Improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings

Around 30 per cent of the average energy used in commercial buildings could be wasted, prompting action for commercial property owners to reduce hefty energy bills and their business’ impact on the environment.

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems and lighting typically account for more than three-quarters of a building’s energy use. However, costs associated with all of these can be easily reduced if a business knows what it’s doing.

To reduce energy wastage, many owners of commercial buildings are investing in building management systems – ranging from automatically opening windows and closing blinds on hot days to calculating the number of occupants on a given day and adjusting the heating to take into account the warmth their bodies will generate.

New premises come with much of this innovation as standard but Gary Franklin, director at Matrix Control Solutions, an E.ON business, says older buildings are also ripe for investment in energy and cost savings. This could reduce their energy consumption by up to 60 per cent.

He said: “New buildings are constructed to certain statutory environmental requirements and procedures, such as BREEAM and BIM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method and Building Information Modelling), two processes for managing information during and after construction and old buildings were not.

“That means there are a lot of old buildings where we can make big energy savings and create a return on investment really quickly.

“There are lots of these quick wins right now for energy efficiency in terms of simple software changes for heating and cooling, but in the medium to long-term the next big change for businesses will be in getting all of the building’s systems working together according to real time, and we’re starting to do that right now.”

While installing new technology is an expense, the payoff can be seen in many areas beyond just energy efficiency, with smarter lighting and windows boosting security, better environmental controls making life more comfortable for staff or automated off switches increasing the lifespan of equipment that simply doesn’t need to run at all hours.

Today’s building management systems work with many different sensors all over a building to warn of the need for preventative repairs before equipment fails and causes costly damage, or alerting that an inappropriate key card has been used to try and access a restricted area.

Since power prices fluctuate throughout the day, buildings that are equipped with onsite generation from wind, solar or their own power plants can adjust when and how much additional power they buy from the grid.

Also, due to the National Grid operating a demand-response programme, participants are incentivised to reduce their purchases of grid-sourced power when national power supplies are tight. When this occurs, a building’s building management system can either reduce energy consumption by operating certain equipment at other times, or switch to onsite generation.

Building management systems are also convenient for operators and maintenance contractors for businesses that have many premises. Office complexes, hospitals, universities and schools can integrate all of their systems and allow an operator to monitor the entire facility from a single source.