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On the cusp of change

This year’s BSRIA briefing showed the industry is about to play  an even bigger role in carbon reduction. Julian Milnes reports

There was a real sense of underlying change at the BSRIA briefing, with many speakers advocating a more proactive and technically informed approach in tackling the increasingly pertinent issue of reducing building energy consumption.

The industry should no longer just be going through the motions, said speakers, but must take the game to the clients, with energy-saving solutions backed by a broad knowledge of technologies that tailor the approach to individual buildings.

The briefing entitled ‘Energy Future of Buildings’ kicked off with BSRIA chairman Robert Higgs, who asked whether the industry is prepared for the dramatic change that lies ahead, and whether it is focusing on clients’ longer-term needs and has the requisite skilled workforce to adapt to new demands.

Carbon Trust chairman James Smith stressed that the need for increasing one’s technical knowledge would only be outstripped by the human factor in respect to adapting to change. “People don’t like being lectured to,” he said.

Mr Smith also identified carbon capture and storage (CCS) together with biomass as the two technologies that will produce a carbon-negative result. However, employing CCS would mean that a chemical plant would have to be located next door – “something that is not going to happen anytime soon”.

Technology drive

This leaves us with the issue of carbon reduction and the need to utilise existing technology solutions to best effect. “We need to unite behind the Energy Bill and to embrace all technologies, as we’ll need them all to achieve results,” said Mr Smith.

The previously lauded explosion in heat pump numbers was addressed by BSRIA market intelligence manager Andrew Giles, who explained that the previous hype has died down, although it is predicted the technology will be installed in 50 per cent of new buildings by 2020. Conversely, existing buildings will see very little change in numbers.

Mr Giles said: “The future is based around system integration, with intelligent technology talking to the grid. The line between residential and commercial technologies is blurring and will become more prolific.

“Furthermore, we are seeing a convergence of technology onto one platform, meaning there will be an important role for BMS technology in commercial buildings, which is growing at 15 per cent per annum.”

Mr Giles also identified an increase in total building management packages available, whether offered by a software company, a utility company or a BMS company, which shows the direction the industry is going in. Being able to offer a complete energy management service with guaranteed energy savings makes practical sense.

In addition, Mr Giles identified the potential of smart grids, which focus on demand response and the managing of load requirements via talking to buildings to gauge their needs, as coming to the fore.

The latter point was taken a step further by CIBSE president David Fisk, who stressed the importance of nailing down what a building is actually doing. “We need to fully understand how the building is working, what its demands and needs are,” he said. “This approach should have been implemented a decade ago.

“And this approach ties in with smart grids, which are going to be part of our energy future. Matching demand with supply will become the norm. Tying all this together will be advanced energy management systems, while at the start of the design process there will be a real focus on actual delivery targets of building performance.”

Supply and demand

E.ON head of market development for sustainable energy Richard Scott put the issue of energy efficiency into sharp focus by predicting that the UK’s energy demand will outstrip supply by 2017, and that the need to retrofit buildings to reduce consumption is the biggest challenge that lies ahead.

“While different buildings require different technology, how the building is used will also determine the solution,” he said.

“Energy performance contracts will also become more important for several reasons: there are no upfront capital costs, you only pay out after pre-agreed savings and the results are guaranteed. Furthermore, a 2013 survey has shown there will be an increase in corporate spending on sustainability.

“There’s a stronger business case than ever before for companies to reduce energy on a grand scale. A geothermal project recently announced by Sainsbury’s is just one example of a business making a big financial commitment to reducing carbon.”

The use of Display Energy Certificates (DECs)  was advocated by Transport for London head of sustainable buildings Andrew Stanton, who said they allowed a broad base of where a building is at in  terms performance.

“The use of DECs is a good way of assessing a building’s state of efficiency,” he said. “However, when planning improvements, it can be more productive if you keep things simple. Information sharing is an ideal way to assess the potential of a technology and its suitability.”

The briefing was concluded by BSRIA chief executive Andrew Eastwell, who stressed the need to assess information and the various benefits of technology. “Take time out to look at what the building is doing, how it’s consuming energy, then put together the potential possibilities and sell it to your clients.”

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