How To Improve Energy Efficiency
In Commercial Buildings

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full guide

With skyscrapers soaring higher and cities growing bigger and more advanced, the rate of global energy use is also expected to increase dramatically. Given that most existing buildings especially in established urban areas were constructed without energy efficiency as one of their key priorities, the potential for energy savings in commercial buildings is remarkably high.

While the overall energy consumption in the UK decreased by a total of 16% from 2005 to 2017, it is important to note that buildings are responsible for 43% of current energy usage.

The Building Energy Efficiency Survey 2016 reported that 67% of energy consumption in commercial buildings was used to provide building services including lighting, heating, ventilation, cooling, and hot water. Therefore, making these factors more energy efficient could potentially produce massive energy saving gains.

This article will outline different methods on how the commercial building industry can improve energy efficiency by applying solutions that can be widely beneficial on the long-term.

Planning and Creating a Strategy

As with any project, it is critical to have an airtight strategy when planning to implement energy efficiency. The first step is to determine the different goals in undertaking the project.

Setting Goals

While most public organisations would be more concerned with environmental impacts, most building owners and tenants tend to focus on the cost savings an energy efficient building will deliver.

Examples of energy goals that lead to a lower electricity cost as a payoff would be the following:

  • to achieve a reduction in energy consumption
  • to self-generate a percentage of the property’s total power usage

When planning these energy goals, it is recommended to be specific on the rate of savings the company is expecting to achieve. Putting a concrete number will help in selecting what methods are needed to be applied in order to achieve that goal.

For example, if the goal is to reduce the annual electricity bill by 25%, this can be assessed in relation to the company’s resources, budget and capabilities. This can guide the company on whether to apply more methods or to scale down their goals if resources are limited.

While cost saving is a common goal, other companies implement energy efficiency steps in order to create a more comfortable working environment for their staff, while some companies prioritise environmental sustainability as a part of their business ethos.

Determining Priorities

In an ideal world, every company possess the required time and resources to build or refit a commercial building to be more energy efficient. However, this is not always the case.

More often than not, the capital investment required to implement these changes is one of the main barriers. If this is the case, there is no need to disregard the project altogether, instead, the key is to thoughtfully assess what will make the most impact for the business at a manageable cost.

Start by listing down the energy goals vis-à-vis the business benefits, timelines and the potential costs involved in implementing each goal. Seeing them on paper will provide a comparative view of what can be realistically done based on the resources the company currently has.

Usually, addressing the most urgent need will be the wisest choice to prioritise. For example, fixing a malfunctioning heating system will not only save costs but will also provide the employees a more comfortable environment which can impact on their productivity.

Breaking down the project into different phases or milestones instead of doing everything altogether can also be helpful if budget is tight because it can help with cash flow issues. It can also make it easier for business owners to track the progress and budget of the project as it is being completed in phases.

Starting the Project

Before starting, it is a requirement to review different regulations and policies that can impact the workflow of the project. While most business owners disregard this step and entrust this part to their appointed construction companies or staff, it is important to have an understanding of the basics to ensure that the investment will not be for nothing.

Understanding EPC

EPC stands for Energy Performance Certificate. This is a certification that is required when a building is constructed, sold and rented out. The purpose of the EPC is to indicate how energy efficient a building is. The energy rating is from A to G, with A being very efficient and G being least efficient. The EPC is valid for 10 years from the date of issuance.

In April 2018, the UK has passed new regulations on EPCs stating that commercial and residential properties must meet a Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard rating of E. For a commercial or non-domestic EPC, this new rating will be based on CO2 emissions. Before a building is put on the market, the owner or the landlord is responsible in commissioning an EPC for the building. If this minimum rating is not met, it would be illegal to sell or rent out the property.

For newly constructed buildings, the person carrying out the construction is responsible to give an EPC and recommendation report to the building owner and notify building control that this process has been completed.

For an existing building, an EPC can be requested prior to modification to assess the energy efficiency in its current state. When modifications are complete a new EPC may still be required. This happens if a building is modified to have more or fewer parts than it originally has and the modification includes extension or provision of fixed services for heating, ventilation and cooling.

Planning Permissions

Planning permission is a formal document given by a local authority in England and Wales which allows development at a particular site. For example, to build a house on a piece of land or make any renovations in a building, planning permission is required for this project. This permission is attached to the land and not necessarily to the person who applied for it.

A planning permission is usually necessary when building a new property, implementing structural changes to the property, extending the property depending on size and demolishing an existing building.

If the commercial property that is being bought or leased is going to be used for a different purpose, then planning permission may also be required. This is often referred to as “change of use”.

