Raising the stakes

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If introduced, the UK Government’s proposed plans for the tightening of the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards could have major implications for building manager engineers everywhere, says Gavin Holvey, general manager, sales – UK & Ireland at Priva.

The word is out: major change could soon be on the way for the commercial rental sector in the UK. Until January 2020, the Government will be undertaking a formal consultation that seeks views on how best to improve the energy performance of ‘non-domestic’ privately rented buildings through tighter minimum energy standards. This is with a view to achieving the targets established by the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), published in October 2017, that pledges Government support for businesses to reduce their energy use by at least 20% by 2030.

The concerns raised by the Government will be familiar to anyone who has monitored developments in the non-domestic rental sector. Market failures including a split-incentive problem between landlords and tenants, and a general failure to address the negative impact of carbon emissions, have resulted in a continuing under-investment in energy efficiency. While the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards introduced in April 2018 have brought fresh impetus to the matter, they are oriented towards what are described as the ‘lowest performing buildings in the stock’ only.

Hence the current consultation, that aims to yield tighter minimum energy standards on a wider scale, as well as a long-term outlook to 2030 that provides ‘time and certainty’ to landlords, businesses and the energy efficiency market regarding the reductions needed to achieve a zero-carbon future.

Perusing the case study sections of the supporting documents, it soon becomes clear where expectations are likely to be placed in the enhanced regulations. For example, they highlight measures including lighting upgrades, reversible air-to-air heat pumps for heating and cooling, and thermal controls as being integral to smaller retail stores improving to the point where they can achieve Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) B or C standards. Meanwhile, the installation of gas heat pumps as lighting upgrades and thermal efficiency improvements are felt to be crucial to earning EPC B or C in older office environments.

To their credit, these outlines are priced realistically, with most of the proposed upgrades costing no more than £5,000 – and often considerably less. The documents are also strong on identifying the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades for various groups, including potential increase in rental and property values for landlords; a rise in satisfaction, health, comfort and productivity for tenants; and carbon emission savings, air quality improvements, and increase in security of energy supplier for society as a whole.

The benefits for building managers, integrators and consultants are not delineated in detail, but in truth they do not require much unpicking. It stands to reason that those specialists who have the greatest knowledge of energy-efficient technologies, and how best to implement them in order for companies to meet their regulatory obligations, are going to be in the greatest demand. In addition to having knowledge of individual building systems – air management, heating, lighting and so on – a holistic comprehension is vital so that all systems can mesh together seamlessly.

Fortunately, technology vendors have undertaken much R&D in recent years that is geared towards making these objectives easier to realise – not least in the form of more user-friendly and cost-effective control systems.

Taking control of the situation

Indeed, the importance of control systems has not been lost on the Government, which has pinpointed this aspect of building design as being one of the most important steps to achieving carbon reduction in the consultation documents. Upping expectations from the original 2015 targets, the Government’s roadmap calls for an additional 1,100,000 control system installations that satisfy the demanding EPC B standard. As opposed to the less exacting EPC C, large-scale adoption of EPC B would, says the Government, “drive a greater demand for energy efficient measures.” 

Whilst acknowledging that it is difficult to “predict the full impact of the estimated installation numbers on the energy efficient market”, the Government thinks this more ambitious target would help encourage a “competitive marketplace in which suppliers can use the certainty of demand to grow, scale and innovate. This is ultimately good for landlords and businesses: if the market functions well, there is the potential for the costs of individual measures to decrease and for performance to improve, as well as the potential for new innovations to become available.”

Although it will be some time before the results of the consultation are known, it seems certain that control technologies will be an important part of delivering enduring improvements to energy efficiency. Therefore, those building managers, engineers and consultants who are familiar with the latest control systems will have a distinct advantage – both with their existing employers and potential future ones, as demand for technical staff who have a complete understanding of related technologies continues to grow.

Above and beyond that, technical building personnel would be advised to review their chosen suppliers and ensure that they have the assistance of a well-respected integrator and/or consultant. With developments such as AI also set to impact upon building management in a major way, it may soon become significantly harder to keep track of developments, meaning that specialist help could be more important than ever before.