Improving the energy efficiency of buildings – what to invest in and why

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings – what to invest in and why


Each attendee at climate summit COP26 had an opinion about the speed required to transition from coal to clean power. The delegates and representatives fiercely debated goals, timeframes and phrasing, but haven’t yet issued much guidance about how businesses both in the UK and around the world can contribute to the transition. Scaling up clean power and increasing energy efficiency were two key outcomes, as was joining the EP100 initiatives – a group of ‘energy-smart companies’ committed to improving their efficiency and lowering emissions. But no real detail has been forthcoming that will help business owners make educated decisions about asset investment and low-carbon schemes.

The role of energy efficiency in a net-zero society

Energy efficiency features much more heavily in the UK government’s net-zero strategy (announced mid-October this year) which pledges to make it easier for businesses to decarbonise through the deployment of technologies. The strategy states that a combination of support and cost reductions in low-carbon technology will help inform choices about energy use and promote energy-efficient behaviours, for example, through the use of advanced smart meters.

Effectively, what is being requested – and will eventually be demanded – is a reduction in waste and a reduction in energy use and demand, so a business’s remaining emissions can be offset or eliminated through a switch to 100% renewable energy.

Business owners across the UK are now wringing their hands about the size of the task and where to start with decarbonising their buildings and operations. As experts in energy and sustainability, we always recommend starting with capturing an accurate picture of what a company’s actual carbon footprint is.

How big is your footprint? The scale of decarbonisation

In 2001 the Green House Gas (GHG) Protocol defined three emissions scopes that determine a company’s GHG emissions. It’s mandatory for a business to report the first two scopes and, at present, the third is voluntary. Scope 1 emissions are those that are direct from the company through, for example, heating sources and industrial processes. Scope 2 are emissions that are made indirectly through the company’s purchase of electricity, heat, cooling and steam. Scope 3 are emissions indirectly generated from the company’s value chain.

By collecting data (or working with an expert energy and sustainability consultant) relating to these emissions scopes from across the business, an accurate calculation of its carbon footprint can be defined. With this calculation, informed decisions can be made about Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives and investment in energy assets, plant and equipment to support the transition to, and operation of, a carbon-neutral business.

Improving energy efficiency in buildings

As more businesses start to decarbonise by switching to renewable energy sources the knock-on effect is heavy demand on our national electricity grid. An increased number of electric vehicles, including buses and aeroplanes will put an unprecedented strain on the network. So energy efficiency and demand reduction technology is where investment and attention should lie to achieve zero-carbon buildings.

Industrial lights

Improved efficiency can be achieved by investing in modern heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) technology, or even switching to LED lighting and smart sensors. Better energy management can come from changing the way we operate our buildings by using advanced building energy management systems more effectively and the installation of advanced smart meters.

Wherever a business starts, it should start with its carbon footprint and start quickly because the level of mandatory energy reporting for businesses is set to intensify.

Assessing energy use and carbon emissions

Many UK businesses are already required to report on how green they are and what steps they are taking to reduce energy consumption and waste. The Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) scheme, the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), and the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) will be all or individually familiar to landlords, developers, investors and large organisations across the country.

If a business has not yet been mandated to report its energy statistics, it is very likely that it will in the near future and proactive business owners should be preparing for a future of reporting. The NABERS UK energy performance rating scheme for offices was created to help business owners and building operators and managers achieve their net-zero ambitions.

Assessors carry out an evaluation of a building by collecting and verifying data to provide a rating. The measurement allows building owners to understand their building’s performance and make decisions about improvements.

Inteb is an accredited assessor with many years’ experience of developing and implementing programmes to reduce energy use, so if you are a business owner or manager, or a landlord who’s experiencing ‘energy overwhelm’, get in touch for advice to get on with your net-zero journey.

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