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Energy being wasted every year by a few thousand office buildings across five UK cities could power 100,000 homes and is costing businesses £60 million in unnecessary energy bills, says a think tank report.
© Getty
© Getty

03 February 2020 |  Herpreet Kaur Grewal

The study from Green Alliance, written for its Tech Task Force, says the scale is the largest in the capital. 

Energy wasted by the City of London’s offices is equivalent to the amount used to power more than 65 thousand homes – equivalent to the housing stock of the London Borough of Kingston upon Thames. 

This is costing the City’s businesses £35 million a year. It also has a climate impact, generating the same level of carbon emissions as 46,000 cars every year. 

The problem is widespread across other UK cities. Energy wasted by fewer than 3,300 office buildings in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham could power 42,000 homes – costing businesses across the four cities £25 million a year in unnecessary bills. 

There have been limited efforts to address this, says the think tank. It states that “most of the UK’s commercial buildings are energy inefficient and, overall, energy consumption per square metre has flatlined since 2002”. 

Better use of digital technology is one obvious solution, to save both money and carbon. Examples of how it can help to reduce energy use include smart sensors and algorithms to track and modulate energy use in different parts a building. Evidence shows that these technologies can vastly improve the energy performance of commercial buildings.

There are substantial opportunities for immediate and easy gains. Artificial intelligence energy optimisation systems already on the market could cut energy use by as much as 14 per cent in commercial buildings with payback in just a few months. For the City of London, for example, businesses could save £13 million on their collective energy bill within a year.

Australia’s good NABERS

Used alongside better business incentives, these technologies would lead to more energy efficiency, as already seen in Australia, says the report. Over the past 13 years, the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) has brought down energy use in Australia’s office buildings by nearly 40 per cent. It requires annual disclosure of the energy performance of buildings and encourages the use of digital technologies, leading to year-on-year improvements.

If this level of progress were achieved in the City of London, its business energy bills would come down by a total of £367 million over the next decade.

The government’s adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, says cutting energy waste is vital to reach the UK’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Although the government has committed itself to cut business energy use by 2030 by at least a fifth, existing policies would not achieve this. 

Caterina Brandmayr, senior policy analyst at Green Alliance, said: “We all work for or know businesses that waste energy, whether it’s leaving lights on at night or wasting heat. It’s hard to see why dealing with this problem isn’t yet a priority, for companies in terms of cost savings or for the government in reaching its carbon targets.”

Rodney Turtle, vice-president for public policy and government affairs at Schneider Electric, said: “Much greater ambition is needed to improve the energy performance of UK buildings, ensuring that new buildings are much more efficient and promoting extensive refurbishment of existing ones. Digital solutions to accelerate progress are already available and other countries are already racing ahead in making the most of these new opportunities.”

Steve Brambley, CEO of Gambica, the trade association for instrumentation, control, automation and laboratory technology, said: “There is no doubt that digital technology can be transformational in cutting the energy use in commercial buildings. We have the technology now to achieve this; what is missing is policy to make investment in energy efficiency a strategic priority for businesses.”

Sophie Walker, UK head of sustainability at property consultant JLL, said the research was welcome but that “wasted energy in buildings has been recognised by the sector as a major issue for some time – what this report does is again emphasise the easy cost savings still to be achieved from focusing on energy efficiency”.

Walker said the report was “environmental realpolitik and would help to drive forward net zero-carbon commitments”.

She added that there are “still quick wins and there is still a huge amount of building optimisation to be done” – JLL was “strongly encouraging” its clients to view net zero and energy efficiency as “a strategic business priority”.

However, Walker contended that to fundamentally affect the mainstream quickly “what we need is government to learn from the industry first movers and put regulation in place to accelerate change”.

She said the real estate industry had been “stepping up in an attempt to supersede this absence of policy” and, as outlined in the report, the UK could learn a lot from Australia putting the right operational metrics in place. 

The UK Green Building Council published energy-efficiency metrics for commercial offices last week, and the Better Buildings Partnership is driving Design for Performance pilots. Walker said these two initiatives were “key steps in the right direction, and we’d like government to adopt these measures rapidly”. 

Emma Potter