DCLG takes top certificate in creating confusion

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective, Public Sector Leadership

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.

Sensible approach

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.”

Perverse approach

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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Comments (7)

  • Alan Aldridge


    ESTA also fully supports the universal application of DECs. If we could choose just one policy measure to use, it would be DECs.

    There is overwhelming evidence, not least at CLG offices, that DECs work and bring all the savings and benefits associated with reducing the demand side consumption.

    Demand-side Energy Efficiency is supported from the ‘very top of Government’ [David Cameron, Energy Efficiency Mission Launch 4 February 2013] but this clearly does not extend to CLG.

    CLG and presumably BIS, see DECs as an unnecessary overhead, red tape, without considering what benefit and saving they achieve. ESTA supports DECs because they are the only major measure that focuses on how well buildings are operated and maintained.

    CLG has effectively blocked a very efficient way of creating DECs automatically from an installed aM&T metering system by introducing extortionate fees for software accreditation. This has killed the market for this very low cost way of producing the annual DECs – increasing cost to the public sector rather than reducing it.

    And we haven’t even mentioned enforcement!


    • Andrew Warren


      Thank you for this generous endorsement. I am very aware of just how important the widespread use of DECs can potentially be for ESTA members.
      You raise a very important point about how an arbitrary charging decision taken by CLG effectively hinders the potential for developing DECs via installed aM&T metering systems.
      And of course, as you conclude, I didn’t even mention the overall issue of the absence of enforcement of the law of the land. But if you trawl this website, you will find this is a scandal that I have addressed many times before in previous columns, and other statements. Not that CLG has done much to tighten up in consequence…


  • E Ramsay


    I sincerely doubt whether Eric Pickles would know the difference between an EPC and a DEC. As a CommunitiesSecretary he would be far better use as a door stop.


  • Andrew


    Yes, as usual mr warren has hit the nail on the head. We in the energy performance certificate world have been calling for the extension of DECs to smaller and none LA buildings, only to be lead up the garden path ( not for the first time I may add) by DCLG, who have managed to make the implementation of extending the DEC a total farce. the whole point on a DEC was to enable & demonstrate a yr on yr improvement. The EPC does not do this & a DEC valid for 10 yrs won’t either.


    • Andrew Warren


      Thank you for this kind comment, and not just concerning this particular column. Much appreciated. i make it a rule always to believe flattery.
      I entirely agree that it is utterly ludicrous for CLG to be requiring companies to post an Energy Performance Certificate “in a prominent place.” I understand that this is an option that NOBODY pressed Mr Pickles to require to be displayed, particularly in preference to the established annual DEC. A ludicrous decision, that needs to be overturned asap.


  • Laurence Budge


    It has been clear from the beginning that the Conservative part of this government cares nothing for energy efficiency or confronting the fossil fuel lobby. The deniers and de-regulators have their ear and pull their strings. Nothing good will come from them in this area of policy.


    • Andrew Warren


      Dear Laurence

      I do not share your pessimism. For instance, earlier this month the Prime Minister opened the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office Mission Launch at the Royal Society, with a ringing endorsement of energy efficiency and indeed the entire Green Energy agenda. You can find the full text of his speech on our website. It is genuinely inspiring.

      But I agree it would be best were all other Cabinet members to be equally convinced of these arguments. Beginning perhaps with the Cabinet Minister about whom I wrote this column about which you kindly took the time to comment.


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