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Government backs down on DECs for commercial buildings

As it is announced that the Government has reneged on the commitment to roll out display energy certificates (DECs) to commercial property as of October next year we ask whether they would work.

DECs provide a constant reminder of how well the energy in a building is managed. While there is a benefit in showing this to visitors in a public building, this visibility to the shareholders, customers and staff in a commercial enterprise is likely to put far more pressure on a company to take its energy management seriously.

Undoubtedly a DEC could be seen as an additional burden to businesses but savings from the focus it will place on the true energy cost to the business, and how well the management are addressing it, should far outweigh the cost of producing a DEC. The threshold for requiring a DEC was sufficiently high for any building included in the requirement to be able to save considerable cost through good energy management so it should be a sound investment, not a burden to any of them.

We have to conclude therefore that this is an opportunity missed by a Government that wants to be the greenest ever, but seems consistently to be falling at the last hurdle when it comes to following through with many of the steps needed to achieve this.

Despite the above it was inevitable that the roll out to commercial buildings would not go ahead as planned because the Government department responsible had not put sufficient planning into how to address the benchmarking issue appropriately.

DECs work well (most of the time) in the sort of public sector buildings they currently apply to since the use is relatively generic for each of the benchmarks. As soon as you start to look at commercial buildings you have to consider "process" use of energy in the mix and DEC benchmarks simply cannot do that.

Within a DCHI document produced for a joint review by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) I had proposed an alternative DEC format for commercial buildings that benchmarked against a low-to-high energy use scale instead of a use category. This principle would mean high energy type buildings would indicate they were at the high energy end of the scale, even if by comparison to other businesses of similar type they were more efficient, so you lose the "100 is typical" from the commercial DEC. What it does do however is allow a building to display its actual energy use on a DEC and the visitor to see whether that is going up or down. It allows comparison between buildings by looking at the two DECs rather than comparison against a theoretical benchmark by looking at a single DEC.

Without an approach similar to the above I do not see how DECs will ever work in the many types of commercial building where there is no such thing as "typical" energy use, particularly if you include process use; and most buildings will not have separate metering of process use to enable it to be excluded.

Unfortunately the DCLG appear to focus very heavily on advice they receive from a small circle of organisations they work with on a regular basis. There are barriers placed in the way of sound advice from stakeholders not on the favourites list which is preventing problems with implementation being designed out in the early stages. This failure to implement on a significant green commitment is an example of what happens when you exclude DEC assessor representatives from the process of developing DECs. Surely to get sound advice the Government should listen to those people who have actual experience at the front end of the process as well as those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo at the back end of the process?

25 Oct 2011

Ian Sturt DipHI, DipNDEA(L4), Dip DEC

HI Devon Energy Assessment

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