Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Making city buildings energy efficient

What is energy efficiency and why is it important? What social, behavioural and technical ways of improving it in buildings are available?

Efficiency is one of the pillars of sustainability. It means cutting waste of energy and materials. It’s about being thrifty, getting more output squeezed from every input of energy, material, effort, money, time...It means doing the same or doing more, using less.

Why have energy efficient buildings? It’s always going to be more cost-effective to save energy and be efficient than it is to generate it. Not only does it cut household bills, make public organisations money go further and increase the profitability of businesses by reducing their outgoings - it also cuts pollution rapidly, is a very good job creator, increases comfort, cuts noise levels, and can be done using materials often thrown away.

Climate changing gas emissions have, on average and over decades, fallen in the UK (some of the direct emissions at least) but still have a very long way to go to be on target and in accord with the scientific advice and the UK Climate Change Act 2008 (requiring at least an 80% cut from 1990 levels by 2050). Department of Energy and Climate Change figures clearly show that the rate of decline in emissions is slow.

Buildings use a lot of energy and 37% of UK greenhouse gas emissions comes from them (see the Committee on Climate Change on this). A large chunk of city and town eco and carbon footprint comes from buildings. Energy used in buildings largely derives from fossil fuels, which are finite, non-renewable and climate change causing.

One way to define cities is that they are built environments with large numbers of people living and working in them. A higher population leads to more buildings, which means more energy use. Buildings old and new need attention.

So, what are the factors affecting building energy sustainability? Energy use and efficiency; energy type and source; and individual and group behaviour, including management practices, are the key ones.

Some energy efficiency methods that can be used are: insulation; efficient lighting eg LED; high efficiency glass; more reuse and recycling; water saving devices and systems.

Greener energy sources include: various on-site renewable energy sources eg photovoltaic panels; ground-source heat pumps; designed-in wind turbines; combined heat and power (CHP); combined cooling, heating and power systems (CCHP).

Energy efficiency and sustainability can be improved through behaviour change alone, though the most effective approach is to coherently combine efficiency methods, greener energy sources and behaviour change. Being aware and using energy efficiently; switching off when not in use; developing high efficiency habits, like having sufficient heat and wearing warm clothes; managing energy well and to an agreed policy are important.

See the great work being done in Bristol on energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy sustainability here and here.

Improving an organisation’s behaviour with respect to energy efficiency and sustainability requires accounting for external and internal forces.  External forces such as: technology; markets; social change; political factors; legal factors. Internal forces like: personnel changes; poor organisation; workforce composition; workforce motivations; need to avoid inflexibility and/or inertia.

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