Features: June 1st, 2007

How To Survive In The Current Energy Climate

A major challenge facing public sector organisations is how to improve energy efficiency while reducing costs and meeting environmental targets. With additional ‘green’ legislation looming, the need to know more about how, when and where energy is being used in buildings, and how usage can be reduced to save money and cut CO2, has moved up the agenda.

Fortunately for the UK’s seventh largest city, Bristol City Council has a well established Energy Management Unit, which has grown and developed over the past twenty years, in parallel with the ever changing energy market. This has provided the council with valuable know-how and the ability to adapt to change. So it’s unsurprising Bristol was advanced for their time and setting environmental targets long before the recent government legislation.

Back in 1997 the council had already pledged – with a deadline of 2010 – to reduce their energy usage by 15%, CO2 emissions by 15% (which has since been modified to resemble the governments Energy White Paper of 60% reduction by 2050) and purchase 15% of the council’s electricity consumption from renewables.

This story however is not the case for many other councils and public sector organisations, as Paul Isbell, Energy Manager for Bristol City Council comments, “Historically the requirement for an energy department or designated energy manager within the public sector was eliminated with the importance of the subject matter declining and the heightening of other priorities. Times have changed and an emphasis on energy, how and when we use it and the impacts that it has on the environment is now an imperative subject which is largely being enforced through government legislations such as the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which has brought the requirement for building energy performance certificates.

Such legislations, the spotlight on energy efficiency plus carbon trading has brought to many public sector organisations, especially councils, a particular ‘fear factor’ and reluctance associated with practical issues that might suggest change is difficult. Paul Isbell comments, “Understanding energy need not be difficult or intimidating”. He adds that, “a decision whether it be wrong – is better than no decision at all”.

New Insights

As you would expect, Bristol’s portfolio of sites is vast, ranging from offices, leisure centres, schools and libraries. As a leader in the energy management arena, the Energy Management Unit acts as a purchasing consortium, procuring oil, gas and electricity for a portfolio of over 1000 buildings and a number of other local authority clients, taking on the responsibility of monitoring and paying utility bills. So having access to accurate energy data is critical.

The council has found that modern technologies and tools can smooth the process. For example, by gaining an insight into energy consumption through an easy to use online tool Energy DataVision, delivered by energy solutions provider IMServ. The opportunity is to put data into context, to add value to it, so enabling energy managers and buyers, procurement managers, facilities managers and other key personnel to meet and exceed their professional targets.

Adding up the costs

From a financial perspective there are various benefits to be gained. For example complete visibility on energy usage eliminates any surprise billing issues. With 98-99% accuracy of actual energy usage a powerful predicative tool is available that can be used for budgeting and forecasts – as Bristol City Council has discovered. When the Energy Management Unit requested meter readings from their supplier they were unsuccessful so by having a tool where you have the ability to just go and have a look is invaluable.

We can look elsewhere for examples of benefits gained – specifically, in schools. Today, energy management issues are not only having a big impact on councils and local authorities but also on school bursars, governors, head teachers, premises managers, caretakers and pupils themselves. Even more so as the academic year 2006-7 is the Year Of Action On Sustainable Development For Schools, following consultation on the Sustainable Schools Strategy published in May 2006.

Indeed, the current climate is a great opportunity for schools to kick-start approaches to promoting energy responsibility. For example, focusing on unusual rises in usage (or anticipated drops in usage not occurring) outside normal school hours, perhaps with PCs and other equipment left switched on overnight and at weekends. Or making sure the hire costs applied to facilities like sports halls, to outside organisations and clubs, actually reflect the energy usage involved as well as the other costs associated with such hiring. If vending machines are left on 24/7, when there are no customers, is that eating into any profits gained?

At the same time as providing insights for management, environmental issues can be embedded into the curriculum, with pupils carrying out projects to better understand energy usage and costs on their own doorstep, so educating future generations to be more responsible. With intelligent (and automatic) metering technologies plus the visibility provided by a tool like Energy DataVision, all of this becomes possible.

Carbon trading opportunities

When the details of the recent DEFRA Energy Performance Commitment consultation are released, local authorities will obtain a greater insight into how they will have to trade CO2. Bristol however is already moving into the next generation of energy solutions, through energy management reports and bespoke management reporting. With a large proportion of CO2 emissions arising from buildings, it can monitor carbon thresholds and set targets, so becoming an informed player in carbon trading.

This is very important to councils when you look at the number and types of buildings within their portfolio. Based on the scheme’s initial outline, if buildings go over their set threshold, they risk purchasing carbon credits to that value (approximately £8 per tonne). With all of the electricity from their half hourly metered electricity sites (the time interval used to measure energy usage accurately) and the gas used at them, Bristol City Council predicts that it may have to purchase carbon credits to the value of ¼ million pounds in 2008/9.

The cheapest, cleanest and safest way of dealing with this issue is to reduce energy usage and so reduce CO2 emissions. Without the knowledge on precisely what you’re using, when and where, it can prove a difficult task.

In essence, Bristol City Council are leading the way in energy management – not only to control and reduce consumption and costs, to benefit the public and help budgets go further, but also to actively address issues around environmental responsibility. As a trendsetter, Bristol provides an excellent role model for other public sector organisations. The question now is how many others will grasp the nettle and follow the same route? And it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when?”