Revolutionising energy management: Bluewater’s green ambition

Major shopping centre Bluewater has set the ambitious target of cutting its annual energy bill by 50%, with the aim to become Europe's most energy-efficient retail complex. Leigh Stringer finds out how one of the UK's largest shopping centre's plans to meet this target

With an annual energy use of 16,800MWh and a utility bill for non-tenant areas hitting £1.4m, the opportunities from halving Bluewater’s bill are plain to see. The reduction will potentially cut £700,000 in costs, significantly reduce the current 8,000 tonnes of carbon it emits each year and highlight a new way of thinking for large scale energy management.

But where do you begin? The first area you would expect Bluewater to tackle is the heating & cooling system and lighting, which are the biggest energy users, accounting for more than 90% of total consumption.

However, major property and infrastructure services firm, Lend Lease, who built, owns and manages Bluewater, is taking a different approach to energy efficiency at the shopping complex – one that could revolutionise the way properties manage their energy in the future.

Head of sustainability EMEA for Lend Lease, Pascal Mittermaier, says: “Bluewater is a great case study for what’s going to happen to many projects, buildings and initiatives in the future. For the last five or six years we have picked the famous low-hanging fruit – we’ve sealed windows, changed lightbulbs, upgraded building management systems.

“We have carried out measures that have got us to about a 20% reduction in carbon and energy use over the last three or four years,” he adds.

Despite these impressive annual reductions, Mittermaier and the team at Lend Lease found that this approach had its limitations and further savings have become harder to achieve.

“We wanted to look at how to invest money so that you’re not just reducing energy and carbon by another 2-3% each year,” he adds.

“It’s more about what sort of quantum leap you can take with investing money and what’s the most amount of energy and carbon that can be reduced as a result”.

The new approach moves away from the standard methodology, where traditional building operators take a piecemeal approach to managing facilities. This might mean, for example, a focus on upgrading lighting one year, doors the next and the boiler system the year after, capturing small savings per year.

Mittermaier said: “The premise is that, for example, if there is something wrong with your car you don’t just change the tyres and hope that the engine works well. Everything is integrated and the way that most buildings manage their energy or facilities is they’ll put aside some money, let’s say £100,000-200,000, and every year they’ll upgrade whatever is next on their list, like windows. Then the next year they will tackle the air conditioning and the year after that they’ll replace lighting and then in year five it’s back to the windows.

“The weakness of this system is that upgrading the windows can actually have an impact on the air conditioning and the doors. And changing the lights can impact on the heat and other aspects of the building”.

Instead, Bluewater is taking what Lend Lease claims is a pioneering approach that will look to integrate a systems management process which carefully considers the sequence of how systems are installed and upgraded, minimising the impact each process has on the next.

Lend Lease describes its strategy as moving away from the facilities management point of view and heading into a much deeper project management approach.

“It is taking a lot of time up front to understand the deep inter-relationships between all the components that influence energy, and which one impacts the next. If you can achieve that you can use the savings that you generate from the first round to help pay for the investment of the next project you want to take on.

“You will always need someone to manage the facility and change a lightbulb for example, so there is always a role for the implementation of the facilities management. It’s just that when you’re studying the overall potential energy reduction you probably want to take a more integrated, holistic project management approach,” he says.

The process starts by pinpointing inefficiencies across the public areas of the centre’s 1.6m square feet of floor area. Then, with the help of technology company, Sefaira, it will analyse the large amounts of data obtained through accurate monitoring.

Sefaira will then help gather enough of Bluewater’s consumption data to start “sequencing the changes in such a way that will deliver substantial savings for a significantly smaller capital outlay”.

Sefaira has worked closely with the Bluewater team to design a programme of upgrades and improvements to unlock maximum savings. Mittermaier says this integrated, holistic way to enhance energy efficiency is likely to eradicate the old approach and change the way facilities are managed.

“At the beginning of your strategy you might change your HVAC system. You may also do other work such as optimise your sensors to be in line with the kind of light, which in turn has an impact on the heat, which therefore affects your building management system and at the end of all that you may realise that you need an HVAC system that is half the size of what you thought.

“So to avoid this you need to take a deeply integrated and cleverly sequenced approach. This will involve running a very complex modelling strategy to come up with the right sequence with the right investment and this will funnel down to looking at whether it’s better to first change the lights or the cooling and heating system”. And, he says, “we believe this will help us achieve a 50% carbon reduction.”

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