Energy efficiency: the first step to decarbonising buildings

There are 28.5 million homes and 1.9 million commercial buildings in the UK, which, according to the Climate Change Committee, account for a fifth of UK carbon emissions. But a need to decarbonise the built environment is far from being a UK-wide issue – it’s a major global concern.

Worldwide, the built environment accounts for a massive 40% of our energy consumption and is responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

The good news? Cutting significant proportions of GHG emissions is entirely possible, thanks to widely available energy management technology and processes. However, uptake of this technology has been surprisingly slow.

So, how do we unlock energy savings and accelerate our efforts to decarbonise buildings? Implementing effective energy efficiency measures is a logical first step. Energy efficiency – referred to by Climate Group as the ‘unsung hero’ of decarbonising buildings – is the foundation upon which to build (or retrofit) net zero carbon buildings.

Costs and benefits

With a huge global push towards net zero, including the UK Government’s fast-approaching Net Zero by 2050 target, it’s imperative that we act quickly.

Delays in progress could, to a large extent, come down to upfront costs. According to recent government estimates, decarbonising UK public sector buildings could cost as much as £25-30 billion, equating to 3.3% of GDP by 2050.

This initial investment is, however, offset by significant short and long-term savings. For example, the installation and optimisation of smart energy management technology leads to one of the fastest returns on investments (ROIs) in the commercial sector. The payback period is typically less than six months. It will also ultimately increase resilience to any future changes in energy prices.

Another factor is the sheer size and scale of the task at hand. According to the EU, more than three quarters of today’s buildings will still be standing in 2050; 75% of which are not energy efficient and will require retrofitting.

Therefore, if we are to have any success in tackling the current climate crisis, lowering the carbon footprint of our built environment is crucial and requires global attention.

Energy management technology

Any building can become a sustainable smart building. To start on their net zero carbon journeys, building owners need to not only implement changes but do so in a sensible order – starting with energy efficiency. The installation, optimisation and maintenance of smart energy management technology – largely referred to as Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) – is a rational first step.

A BEMS can control up to 80% of a building’s energy consumption and increases the efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as lighting, air quality and other building equipment. In fact, 40% of a commercial building’s energy spend is consumed by HVAC; 20-25% could be saved using low-cost energy efficiency measures.

Renewable energy does, of course, play a huge role in lowering our carbon footprint but there’s no point going down the green energy route until a building is as energy efficient as it can be. Otherwise, building owners will be purchasing green energy that will ultimately go to waste.

For more information on optimising your BEMS and making quick, simple energy savings, check out this article.

What’s being done to decarbonise buildings?

At COP26 last year, a whole day was dedicated to the global built environment and management of our buildings, which drew some much-needed attention to the vital role that energy efficiency plays in decarbonising our buildings.

There’s plenty that governments around the world could (and should) be doing to lower the carbon footprint of buildings. Here’s what the UK Government is doing to date:

  • Introduced a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from public buildings by 75% by 2037 (as part of its 2050 net zero strategy).
  • Gave public sector bodies access to government funds to improve energy efficiency of buildings and reduce carbon emissions. More than £1bn has been spent so far on almost 20,000 projects across the country.
  • It is advocating for the adoption of energy efficiency techniques during the construction and operation of new buildings.

However, the transformation we hope to see in our built environment will largely be driven by commercial and residential building owners looking to cut carbon emissions.

What can you do?

Established energy management companies, such as Kendra Energy Solutions, can revolutionise how energy is used, managed and controlled.

They do this by:

Installing, updating and enhancing smart energy management technology

  • BEMS specialists retrofit existing buildings with energy efficient systems and because 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 already exist today, retrofitting the built environment for a more sustainable future is vital.
  • By upgrading energy management equipment and adopting the best available technologies on the market, including a BEMS, buildings can operate and perform as efficiently as possible.
  • To make the best of an existing BEMS, building owners can review operational parameters and control strategies to check they align with occupancy requirements. This could be a quick and simple way to cut back on unnecessary energy usage.
  • To visualise a building’s energy consumption clearly and in detail, a specialist can review and enhance energy metering. Usage profiles can then be analysed, allowing energy saving opportunities to be identified, acted upon and tracked for lasting performance.
  • BEMS coverage can be expanded by ensuring all HVAC plant services are controlled by, or have, an interface.

Providing maintenance support

  • BEMS specialists can ensure energy efficiency technology is operated correctly and efficiently around the clock.
  • Ongoing maintenance ensures optimum operational performance. This also safeguards a return on investment
  • It ensures a BEMS is protected from operational regression, which would decrease the energy efficiency of a building.

A premium maintenance service, like Kendra PROActiv Support, achieves optimum performance throughout the lifecycle of a building.

Unlocking energy insights and boosting efficiency

Using energy analytics platforms reduces carbon emissions by:

  • Identifying energy saving opportunities and opportunities for increased efficiency by reviewing plant operational profiles, metering data, and control strategy.
  • Optimising and expanding the scope of a BEMS to its full potential.
  • Monitoring, managing and controlling building energy assets in real time using analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Reducing energy costs and the cost of any residual green energy by boosting efficiency and maximising return on investment.
  • Providing a focal point for engineers to action problematic plant areas. This proactively resolves issues prior to any plant prior failure, which would otherwise result in system downtime, interruption of services, occupant discomfort or hampered building operation.

Installing smart indoor climate solutions

Building operators can install smart sensor technology to optimise air quality management. Not only do these sensors impact the way buildings use/manage fresh air to increase occupant health, they also play an unexpected role in lowering energy consumption. 

This is especially the case in our current, post pandemic climate. How? It allows building operators to make energy-saving adjustments, such as decreasing ventilation, while safe in the knowledge that it won’t compromise occupant health. In other words, smart indoor climate solutions can determine whether it is OK for a building to alter its energy use (based on occupant wellbeing) and how much by.

For example, 40% of a commercial building’s energy consumption, and ergo carbon production, is from HVAC. As a result of the pandemic, building operators were heating and cooling fresh air, rather than recirculating it, for safety purposes, which pushed energy consumption up further.

Discover the numerous benefits of Installing smart indoor climate solutions, such as PROActiv Health.

Final thoughts

Decarbonising the world’s built environment is essential if we are to hit net zero targets and tackle climate change. And while awareness of this issue is growing, more needs to be done – quickly.

More specifically, building owners and operators around the world need to prioritise energy efficiency as a vital first step in their net zero carbon journeys. If they do not, worldwide efforts to decarbonise buildings will be nowhere near as effective.

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