Trashing energy waste

Minesh Patel shares his tips for reducing energy waste and improving energy efficiency

The construction sector is the largest energy consumer in the world, and also the largest producer of greenhouse gases. The pressure is therefore on for those in this industry to make their buildings as energy efficient as possible.

Construction companies need to respond to the changing legislation pushing for energy efficiency, and the reputational benefits attached to being a green business. While many of their customers will have already taken steps to reduce energy use, for example by turning off lights and ensuring assets are properly serviced, there are many options open at the construction stage that can provide further savings.

Since April 2017, commercial buildings must have a minimum EPC (energy performance certificate) rating before they can be let. In addition to this, end users are looking for effective ways of reducing operating costs and, for commercial customers, increasing profit. Managing energy use is one of the most effective ways of reducing energy use, and therefore energy bills.

Another factor to consider is the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy. Its climate change and energy targets include a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency and a 20 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. Each national government has its own targets to help meet these EU-wide targets.

While these pressures can be daunting, there are some simple measures that can increase energy efficiency, both for new buildings and existing ones. Here are five ways the construction industry can reduce the energy bills or their buildings, whether it’s a home, office, warehouse or factory.

1. Ensure pipework is well designed and insulated
Pipes run throughout all buildings, feeding water, steam, heating and refrigeration systems. It’s important to plan pipework to take the shortest practical route to minimise energy losses. This applies to new or replacement pipework. Once the pipes have been installed, regular checks will ensure they’re not blocked or dirty.

2. Use energy efficient lighting systems
Older lighting technologies are very inefficient compared to LED lighting. Choosing an LED system can reduce energy usage by 75 per cent. It has the added benefit of providing a better lit and more productive working environment than traditional lighting. Lighting controls can reduce energy use by a further 30 per cent. For example, sensors integrated into an LED light system can detect movement, and therefore turn lights on and off automatically.

3. Insulate where possible
Just one type of energy saving measure in residential buildings (for example cavity wall insulation or loft insulation) can significantly increase energy efficiency. Energy use has already started to decrease due to more homeowners installing insulation. Commercial buildings can also benefit from good quality insulation. Insulation is one factor taken into account when calculating the EPC rating, allowing landlords to charge higher rents for more efficient properties, or developers to demand a higher sale price. Heat loss can be further reduced by insulating components within properties like boilers and pipework.

4. Integrate energy management systems
Energy management systems can be fitted in new buildings, or retrofitted into existing ones. Low cost, wireless sensors clamp onto outgoing electrical wires from circuit breakers to monitor electricity usage. This, combined with cloud-based analytics software, can highlight inefficient uses of energy, and help identify potential faults. An energy management system provides insight into how energy is being used, and where it can be saved.

5. Create your own energy
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are becoming more popular, providing an additional source of electricity to reducing energy bills. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units are a way for larger energy users to increase their energy efficiency. CHP units use gas to produce electricity, but capture the heat created in this process to help meet the demand for heating. While a traditional coalfired plant has an efficiency of 40 per cent, a CHP unit has an overall efficiency of around 80 per cent, significantly increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy costs. CHP units can be installed instead of boilers, or can work alongside boilers.

As well as providing heat and electricity, they can also be used to create chilled water for space or product cooling. Given refrigeration and chilling can make up a large portion of the energy bill, especially for manufacturers, greater efficiencies here can have a big impact.

Minesh Patel is Business Development Manager at Centrica Distributed Energy & Power. Centrica’s Distributed Energy & Power business has been established to help large energy users to take control of their energy through a combination of energy insight, asset optimisation and energy solutions.

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