Building purposes are classified into different “use classes” which refers to what the intended use for the property is. A commercial property can be classified into different categories such as:

  • Shops and retail outlets
  • Professional services
  • Drinking establishments
  • Hot food and takeaway
  • Industrial
  • Hotels
  • Non-residential institutions
  • Etc.

However, if the new purpose falls into the same use class as the existing purpose, planning permission may not be needed. Other minor modifications may also not require planning permission, however, it is best to seek professional advice.

SBEM Requirement

For newly-built commercial buildings and buildings that are being extended or renovated, a Simplified Building Energy Model or SBEM Calculation is required. The SBEM Model is created during the design stage of the building and reviewed against building regulations. The purpose of this is to assess the compliance of the building with CO2 targets. The Building Emission Rate must be equal or lower than the target in order to be deemed compliant.

Estimating Required Funding for the Project

Undertaking an energy efficiency project may save costs in the long-term, however, the capital involved can be significant at the onset. It is essential for companies to employ diligent steps in order to ensure that budget estimates are accurate and can be managed accordingly.

Another way to ensure that the project will be completed on time and more importantly, on budget is by commissioning professional surveys at the planning stage in order to anticipate unforeseen work. This will avoid last-minute surprises and unplanned costs which can negatively impact the progress of the project.

Electricity Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

For most commercial buildings, the high rate of electricity consumption is often overlooked especially by the people who use the properties on a day-today basis. Lights, heating, cooling and machines are often left running 24/7 even if it’s not necessary.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that 30% of energy used in a commercial building is wasted due to inefficiencies. This high energy consumption can then impact a company’s bottom line.

Optimising a building’s energy efficiency may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to cost-cutting measures. However, if more commercial building owners work towards reducing electricity consumption, they will realise that these savings can actually free up funding. This funding can be devoted to other business projects that can help in supporting the company’s goals.

In order to save electricity consumption, there are various methods that companies can look to implement.

LED Bulbs and Lighting Controls

Lighting can consume a lot of power especially in commercial buildings. In fact, lighting accounts for 20% of energy consumption in the UK. But the good news is, it is also one of the easiest and more affordable to replace.

Switching to LED Lighting

One way to instantly save energy and make a property more efficient is by choosing LED lighting. In general, LED lights consume 70-90% less energy than a standard incandescent or CFL bulb. So just replacing one bulb already delivers significant savings.

Here are some of LED’s advantages:

  • LED lights are energy efficient and because they don’t use up a lot of energy, they are ideal especially when using self-generated electricity from devices such as solar panels.
  • Switching to LED lighting can considerably reduce electricity bills making them cost-efficient. To calculate approximate savings, use the UK’s average of 20% from the electricity bill to account for lighting costs, then reduce that to at least 75%. With a lot of companies reporting that 40%-60% of their electricity bill is from lighting, this saving can be greater.
  • LED lights are better for the environment as they can help reduce the property’s carbon footprint. A 13w LED light for instance emits 68% less CO2 than a standard 40w incandescent bulb running 10 hours per day.
  • LED lights have long lifespan that can last from 50,000 to 100,000 hours. This means that even if the LED light is kept on for 24 hours a day, it can take more than 5 years before it needs to be changed. Incandescent bulbs usually last only 1,000 hours while compact fluorescent lights last 10,000 hours.
  • LED lighting also runs on low-voltage so it does not emit much heat making it safer to handle.

Cost of LED lighting

While the cost of a LED light bulb is more expensive than that of an incandescent bulb, the prices are getting lower as more people are making the switch. One standard 9w LED bulb can cost approximately £14 while a 60w incandescent bulb that can provide the same brightness only costs £1 each.

When choosing lighting for a commercial building or retrofitting an existing building, the cost will depend on the type of LED lights used, the size of the building and the installation provider. For sure, the initial cost required may be higher as compared to a standard bulb. But the numerous benefits will be worth the investment because LED lighting can be more cost-efficient in the long term.

Businesses can also recover some of the installation costs through tax relief. This is by writing off the whole cost of the equipment against their taxable profits on that year under the Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECA) scheme. This program was put up to encourage businesses to invest in energy-saving lighting equipment so if a company is using ECA-approved products - which include LED lights - it’s another way to save on costs.

There are also companies in the UK which offer a “Pay-As-You-Save” scheme wherein organisations can switch to LED lighting without upfront costs.

Installing Lighting Controls

When a person is at home, it is easy to remember to turn off the lights when not in use. In a commercial environment where more people populate the property at different times, it becomes more difficult to implement this habit. This can lead to massive wastes of energy especially when lighting is kept on unnecessarily.

