environmentally, as carbon reduction becomes a corporate mandate.
Commercial landlords are increasingly employing methods of reducing energy costs. While in a smaller buildings, energy costs might be negligible, in a building with more than 10 000 m2 of office or retail space, shaving a few percentage points off the overheads can mean savings of thousands of pounds. Low-carbon refurbishment is gaining in popularity for precisely this reason; a nominal outlay on insulation, triple glazing and energy-efficient lighting can mean a huge reduction in energy wastage.
However, what has always remained beyond the control of landlords is how their tenants use their building. What if they crank the thermostat up and then open up those triple-glazed windows when it feels too hot? What if they don’t bother to turn off those energy-efficient lights when they leave for the day? The fact is, a building manager’s role in energy conservation must be bolstered by the participation of the building’s occupants.
Getting people to change their behaviour and be more thoughtful about the energy that they use each day is difficult unless they have a ‘stake’ in cutting energy use. If the tenant pays a fixed fee each month, gas and electricity can feel like limitless and invisible resources. However, technology is now enabling important steps towards a new model of energy use, where, even in tenanted buildings, each tenant is responsible for its own energy use.
Building-control systems are now able to finely monitor energy consumption within the various ‘zones’ of a building. In this way, each company’s energy costs can be individually calculated and, accordingly, passed on to the tenants. Either landlord or tenant can easily identify branches or outlets that are using more energy than the average. It is then possible to find the cause of the problem and provide support or advice to correct it. Rather than just a facilities manager being in charge of energy use, it becomes a wholly collaborative process. Now that tenants have a stake in their own energy use, they are more likely to engage with the idea of changing their behaviour.
In many ways the key to behavioural change is to engage staff with their working environment, making them into active energy users, not just passive inhabitants of the space. Having a stake in what energy is used is one way to create ‘active energy users’ of a building’s occupants, but another is the use of illustrative technology — quite simply, an immediate on-screen display of energy use. If energy users can actually see the peaks and troughs of their energy consumption, energy use is made much more relevant to them.
Using technology to offer tenants direct feedback on the energy they use can produce energy savings of 5 to 15%, according to the Darby report on behavioural change for Defra. Illustrative technology can be used as a lynchpin of wider energy-reduction campaigns. The usual awareness-raising measures like posters and leaflets can be tied back to energy-tracking software as employees put into action the energy-saving measures that they learn about and see first hand how they affect the building’s energy consumption.
Consequently, the building’s interior environment no longer feels static. When people in tenanted offices choose to make energy changes (turning specific electrical equipment off, turning the heating down etc.), they can see the landscape of the building’s energy use change using software connected to the building controls.
An example is The Capital in Liverpool, a 36 000 m2 newly refurbished business hub in Liverpool. Matrix Energy Solutions worked closely with the building’s landlords to provide an innovative and cost-effective means of reducing energy consumption and operating costs. Having won the contract to provide automatic monitoring and targeting services, Matrix’s challenge was to install a turnkey solution to meet the immediate needs of the building’s owners — but which could be expanded to meet future energy-management requirements. As an open-systems house, the team was able to assess the suitability of a number of building management technologies before opting for Compri HX4 and HX8 BMS controllers from Priva Building Intelligence. These controllers enable direct communication via Modbus throughout The Capital’s extensive metering system.
At the heart of Matrix’s solution to The Capital’s team is its energy management package, Erbis, which was originally developed by Van Beek Ingenieurs, part of the Priva Group. This information management system combines the advantages of databases, communication software, analysis programs, spreadsheets and reporting tools. Such functionality will become increasingly important now that the Carbon Reduction Commitment has entered its introductory phase [April 2010] and large numbers of public and private sector organisations are legally required to forecast and report on carbon consumption as well as provide evidence of accurate reporting.
At The Capital, Erbis collates real-time data which enables the analysis and control of energy consumption. Significantly, Erbis allows the building’s owners to produce monthly tenant invoices ensuring that each company is billed only for the services used. Erbis gathers all available data within a building or site and delivers it to a central location. The software has communication protocols with all popular telemetry, BEMS and SCADA systems. Moreover, data can be imported from any type of corporate database or data file. It can read measurement files from the energy supplier or network administrator.
Making data about energy use easy to access makes it simpler for the facilities management team at The Capital to manage energy consumption. Stuart Hutchison of Matrix Energy Solutions comments, ‘The Priva Compri HX8 controller is connected to the landlord’s IT networking using the HX8 as the main gateway device. This allows the client the flexibility of having the Erbis package sitting on his WAN from where he can access any location.’ Erbis can also be used to automatically send e-mails or print reports about energy use every day.
Downing, the landlord of The Capital (and one of the UK’s largest commercial landlords), is using the Erbis software to identify high energy users, so that it can help tenants become more energy efficient. In a competitive market, where much office space across the country is standing empty, this kind of individual billing system — and monitoring and targeting — can be seen as a selling point for attracting tenants; such technology gives tenants information to make informed decisions about their own energy use.
Innovations in technology give landlords the ability to support tenants in bringing down energy use. For landlords, it means real costs can be passed on to the tenant. For tenants, it means control over how much they spend on energy each month. For individual staff members, it gives the opportunity to become active energy users and engage with their working environment.
Illustrative technology and individual breakdowns of energy use introduce transparency into the energy management of large, tenanted buildings. This transparency leads to a greater engagement with energy use across the board, which provides a real opportunity to cut carbon emissions and reduce energy costs.
Anders Norén is managing director of Priva Building Intelligence Ltd