If you don’t measure your energy use, you can’t control it. A truism that has certainly stood the test of time.
Here is a second truism. If everybody is able to see just how well or badly you are doing your job, it is a very distinct spur towards better performance.
It was precisely with these two aphorisms in mind that, 11 years ago, every European Union government agreed that it would be a good idea to require in every public building, its occupants display its energy performance “in a prominent place.”
Most countries have chosen to use a rating scale from A to G, on the basis that it was a long familiar symbol to anybody who ever bought a washing machine or a refrigerator. And was credited with revolutionizing the demand for more energy efficient household appliances.
With the exception of buildings from which the public are overtly denied access (think GCHQ) , every building occupied by the public sector or paid for by the public purse has subsequently been required to post its energy rating in an obviously visible situation- most usually the reception foyer.
Initially a de minimis size was set, of buildings over 1,000 sq metres. But when several administrations (including that in Edinburgh) decided to extend the requirement to all public buildings , the relevant European directive was revised to include every building over 500 sq metres.
At the same time, changes were made to the requirements for the information to be provided to prospective purchasers or tenants of buildings concerning the efficiency of the fabric and heating/cooling systems (the “energy performance certificate”). These details can be up to ten years old.
Sensibly, the UK government took the view that it was better to make the information displayed more immediate. The Display Energy Certificates (DEC), which should be visible in the foyer of 42,000 public buildings, provide an up to date snapshot of how well that particular building is performing , based upon actual rather than theoretical, energy consumption. The rating is reassessed each year.
So the DEC reveals what the rating score was in previous years. Consequently it is possible to see at a glance the progress in making that building more energy efficient. And – lest we forget – in saving public expenditure.
Since the 2010 election, Central Government has been assiduous in placing its energy consumption data on the web on a real time basis. A first year target of an overall 10% improvement in energy performance was passed with flying colours, saving £13m p.a. Now a further 15% reduction is being sought by 2015.
Many local authorities are following suit, as is the university sector. But not everybody. The Chartered Institution for Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has revealed that the number of certificates issued each year is falling, with the suspicion that many of those still showing poor rating tend to display their certificates rather less prominently, and are not regularly renewing their certificates.
But overall there is now considerable evidence ( initially anecdotal, increasingly academic) that requiring energy usage to be professionally monitored, and the results very visible, achieves enormous results.
Sadly the government department overseeing this process, Communities and Local Government (CLG), has no clue how well the system is working. It does not monitor progress. It does not monitor compliance. It has even added to the complications by suddenly announcing that for public buildings under 1,000 sq metres, the measurements need only be done not annually, but every ten years. Which somewhat defeats the purpose.
Worse still is the way in which in which CLG has chosen to implement the new display requirements for the private sector contained in the revised European directive. Ever since the 2011 Carbon Plan was published, it has been formal government policy to extend the display energy certificate concept to larger private sector buildings to which the public has regular access – hotels, offices, shops and so on.
This has the widespread support in the commercial property sector- if only to try to create a single agreed measurement system followed by everybody. In mid January a dozen of the key representative bodies (including the British Property Federation, the British Council of Offices, UKGBC, the British Council of Shopping Centres, and CIBSE) signed a public letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It said, quite specifically, that the Government should ”boost saving in commercial buildings by improving and extending Display Energy Certificates to all buildings.”
Implementing the revised directive gave CLG the perfect way to respond positively. Perversely, it carried out absolutely no consultation either formal or informal on how best to implement the final text of the revised directive. Instead it announced that the private sector would be required to display, again “in a prominent place”, not a Display Energy Certificate. But the details of the most recent Energy Performance Certificate.
I really cannot think of a stupider waste of time and resource than to require the private sector to display an elderly certificate (it can be a decade old) providing theoretical, rather than the actual, up-to-date performance details we are used to in public sector buildings. Anybody visiting, say, an office block tenanted by both the public and private sector will now be greeted by two ostensibly similar energy certificates. But telling very different stories based on completely dissimilar information.
Why on earth the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has chosen to adopt this perverse strategy , supported by nobody, is a total mystery. This absurd mess will have to be unscrambled, and DECs adopted everywhere. And sooner rather than later.
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