One way to address this problem is by installing lighting control systems. A lighting control system gives the user the ability to manage the lighting in a facility. It usually has different types:

  • Basic Lighting Controls are manual on and off switches. This is similar to what is usually found in homes. For this to work, users need to manually turn on/off the switch.
  • Dimmer Switches are slightly more advanced as they give the user the ability to control the level of brightness in a given room. This can save energy as the lights will not be needed to function at full power all of the time.
  • Motion Sensors for Outdoor Lighting are activated when movement is detected at night, and they automatically turn off when movement is not detected. These are useful for porch lighting or parking spaces.
  • Occupancy Sensor for Indoor Lighting are activated as soon as a person enters a room and once movement is not detected after a few minutes, these automatically turn off. These are typically used for bathrooms, conference rooms, common rooms and other public spaces like schools, building towers, and hospitals.
  • Timer Controlled Lighting can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times which can be used for indoor and outdoor lighting.
  • Networked Lighting Control Systems or “Smart Switches” allows a user to manage the lighting through the use of a computer or a handheld device. The lighting is part of one network system that can be accessible through the controller.

The common misconception is that installing lighting controls can be highly expensive, however, advanced technology has made it accessible even for homeowners. To give a rough idea on cost, fitting one dimmer switch can cost around £90 while installing a motion sensor light can range from £20 to £100. Smart switches that are connected to Wi-Fi are also widely available and have become much more affordable.

Of course, this can greatly vary when it comes to commercial installations as the overall cost will depend on the property’s requirement. However, this is still an energy saving method worth considering especially as Energy.Gov reports that installing a lighting control system can help reduce electricity bills by as much as 30%.

Lighting Design for Efficiency

Planning the lighting design throughout a building is important to ensure that all lights are being used at their optimum capacity. This step can be particularly useful especially when constructing a new commercial building or renovating an existing property.

In many instances, the priority of designers can veer towards the aesthetic look, however, for a property to be energy efficient it must actually consider lux level requirements. Lux refers to the unit of measurement of the intensity of the light level measured in foot candles.

In order to know how much light is required in a certain space, a calculation of the lux level should be performed according to the size of the property. A brightly lit office for example would typically require 400 lux of illumination.

Other factors that need to be considered include the type of activity being conducted in that space as well as energy efficiency standards. This is because different types of work can require different levels of lighting to ensure that the people working in that environment are comfortable.

In the UK, new installations have to be in line with the Chartered Institution of Building Engineers or CIBSE guidelines. These guidelines exist to ensure that sufficient lighting is provided in different spaces depending on the industry.

Emergency Lighting Design

Emergency lighting is required as per UK legislation. This covers:

  • Emergency escape lighting
  • Emergency safety lighting
  • Escape route lighting
  • High risk area lighting
  • Open area lighting
  • Standby lighting
  • Other lighting needed when normal lighting experiences a failure.

While emergency lighting is a non-negotiable requirement in constructing a property, there are ways to make them energy efficient. First is to use LED lighting as much as possible as this consumes less energy and saves on electricity.

Another way is to plan for non-maintained luminaire in which emergency lighting is only triggered when the normal lighting supply is not working. This is contrary to a maintained emergency luminaire type where the emergency lighting stays on even when normal lighting is working. Using a non-maintained luminaire system when possible can be more efficient for the property.

Voltage Optimisation for Energy Efficient Buildings

Another energy saving technology that can help make a property more energy efficient is voltage optimisation. This technology is used to regulate the incoming power supply and reduce the voltage supplied to the optimum rate for the electrical equipment being used.

In the UK, power from the National Grid is typically provided at a higher voltage than necessary. This is because of old electrical distribution networks in place that were created to operate at higher voltage levels, plus electricity suppliers are required to ensure that all buildings are supplied voltage at set parameters.

When a building is supplied a higher voltage than necessary, this can lead to wasted energy, higher levels of carbon emissions, higher electricity bills, and it can also affect the lifespan of electrical equipment. By applying voltage optimisation, the voltage can therefore be controlled to only supply only the necessary power.

There are two types of voltage optimisation:

  • Static / Fixed Reduction VO means that the voltage will be optimised at a set number. This is recommended if the property is not experiencing too much fluctuation from the power grid.
  • Dynamic Reduction VO is when voltage is optimised to react to fluctuations in grid voltage to ensure that minimum voltage levels are not compromised. This can provide maximum savings as the voltage optimisation unit is set to maintain an optimal voltage level for the site.

Benefits of Voltage Optimisation

For a business to determine whether voltage optimisation can impact a property’s energy efficiency, a professional survey needs to be conducted. This is to identify how much electric consumption is voltage dependent and what percentage of the total energy consumed this represents. If these are high, then the savings are also higher.

This will then lead to savings in electricity bills for the company as well as reducing carbon emissions. Aside from these top benefits, another advantage is in maintaining the performance of electrical equipment. With most commercial companies highly dependent on electronic devices to run their business, it is important to conserve the performance of these devices.

