Bristol leads by example

As the public sector faces huge challenges over energy efficiency, and environmental targets, the need to know more about how energy is being used in buildings is now crucial

Bristol City Council has an energy management unit which has developed over the past 20 years in parallel with the changing energy market.

This has given the council the ability to adapt. And it set environmental targets long before the recent government legislation. Back in 1997, the council had already pledged, with a deadline of 2010, to:
  • Reduce its energy use by 15%
  • Cut CO2 emissions by 15% (which has since been modified to resemble the government's Energy White Paper of 60% reduction by 2050)
  • Purchase 15% of the council's electricity consumption from renewables
This story, however, is not the case for many other local authorities and public-sector organisations, as Paul Isbell, Bristol's energy manager claims.

"Historically, the requirement for an energy department or designated energy manager within the public sector was eliminated with the importance of the subject matter declining and the heightening of other priorities," he says.

Times have changed, and an emphasis on energy, how and when we use it, and the impact it has on the environment is now key. And this is largely being enforced through government legislation such as the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which has brought the requirement for building energy performance certificates.

Such laws, plus the spotlight on energy efficiency and carbon trading, have brought to many public-sector organisations a fear factor and reluctance associated with practical issues that might suggest change is difficult. Isbell adds: "Understanding energy need not be difficult or intimidating. A decision - whether it be wrong - is better than no decision at all."

Bristol's portfolio of sites is vast, ranging from offices, leisure centres, schools and libraries. The energy management unit acts as a purchasing consortium. It procures oil, gas and electricity for more than 1,000 buildings plus other local-authority clients, taking on the responsibility of monitoring and paying utility bills. So, having access to accurate energy data is critical.

The council has found that modern technologies and tools can smooth the process. For example, it has gained an insight into energy consumption through an online tool called Energy DataVision, which is a new piece of software by IMServ. The opportunity is to put data into context, to add value to it, so enabling energy managers and buyers, procurement managers, facilities managers and other personnel to meet and exceed professional targets.

From a financial perspective, there are various benefits to be gained. For example, complete visibility on energy use eliminates any surprise billing issues.

With 98-99% accuracy of actual energy usage, a tool is available that can be used for budgeting and forecasts - as Bristol has discovered. When the energy team requested meter readings from their supplier, they were unsuccessful. So, having a tool which has the ability to go and have a look is invaluable.

When the details of the recent Defra Energy Performance Commitment consultation are released, local authorities will obtain a greater insight into how they will have to trade CO2. Bristol, however, is already moving into the next generation of energy solutions, through energy management reports and bespoke management reporting. With a large proportion of CO2 emissions arising from buildings, it can monitor carbon thresholds and set targets, so becoming an informed player in carbon trading.

This is very important to councils when you look at the number and types of buildings within their portfolio. Based on the scheme's initial outline, if buildings go over their set threshold, they risk purchasing carbon credits to that value (about £8 per tonne). The cheapest, cleanest and safest way of dealing with this issue is to reduce energy usage. Without the knowledge on precisely what you are using, when and where, it can prove a difficult task.

Bristol City Council is taking action. The question now is: how many other public-sector organisations will grasp the nettle and follow the same route?

Case study: Thames Valley Police
While Bristol City Council is leading the way for public-sector organisations when it comes to energy management, Thames Valley Police has also been exploring how it can better control energy expenditure.

The police force, responsible for the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, is taking part in an IMServ monitoring trial. Thames Valley will be able to see unexpected surges in consumption and take appropriate action. Before, the only indicator of wastage was a larger than normal bill.

Neil Wickham, Thames Valley's energy manager, says: "We operate from 220 buildings, ranging from radio communication masts on remote hill-top sites to Milton Keynes, one of the UK's largest operational police stations.

"As energy manager, I need to understand how and when energy is consumed in each building as I develop a strategy to help reduce that consumption. My main aim is to lower base load consumption. At the moment even a small unit, used as a public service office, has a high base load throughout the day and night. Lowering this minimum spend across the board would lead to huge annual savings."

Each of the 11 sites, from a 19th century station in Newport Pagnell to the unit in Milton Keynes shopping centre, is being fitted with multi-utility half hourly meters. Their readings will be compiled and presented through a secure website based on Energy DataVision.

Wickham adds: "If every member of the force took the time to switch off unnecessary lights, heaters and computers, we could greatly reduce our annual energy spend. Leaving just one computer on overnight and at weekends can cost up to £25 a year. If you multiply this by the number of computers used, the financial cost could run into thousands of pounds."

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