Saving Energy at Christmas in Commercial Buildings
14 December 2021
The quiet holiday period offers the ideal chance to assess buildings' energy efficiency, says Michael Grant, COO of Metrikus.
In this opinion piece, Michael challenges the industry to see how much it can reduce its electricity use over the Christmas holiday, and hints that the habits learned over Christmas will make a difference as the world adapts to flexible working.
Michael has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Victoria University of Technology and is an operations, strategy and management professional, specialising in technology, software, IoT and cloud.
"The lockdowns of last year showed us that even though offices were occupied at less than 10 per cent of their pre-lockdown level, the lights burned brightly and energy use only fell by a sixth. Sometimes whole floors would be lit and heated because a single occupant was doing a shift at, quite literally “keeping the lights on”.
A Festive Challenge: Are You Going to Collect Your Christmas Energy Bonus?
Christmas is coming. There’s no escaping it. This year the mince pies hit the supermarket shelves as soon as the Halloween pumpkins were cleared. If 2021’s extended run-up to 25 December feels a little wearying, take heart in the thought that this Christmas could be the year your business reels in a big bonus that could turn out to be for life, not just for Christmas.
I’m no Scrooge, but I do like saving money, and I love an experiment, so here’s my festive challenge to the office operators of the UK: How much energy can you save over the Winterval by efficiently using the space your occupiers want, while keeping the space you don’t need powered-down?
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The festive period remains the quietest two weeks of the year in our offices – while grandad’s dozing in front of the telly and the kids are squabbling over each other’s presents our offices are shut, and they remain shut, or at least open to a greatly reduced degree, until the new year. The impact of flexible working is likely to make this effect even more pronounced in 2021.
But how much energy is your office using while “all through the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse”? The lockdowns of last year showed us that even though offices were occupied at less than 10 per cent of their pre-lockdown level, the lights burned brightly and energy use only fell by a sixth. Sometimes whole floors would be lit and heated because a single occupant was doing a shift at, quite literally “keeping the lights on”.
In an average UK office building, lighting accounts for one-third of the energy consumption and HVAC accounts for 40 per cent. Another 10-12 per cent goes on other uses like plug sockets and the remaining 15 per cent is used for powering the computers people actually work on. While we have to maintain a baseline of temperature and humidity within buildings, there’s a huge amount of discretionary energy use (and emissions) associated primarily with keeping a building comfortable.
It doesn’t need to be like this: If a building is half full, it makes sense that half its office floors should be out of use, but to see the biggest benefits and avoid overdoing it, it pays to get smart.
Smart buildings systems make it simple to keep tabs on occupancy and fill floors progressively, one by one. Staff can be kept informed using screens in reception that allocate them to a flexible working area as they arrive, or through integration with a building app that allows staff to locate colleagues and view the availability of desks nearby. It’s also possible to build up a picture of historic trends and use these to inform future practice - so if your office is busiest on a Wednesday you can hold more floors ready to be occupied in advance of a rush, for example.
A smart building dashboard can integrate with a Building Management System (BMS) to validate the assumptions made when it was installed. Metrikus recently completed a project with the Business School at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). By connecting to the BMS to pull data from the energy meters, then cross-referencing this with occupancy, we were able to build a detailed picture of energy use within the building and how it changes over time, then optimise the BMS settings in line with actual footfall to deliver a more efficient building.
Predictable low occupancy during Christmas break provides a unique opportunity in the calendar to test out new habits and get a quick win for your bank balance as well as your carbon footprint. The new world of flexible working is characterised by weekly peaks and troughs in demand for offices. As we adapt to the new normal there are year-round savings to be made by making better use of space – take my challenge, understand your building better and treat yourself to the gift that keeps on giving.
Picture: a photograph of a light switch
Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 14 December 2021
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