Computers, for example, are very sensitive to power surges and fluctuations and can be damaged because of these instances. Voltage optimisation can then help protect companies to secure their electronic investments as damages may be costlier especially when loss of data occurs.

Migrate Onsite Servers to The Cloud

Most businesses rely on data to power their operations. With data being a very powerful resource, it becomes important to ensure that data is stored and protected at all times. This is why companies often maintain on-site servers to store data.

One way to become more energy efficient is to consider using Cloud storage to house the company’s data instead of relying on onsite servers. Cloud storage is a data storage solution that is also referred to as off-site storage. As the name suggests, the data is stored in a remote server which can be accessed through the internet. In recent years, cloud storage has become more efficient with the advancement of internet speed and the introduction of modern security controls.

Why switch to the cloud?

There are different benefits that companies can gain when switching to a Cloud-based storage solution. These benefits include the following:

  • Accessibility. One key benefit is accessibility. Because data is stored in the internet, this means that users are able to access the data anytime and anywhere. They do not need to be physically at the office in order to work on a document or access a file.
  • Low Upfront and Maintenance Costs. Another advantage is cost. On-site servers are not cheap and a lot of times, companies buy more storage than necessary which means they pay costs upfront. Cloud storage, on the other hand, allows companies to only buy what they require at the moment and scale up their storage plan depending on their current requirement. They can also scale down if needed, which is not possible when purchasing a physical storage drive.
  • Energy Efficient. An onsite server is a heavy-duty machine that can consume a lot of energy. Most of the time, these servers run 24/7 soaking up electricity even if they are not used. Most of these servers even have backup servers with cloned data which again use up more energy. When data is migrated to cloud computing, this automatically lowers energy demand.

Data shows that Cloud computing has the largest energy efficiency opportunities. This is mainly because the data centres and servers used by Cloud providers are by far more energy efficient than in-house servers used by most companies.

Based on a study conducted by Carbon Disclosure Project, annual energy saved between 2015 to 2020 due to the use of Cloud computing by large companies could amount to over $12 billion US dollars.

Challenges of Switching to the Cloud

Migrating data to Cloud storage is not a difficult process. However, one primary concern especially for multinational companies is data security. When a company’s data is stored in the Cloud, there is a risk of data loss, corruption, and breach.

Data breach can be an expensive problem that can affect a company not only financially but also in terms of its reputation. While this is an ongoing issue that is still happening now, more and more Cloud providers are enforcing tighter security features such as end-to-end encryption and zero knowledge policies, giving clients more peace of mind when using the Cloud.

For commercial businesses, one good way to start using the Cloud is by migrating a portion of their total data, such as the backup data, until they are more comfortable to migrate the entire load.

Ventilation and Air Conditioning

Ventilation and air conditioning also contribute largely to energy consumption of a commercial property. Air ventilation and air conditioning are usually interchanged but are completely different systems.

The Difference between Ventilation and Air Conditioning

In air ventilation, the system takes the air in the building and mixes fresh air from outside, without changing the air’s temperature. The purpose of this is to refresh and remove the harmful elements in the air by bringing fresh air inside.

Air conditioning on the other hand circulates air around the building and changes its temperature. This can be either warming or cooling the air depending on the desired temperature.

Recommended Temperature in the Workplace

Ventilation and air conditioning are important in any commercial space to ensure that workers in these spaces are comfortable. With most workers spending a bulk of their day in the workplace, a temperature controlled environment is a primary key to maximise productivity.

In the UK, although the law does not state a minimum or maximum temperature, the recommended temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16°C or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.

Cost of Installation

The cost of installing a ventilation or air conditioning system is quite high. In fact, just for a small commercial space, a business owner can expect to be charged thousands of pounds. The price range varies massively and will depend on the size of the space, the layout of the work area and other factors. This means it’s best to get a professional to survey the property to get a cost estimate.

Choosing a system is a necessary expense for every company operating in an interior work environment. Because these systems are expensive to replace, changing to a new energy efficient model may not always be financially viable unless there is already a plan to buy new units anyway. However, if the property’s system is already more than 10 years old and has undergone multiple repairs, it may be more practical to switch to a new more energy-efficient model.

The choice on whether to install an air ventilation or an air-conditioning system actually depends on the property’s specific needs which may or may not be a more energy efficient choice. Because of this, the way to enforce further energy efficiency is through smarter usage of these systems.

How to Improve Efficiency

There are various ways to improve the energy efficiency of ventilation and air conditioning systems. When buying new ventilation systems, select higher efficiency motors and fans. For existing ventilation units, use time settings to ensure that fans are not running when not required as this wastes energy as well as removes heat from the building.

