The energy investment hierarchy

We have money to spend, but we don’t have money to waste. Most building owners and operators would agree with that view of their budgets, especially when it comes to finding ways to make their buildings more energy efficient.

There can be little doubt now that the drive for energy efficiency in buildings is increasingly urgent. One chilly summer might reduce the costs of cooling a building this year, but that’s not the overall trend we are facing.

But with constrained budgets there has to be a careful choice about how to increase building energy efficiency. Although the BCIA would naturally recommend building controls, there is a hierarchy of options to consider. For example, insulating a building can seem a costly exercise, depending on the size of building. But if an older office building is leaking heating energy through its walls and windows, then that might be the more obvious first option. Payback may be longer than other options, but the improvement in reduced energy waste will be seen immediately.

However, one of the most important first steps on deciding what investments to make is to find out exactly what the current situation is. For this, building controls and BEMS are invaluable. They will provide a clear and accurate picture of energy use, and with proper planning can also highlight areas of a building where energy use might be higher than expected.

The first investment therefore should be one of time spent examining this sort of information. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of that the FM or building manager doesn’t know where to find the data. But the exercise should be regarded as a way to locate and understand what information is available, and also to decide how to use it going forward.

Deciding how to spend limited budgets is a basic management skill, and every manager knows that good decisions are based on good information. Unlike insulation, controls are not a fit-and-forget item: they must be used proactively in order to see the benefits.

If the BEMS is regarded as a source of management information, in the same way as company accounts, then investment in gathering data and using it to save energy should be regarded as a quick-win with very rapid payback.

If you have money to spend, investment in building controls is an excellent way to make sure you don’t waste any more.