A long term view of energy management

There's no way of avoiding some of the costs associated with keeping a business going: lighting, heating and power are all essential for most companies. This is particularly the case with offices and public buildings that need to adhere to specific regulatory standards such as Part F and Part L Building Regulations. To fulfil these obligations, I firmly believe that taking a co-ordinated approach is the most intelligent option for a sustainable future.

Considering that Facilities Managers and Procurers in the public sector are regularly coming up against various challenges - energy efficiency, tighter budgets, financial targets, sustainability goals - taking control of energy management is of paramount importance.

Good house-keeping
In the wake of the recent recession, the shaky economic landscape combined with increasing pressure to become more sustainable energy efficiency is now high on the agenda. To find the best solutions, a self-critical and 'big picture' view towards energy management is vital to achieve long term benefits. Developing sustainable practices ranging from good-housekeeping, (turning off equipment when it's not needed), through to investing in efficient equipment, is vital to a successful energy strategy.

If this approach is adopted when reviewing essential services such as heating and cooling, the benefits will soon become obvious. In days gone by, the heating and cooling of space and water in buildings was a challenging obstacle to reducing fuel bills. To help overcome this, manufacturers have worked to develop innovative solutions that reduce energy use, carbon emissions and ultimately, cost. The crucial budget considerations with these types of facilities are all in the life-cycle cost and not, as is often mistakenly thought, the initial capital cost.

As much as 65 per cent of the total costs involved in heating and cooling systems is related to running costs - that's why improving the efficiency of equipment, even by 10 per cent, can save significant amounts of money. The savings also go beyond fuel bills, and can be realised in terms of the Climate Reduction Commitment and subsequent VAT on any levy / tariffs incurred on carbon emissions.

To ensure that equipment is running at its most efficient, systems need to be reviewed as a whole, rather than as separate entities on their own. Adopting this unified approach will result in equipment working cooperatively together, rather than against each other. For example, public buildings such as schools and hospitals often begin life as small parochial units. Over time, different sections are added on, extended and refurbished at subsequent stages in the life of the building. This results in a disjointed system where you'll find systems heating one area at the same time as cooling another. In cases like this, two competing systems aren't necessary as they can be consolidated, and redundant energy can be harnessed. A fully co-ordinated system that covers all the individual sections will allow for a longer term reduction in costs as energy can be reclaimed and recycled to heat or cool where necessary. This is the perfect example of the manageable changes that can be made to enable real and long lasting benefits.

Invest for long-term benefits
Investing in equipment with high efficiency ratings that will lower running costs in the long-term is vital to achieve financial as well as sustainability goals now and in the future. Devoting funds now to securing long-term benefits makes far more business sense than allowing money and energy to be wasted by relying on outdated and inefficient technology. Maintenance is another factor that affects all kinds of equipment. Whilst some leading-edge technology may require a fairly costly initial outlay, once installed reliability will be far superior and maintenance costs not as high as some may assume.

Unfortunately, I've found that there is a void of knowledge about energy costs within the public sector. This is a major contributing factor to the lack of action by some to future-proof their buildings through an investment in energy efficient systems. Many are unaware of how much energy they are using, how much they are spending and which facilities use the most fuel, making it far less likely that they will be inclined to review their current systems.

Another way to raise awareness about energy costs is smart meters that record energy consumption and enable a reciprocal exchange with the central system. It is my strong belief that, smart meters are the future - I believe that power companies will start changing the tariff on an hourly basis. To prepare for any changes in tariffs, it's wise to invest in systems which can interface with the smart meter to utilise cheaper electricity to do their work and potentially store the energy until it's required.

As a manufacturer, I feel a responsibility to educate and inform end-users on the benefits of investing in energy efficient solutions, and the technology available to them. Highlighting the significant cost savings that are essentially there for the taking.

Focus on the future
Increasingly robust insulation has meant a noticeable reduction in the need for space heating. As manufacturers we can only see this trend continuing. Looking ahead, it's therefore important to focus on the mainstays, such as hot water. The requirement for sanitary hot water is essential, and I see no signs of this changing. Air source heat pumps are a prime example of highly efficient equipment. When it comes to heating water for use in bathrooms and kitchens, air source heat pumps are more often than not, the perfect option. 

To summarise, I feel there are plenty of opportunities to take action and reduce energy consumption by investing in energy efficient Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) solutions.  The purchasing of equipment should be viewed from an overall energy management perspective. If businesses and the people - at all levels - within them adopt an all-encompassing sustainable mentality, then we are preparing well for a low-carbon future.

By Des Franklin from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

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