For air conditioning systems, ensure that the heating and cooling systems are not competing with each other by employing a temperature gap or deadband between the heating and cooling temperatures.

Utilise variable speed drives to vary the output of the air conditioning system to meet the requirement throughout the day. This means more cooling or heating is not produced when not necessary. Cooling coils may also help when the climate is cool enough so that not much energy will be required to produce cooling.

Another very obvious but often unheeded reminder is to turn off cooling or heating in unnecessary areas, especially if the space is not in use. If the office does not have computer servers or machines that need cooling 24/7, set a timer for the AC to be turned off when everyone is out of the office.

Benefits of Energy Efficient Ventilation and Air Conditioning

Practicing energy saving habits in relation to the property’s ventilation and air conditioning system can help reduce electricity bills. It can also save energy and can lengthen the lifespan of the system.

Having the systems professionally checked, serviced and maintained at least once a year is also recommended to improve their efficiency. This can ensure maximum performance that can lead to a more comfortable and productive working environment for the workers using the property.

Electricity Generation

More and more companies are looking for ways to self-generate their own electricity in order to be less dependent on the National Grid. When companies are able to produce their own electricity, this reduces their electricity bills, protects them from sudden power cuts, shortages and price hikes, plus using renewable energy is more beneficial for the environment.

Some examples of renewable energy sources that commercial companies can explore include solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, hydroelectric, hydrogen and ocean energy. However two of the more accessible sources are solar and wind energy. This is because the other sources are either geographically dependent or may not be easily accessible or practical for smaller companies.

  • Solar Energy – Installing Photovoltaic / Solar Panels is a popular choice for most commercial buildings as they can be installed in unused roof spaces or car parking lots. Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy that does not emit greenhouse gasses so it’s good for the environment, and at the same time can significantly lower electricity bills. Solar energy can be used in both urban and rural areas, as long as the solar panels can get optimal sun exposure. They are also widely available and not complicated to install which is why more properties choose this option.
  • Wind Energy – this is another fast-growing renewable energy source designed to be efficient in an environment with uniform and constant air flow. The wind energy propels three propeller like blades in a wind turbine that spins a generator to create electricity. A commercial property located in an open space may benefit from wind energy as long as the area meets the required wind conditions. This is not usually preferred in dense urban environments because having surrounding buildings and structures means that the wind flow is not constant.

For commercial buildings in cities and populated areas, the best option is still solar energy. However, if the property is located in a more rural area where other renewable energy sources can function, it may also be worth exploring these options.

Photovoltaic / Solar Panels

Photovoltaic (PV) panels or more popularly known as solar panels are used to self-generate electricity using the energy from the sun. The term “photovoltaic” refers to the direct conversion of light into electricity at the atomic level. Thus, the materials used in solar panels exhibit a photoelectric effect that causes them to absorb photons of light and release electrons. The freed electrons are then induced to travel through an electric circuit which can be used as electricity.

Although this technology was first discovered in 1839, it was not until recently when the use of solar panels became more prominent. PV panels can be utilised to power portable electronics, road machines, homes and even large commercial businesses.

Installing solar panels can be a great option when considering to build a more energy efficient property. In doing so, it is recommended to study different factors that go into this undertaking.

Designating a location for the solar panels

When installing solar panels, the most obvious location is to place them where they can get the most sun exposure without any blockages. This is the reason why roof installations are the most common types of installations. There is no need for extra space or land because the roof is typically an unused space already.

Most commercial buildings that are located in highly condensed urban areas would benefit from a roof installation since the availability of surrounding land may be scarce. However, before installing solar panels whether on a residential or a commercial property, it is highly critical to get the advice of a structural engineer to survey whether the property can support the added weight of the panels. The age and the condition of the roof also need to be assessed prior to installation.

For people without any usable roof space or those who prefer not to install on the roof, they can choose a ground mount instead. Ground mounts require land space so the panels are secured to a rack structure connected to the ground. Ground mounts work best in an open space so there are no blockages. They can also be easily repositioned to absorb optimal sun exposure.

In installing ground mounts, the space required and the number of solar panels installed would depend on the amount of electricity the user wants to generate. The rule of thumb is typically allocating around 100 square feet of space for every 1kW of solar panels. In order to generate an annual electricity output of 850 kWh, which is suitable for one person, four 1kW solar panels would be required.

Funding

While solar technology has been around for more than a hundred years, it is only recently that the cost has dramatically dropped. This was due to increase in manufacturing, improved technology and materials, and more trained installers.

Average Cost of Solar Panels

In 2018, installing solar panels can cost between £1,500 and £8,000 in the UK depending on their size, energy efficiency and type. The type of material used in solar panels also affects the efficiency as well as the cost of installation. The number of solar panels to be installed will again depend on how much electricity is required to be produced.

