Refurbishing existing buildings might not sound exciting, but it sits right at the top of the political agenda. Bob Shelley, President of the Heating and Ventilating Contractor's Association, explains why FMs are now critical to the UK’s energy and environmental targets
Over the next 40 years, this country will witness the biggest building refurbishment programme since the Second World War, as we seek to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and building energy costs.
40 per cent of the country’s CO2 emissions come from buildings, and 60 per cent of the commercial building stock that will still be in use in 2050 is already built. Assuming the ‘new’ 40 per cent meets increasingly stringent new-build standards, it is clear, therefore, where the challenge lies as we seek to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent over the next four decades.
At the same time, FMs have to deal with inexorably rising energy costs. Gas and electricity prices are predicted to rise by anything between 50 and 80 per cent over the next 10 years. Also, the Government says our energy demand will increase by 80 per cent by 2030 – although some in the energy industry believe it could be as much as 300 per cent. With 25 per cent of our electricity generating capacity about to be decommissioned (on the nuclear side), we are facing a potentially catastrophic energy security problem.
This makes it absolutely essential that we get on with refurbishing the 25 million homes and buildings that are energy inefficient in order to reduce our dependence on Grid created energy and cut soaring running costs.
Potential for action
But down at the individual building level, how do we know what and where to cut and by how much?
The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) report ‘Carbon Reductions in Existing Non-Domestic Buildings’ set out the case for extending the reach of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) as the most practical way of highlighting potential energy and cost savings across the existing commercial building stock. Because they measure ‘actual’ energy consumption – not estimated as in Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) – DECs are seen as the most useful weapon in the energy manager’s arsenal.
The UKGBC wants DECs to be made mandatory for all non-domestic building occupiers. It has also increased the focus on landlords by proposing a mandatory DEC scheme for multi-let buildings over 1,000m2 that also requires landlords to give energy data to tenants.
Up until now, DECs have only been mandatory for public buildings, so a roll-out into the private sector would be a considerable and ambitious shift in government policy. However, the HVCA believes this is the right approach. DECs allow building occupants to monitor patterns of energy consumption and take targeted, remedial action. You can’t save what you can’t measure, and DECs are starting to address this information gap.
The DECs already in use, primarily in public buildings larger than 1,000m2, are providing useful, quality information. There is, therefore, a sound basis for rolling them out across the private sector and making sure that as many FMs as possible have access to realistic energy data about their buildings.
The UKGBC is calling for a ‘soft start’ to ease the administrative burden and for a more automated approach to producing the certificates to keep costs as low as possible. It is anticipated that the new wider scheme would begin during 2012, with building owners expected to have their certificates on display from 2013.
European legislation, via the recasting of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), is already coming along that will lower the size threshold for DECs to 500m2 buildings in 2013 and those of just 250m2 by 2015. Most professional bodies would like to see the threshold removed so that all building managers can benefit from actual performance information, updated annually, to help them establish where they can target their energy efficiency efforts.
However, currently the completion rate for DEC renewals is under 30 per cent – this must be dramatically improved if a wider roll-out is to be successful, but the Government seems reluctant to intervene. It does seem odd that we should produce so much useful legislation and spend so much time working on the detail, if there is no desire to enforce it.
But, in time, DECs will become established – not just because they are a legal requirement, but because they are a useful tool for FMs.
The preferred strategy is to deliver low carbon buildings through finance. A series of incentives and penalties are coming into effect that will make it a financial imperative for owners and their FMs to get their buildings up to scratch.
The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) energy efficiency scheme was first conceived as a league table system, but is now simply a carbon tax that the Treasury expects to raise £1bn. All building users consuming more than 6,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually will be captured by this scheme and so need to reduce their consumption to minimise the tax. Landlords have a problem because they will be held responsible even though they can’t always control how their tenants consume energy. This creates a considerable incentive to fit and upgrade controls for heating, air conditioning and hot water.
In terms of incentives, with the unveiling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the Government appears to have put the final piece of the jigsaw in place. Along with the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme and the Green Deal, it seems to have a joined-up strategy for energy at last.
The RHI is timed to coincide with the start of the Green Deal finance scheme in October 2012 so that energy efficiency and the use of renewable heating technologies work in tandem. They rightly want to avoid the situation where you have leaky, energy inefficient buildings simply wasting the energy produced by renewables.
Energy efficiency must always come first, and you won’t qualify for RHI payments unless your building has first been upgraded with insulation, draught proofing etc. The money for those remedial measures can be borrowed through the Green Deal.
The Government hopes the RHI will lead to 13,000 new renewable installations in industry and 110,000 installations in the commercial and public sector by 2020. Together this could produce up to 25 per cent of the heat demand in these areas and would represent a seven-fold increase in the renewable heating market.
Biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal systems are the main beneficiaries from the RHI funding, which will also support community projects that provide heat to more than one house or commercial consumer. The tariffs will be paid for 20 years to eligible technologies that have been installed since 15th July 2009.
Meanwhile, Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) have been giving the microgeneration market a major boost since their introduction in April 2010. Almost 30,000 schemes have registered for the tariffs since they were launched – leading to a five-fold increase in the number of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed in the UK, for example.
A review of the scheme in 2011 lowered the rates available to larger scale commercial systems, but there is still a healthy financial incentive to fit solar power. Owners of systems between 50 kilowatts and 150 kilowatts capacity will receive 19p per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced from their energy supplier; larger installations of up to 250kw will receive 15p and fieldsize installations of between 250kw and 5 megawatts of capacity will get 8.5p per kWh. Anything not used on-site can be exported to the Grid for 3p per kWh.
The economics of refurbishment has always been undervalued – It’s are better than it looks, and the availability of funding support for the right solutions makes the case even more persuasive; but gathering energy data is key. FMs should think about installing sensors throughout buildings that can capture detailed energy information, linked to smart meters, and then using that to improve performance.
Once the information is available, the FM can put a retrofit programme together. This needs to start with building ‘fabric’ improvements, such as insulation, draught proofing and glazing. This will have an immediate impact on energy demand. The next step should be to examine what controls are in the building, how they are set up and if they are easy to use. End users often set their heating too high and there have been many cases where new, energy saving heat pumps have been turned up so high that their auxiliary immersion heating is running continually. This means consumer electricity bills have actually gone up! There is plenty of ‘low hanging fruit’ like this that can be picked off first.
Improving the fabric will create a more airtight building with less opportunity for expensive heat to escape. However, this also means there is a requirement for good ventilation. Many refurbished buildings are now adopting mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery.
These systems capture and reuse heat that would otherwise be expelled from the building, and this recovered energy offsets the carbon impact of the electricity needed to power the ventilation fans.
These first steps will minimise energy demand, which allows the building operator to consider smaller capacity, and therefore less expensive, heating and air conditioning systems. Existing boilers, chillers, ventilation plant and lighting systems can be upgraded or simply re-commissioned to improve their performance.
With FM budgets under increasing pressure, rates of return on spending are critical. Therefore, applying relatively low cost upgrades, alongside repair and refurbishment of existing systems, makes economic sense – in fact, you could say this is a ‘no brainer’.
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