Cost Based on the Location of Solar Installation

The cost of installing solar panels can also be dependent on the location chosen. In earlier years, it was more expensive to install solar panels on flat roofs than on pitched roofs as the panels would need to be tilted on a structure, however, new technology has now produced specialist solar energy systems suitable for flat roofs, meaning the panels can be mounted horizontally or with a slight tilt.

In terms of labour, installation is also easier on flat roofs which can make the cost cheaper. This is also applicable in ground mounts which are quicker to install. However, the overall cost would still be reliant on the type of solar panels as well as the installation company appointed.

Government Funding

As part of the UK Government’s commitment to promote clean, renewable energy, the Feed-In Tariff or FIT was announced in 2008 and took effect in 2010. This means that the user gets paid back a certain amount of money for every kWh of electricity produced and another payment for every kWh of unused electricity exported back into the electricity grid.

This means that property owners who use solar energy also get money paid back to them through FIT. In earlier years, companies would offer free solar panels to install on roofs, often referred to as “rent-a-roof” so the property owners can save on electricity, but the FIT will be received by the company. However, in 2016 after the Government reduced FIT payments by 64%, companies stopped offering free solar panels as these are not deemed as profitable as before.

The Green Deal which was also a program to provide grants to property owners to install solar panels was also scrapped in 2015. In July 2018, it was also announced that the FIT program will be closed to new applicants by April 2019.

Benefits of Installing Solar Panels

While the Feed-In-Tariff Scheme was an effective way to attract more property owners to convert to solar energy, there are still substantial benefits brought about by installing solar panels.

Great for the Environment

Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy. Adopting solar energy is a great way to reduce a property’s carbon footprint. Buildings are responsible for a significant percentage of carbon emissions worldwide so installing solar panels can help reduce these emissions.

Cost-Savings

Another important benefit is the reduction in electricity bills. In self-generating their own electricity, property owners can devote their savings to other aspects of their businesses. Since solar panels are often usable for 25+ years, they can also protect themselves from rising energy costs. Plus, solar powered buildings have been shown to increase property value.

Low Maintenance

Solar panels are very low maintenance because they don’t have any moving parts that can rust or breakdown easily. They are built to endure harsh and unpredictable weather so they are very durable and unlikely to crack or break. If there is a malfunction, this is typically caused by the cables or inverters connected to the panels. Most companies offer a 25-year warranty so this usually covers any required repairs. It is advised to seek professional help if issues arise instead of attempting to self-fix any malfunction.

Solar panels can usually self-clean especially when it rains, which means cleaning them with water is an effective way to ensure that they work in their maximum capacity. Professional cleaning is advised once per year, unless the panels are located in an agricultural area where more frequent cleaning may be required.

Gas Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

Gas consumption in the UK is continuously increasing. Latest available data showed that in Great Britain, non-domestic/commercial gas consumption in 2016 increased by 1.9% compared to consumption in 2015. This may seem insignificant, but this increase is more than double of the increase rate in domestic consumption which only rose by .9%.

More gas consumed also means higher cost. A September 2018 report states that between Q2 2017 and Q2 2018, average gas prices in the UK in cash terms excluding Climate Change Levy, in the non-domestic sector rose by 12%.

What this means is that if the commercial sector continues to increase its gas consumption and does not find ways to reduce this, the financial impact will also be higher.

Energy Efficient Boilers

Boilers are used to generate heat and hot water for domestic and commercial properties. They are also known to consume far more energy than any other appliance. In fact, boilers account for at least 55-60% of a person’s annual spend on energy. This means that if an inefficient boiler is being used, so much energy is also wasted as a result.

According to a report by the Energy Saving Trust, if everyone in the UK with gas or oil central heating installed a high-efficiency condensing boiler, the country will save enough energy to heat 1.9 million homes for an entire year as well as save about 6.7 million tonnes of CO2.

At present, there are different types of boilers that exist in both residential and commercial properties.

  • Combination Boilers are widely used in the UK which provide hot water and heat without the need for a water tank making it space-saving. Combi boilers can also deliver unlimited heat and hot water when needed. Water pressure may be reduced if more than one tap is being used at a time.
  • System Boilers come with a water cylinder but also without a water tank. In this type of boiler, hot water is not instant and there is a need to wait for the water to be heated.
  • Conventional Boilers are also known as regular boilers which come with a water cylinder and a water tank. Like the system boiler, there is a need for the water to be heated before use. A space for the water tank should also be considered.
  • Condensing Boilers can either be a Combination or a Conventional Boiler. It is more of a subtype which is more energy efficient. Since 2005, all new gas boilers in the UK had to be condensing boilers.
  • Energy Efficient Boilers are A-Rated by the SEDBUK. Since April 2018, only boilers that are 92% efficient and above can be installed. This means that only 8% of fuel used is wasted.

The Need for a Boiler Upgrade

If a commercial property is still using an old type of boiler predating 2005, then there may be a need to upgrade their boilers. This is because boiler energy consumption is an integral measure for companies to achieve a minimum E rating to acquire an EPC Certificate. Since April 2018, it is already illegal to sell or lease a property that does not meet minimum energy efficiency requirements.

Benefits of a Boiler Upgrade

Upgrading to a new energy efficient boiler will not only help a company gain an EPC certificate but also help cut energy costs. With energy efficient boilers, wastage is at a maximum of 8% while old traditional boilers waste up to 30% of fuel. This means more fuel is required to run an old boiler at the same duration resulting to higher fuel cost.

Further Savings

To gain further savings, it has been reported that lowering set points by even 1°C can potentially reduce heating bills by 8%. This means that reducing the temperature on the thermostat to a minimum comfortable level can also create savings.

Upgrading Radiators

A radiator is a device that transfers heat energy for the purpose of space heating. While radiators are often identified with residential properties, they are still a viable option for commercial properties.

If a company is currently using a radiator for its commercial property, it is recommended to use an energy efficient model to match the efficiency of the boiler. The radiator must also be sized correctly in relation to the space size for it to be as efficient as possible.

Old radiator models are more likely to distribute heat inefficiently, consuming more energy. This is one reason to consider making an upgrade as more radiator manufacturers now offer various types and designs. These designs come with specialised features such as energy efficiency, rust-resistance and low surface temperature that can make it suitable for specific commercial sectors.

Underfloor Heating

Underfloor heating is a central heating method wherein warmth from under the floor is radiated into the room. This is the oldest form of central heating with Ancient Romans using a form of underfloor heating called hypocausts to heat buildings and baths.

It is more likely for commercial buildings with high occupancy to enjoy efficiency gains from underfloor heating. This is due to the fact that this type of heating is most effective in periods of continuous occupancy. Energy Saving Trust reports that the savings potential of using underfloor heating over a radiator system can be up to 20%.

Types of Underfloor Heating

There are two types of underfloor heating: a wet underfloor heating system and a dry / electric underfloor heating system. A wet system is more expensive and difficult to install than radiators and a dry underfloor system, but it is cheaper to run. The dry underfloor heating on the other hand costs less to install but more expensive to run.

While underfloor heating may be more cost-efficient, the downside is that it is actually more effective when run continuously. This means that if an office does not have continuous occupancy, underfloor heating may not really be energy efficient. There is also a need to wait for the warmth to spread as it is not instant heat like an electric or radiator system.

Other Methods of Improving Energy Efficiency

While controlling electricity and gas consumption are remarkable methods in improving energy efficiency for commercial properties, there are other ways that companies can adopt to achieve their energy goals.

Commercial Building Insulation

A property’s insulation is its means to keep the building as airtight as possible. This means that insulation acts as a barrier to heat loss and heat gain.

Properties that are not insulated can overheat during summer months and during winter, it can be more difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature. This consumes more energy as the demand from heating or cooling systems are much higher. Lack of or inefficient insulation can then lead to higher energy bills.

In the UK, insulation standards have been improved since the 1990’s. But since there are numerous old buildings that were built before this period, not all of them are compliant to current insulation building standards. This makes older buildings with no proper insulation more expensive to run.

Determining Insulation Inefficiency

In order to identify whether a commercial property has an efficient insulation system, it is recommended to conduct a professional commercial building survey. A comprehensive thermal imaging survey can be performed to determine missing or incorrectly installed insulation as well as potential areas of heat loss, leaks, ventilation losses and problematic heating equipment.

This detailed survey can help uncover these potential issues so the company can learn what steps need to be taken to resolve these inefficiencies.

Upgrading External Windows

Another method to reduce heat loss is to secure openings such as external windows and doors. An average home for example loses 40% of its heat through windows and doors. For commercial properties, this rate can be higher if external openings are not insulated.

A widely used method to prevent heat escaping is by double glazing windows. Windows that are double glazed have two sheets of glass with a gap between them usually about 16mm wide. The gap is responsible for creating an insulating barrier to slow down the escape of heat. The less heat that escapes, the less energy is required for heating.

Now, there are already triple glazed windows which a central third pane that aim to further reduce heat loss. While this is now commonly used in Scandinavian countries, upgrading from a double glaze to a triple glaze may not be very practical in the UK.

However, if a company is buying a new set of windows, it may be worth it to go for a triple glazed option as there are already UK suppliers offering triple glazed windows priced comparably to double glazed models.

Cavity Wall Insulation

In the UK, building walls typically fall under two types: cavity wall and solid wall. Most properties built after 1920 have twin exterior walls with a narrow cavity between them – these are cavity walls. The gap can be filled with an insulating material to restrict heat loss which will reduce heating costs. While walls that are made of stone or are thinner than 260mm are usually solid walls.

Cavity walls that are not insulated can potentially lose 35% of the heat generated within the property. This can be avoided by choosing to insulate the cavity. There are different types of cavity wall insulation available. The following are two of the most notable types of cavity wall insulation.

  • Polyurethane Foam is an insulation material that is best in terms of performance. However, it is not as environmentally friendly and it is also the most expensive type.
  • High Efficiency Glass Wool or High Efficiency EPS Beads can be a great option if price is a consideration. They are of good quality but slightly less favourable than polyurethane foam in terms of performance. Glass wool is also the most environmentally-friendly when it comes to cavity wall insulation.

When looking to perform a cavity wall insulation on a property, a thorough inspection and survey is recommended to determine the most suitable type of insulation material. The survey will also help in determining the cost and the timeline of the installation.

In terms of timeline, the entire process from initial enquiry up to installation can take about 2-3 weeks. Installation itself may only take around 2-3 hours if professional installers are appointed.

Commercial and Industrial Roofing Insulation

An average commercial building with a flat roof that is not properly insulated can potentially lose about 25% of its heat through the roof. If a property is having this same issue, applying roofing insulation is a great idea to avoid losing large amounts of heat.

There are different types of roof insulation systems that can help create an energy efficient and low carbon roof covering. In choosing which type is suitable for a certain property, a professional survey is again recommended.

  • Asbestos Roof Overclad System is an extremely cost-effective solution that can provide long-term and thermally efficient roof covering, without the costly licensed disposal of the roof’s existing asbestos roof covering.
  • Twin-skin Steel Insulated Roof System is a multi-layered cladding system that is also cost-effective and has a proven track record in the market.
  • Insulated Composite Panel Roofing System is comprised of a single-component installation roof panel. This is manufactured in varying range of thickness to specifically suit the building requirements.
  • Fiberglass Insulation is a common and widely available type of insulation in most homes and businesses. This is a popular choice because it is inexpensive and easy to install.

Building Management System (BMS) Upgrade

A Building Management Automation System is a centralised system interlinking all the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems in a building that can be controlled from a dashboard or a computer device. This can include controls for:

  • The internet
  • Heating
  • Ventilation
  • Air conditioning
  • Power
  • CCTV
  • Security
  • Fire alarms
  • and many more.

A building with a BMS is considered a smart building because it can easily manage the different building applications automatically which can reduce energy wastage. Technology is now so advanced that BMS can be automatically programmed to detect occupancy and turn off heating or lighting without human interference. Not only does it make it easier to manage unused resources, but it also saves on manpower.

Cost of BMS Installation and Calculating Potential Savings

While the energy savings of a BMS is undeniable, the cost can also be pretty high. According to Intel, the the average cost to deploy a basic BMS is at least £1.92 GBP per square foot and can be as high as £5.37 per square foot, equivalent to at least £192,000 for a 100,000 square foot building.

The high cost then becomes a key barrier for many companies and building owners to install a BMS. This makes it a challenge for smaller buildings to adopt this system.

In terms of ROI, Intel estimates that it can take at least four years to recover the cost of a BMS installation. These savings can usually be measured by the installation of data loggers to track and calculate the savings which are then compared to previous bills or energy logs.

Assessing Whether A BMS Upgrade Is Necessary To Achieve Energy Goals

The practicality of installing a BMS will depend on the commercial property being upgraded. For small to medium properties, installing solar panels as well as improving lighting and heating conditions can already drastically impact energy savings without investing in a BMS.

For bigger properties like schools, shopping malls, airports and skyscrapers where manual controls can be more challenging, a BMS becomes more sensible. This is because the larger space means the more energy is saved when automation controls are utilised.

For medium-sized properties, they can also choose to install a BMS with less controls. There are available smart systems that cover basic applications such as lighting, heating and the internet. These solutions can be customised to suit a company’s needs and budget.

An Energy Efficient Commercial Building

With commercial buildings being a huge energy consuming sector, it is critical for property owners and tenants to become more conscious about energy efficiency. The government is doing its part by introducing updated guidelines that require property owners to adopt better measures. Strict compliance then becomes a key factor in pushing this initiative.

While the initial expense of undertaking such projects for the commercial sector may be high, the long-term payoffs are outstanding. Energy efficient buildings can deliver substantial financial savings for companies especially if they start self-generating energy. And of course, the overall positive effect on the environment is absolutely priceless.