Forcing all commercial buildings to display data on their energy performance would bring huge economic as well as environmental savings.
The Government’s Energy Bill is in its second Report Stage, prior to its Third and last Reading.
Its flagship policy is the ‘Green Deal’, which would give householders, private landlords and businesses free finance to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, which would be repaid from savings on the energy bills.
The Bill will also amend the Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations 2007, which restricts access to emissions performance data of households and businesses. Presently, this data can be seen only by owners, operators of accreditation schemes, and government officials – not the wider public.
By making this data – from Energy Performance Certificates, Display Energy Certificates and Air Conditioning Reports – freely available online, it will help Green Deal suppliers to market their services better, allow everyone to see who is performing better or worse than they are, and vastly improve research and analysis.
At the Bill’s Second Reading in June, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith proposed a new clause – 22 – on Display Energy Certificates. This would give the Secretary of State the power to initiate the roll-out of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) to the commercial sector.
Currently, DECs only need to be displayed in public sector buildings or offices larger than 1000 m² that are visited by the public.
The certificates display the rate of operational energy efficiency and the performance of the building rated from A to G, so that visitors can see how much value for money they are giving.
Failure to display a DEC at all times can incur a fine of up to £5000.
Since the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive was introduced into UK law in 2007, there has been conclusive evidence that DECs have given rise to substantial year-on-year improvements in emissions performance and cost-reductions in the public sector.
If DECs were to be displayed in all commercial buildings as well, then this would be a terrific source of information and stimulus for the energy managers of these buildings to make more effort to improve their energy performance.
The Carbon Trust estimates – in its report, Building the Future Today – that the carbon footprint of the country’s 1.8 million non-domestic buildings could be cut by 35% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, with a net benefit of £4 – 5 billion to the UK economy through energy savings.
It is well known that what is not measured or monitored cannot be managed. Imperfect – and a blunt instrument – though they are, DECs provide a baseline from which to start.
Proposing the clause, Goldsmith pointed out that non-domestic buildings currently account for up to 17% of the UK’s carbon emissions.
He said, “the carbon plan published in March this year already includes a commitment to extend display energy certificates to commercial buildings by October 2012, but to fulfil that commitment the Bill must be used to introduce the necessary enabling legislation, which would simply give the Secretary of State the power to extend display energy certificates through regulations”.
This clause has widespread support, and there is no sensible reason why in some form it should not remain in the final third version of the Bill and become enshrined in law.
It supporters include, among others, the UK Green Building Council, the British Property Federation, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the CBI, Hammerson, Siemens, and Marks & Spencer.
Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, has said: “there is widespread business support for the extension of DECs to commercial buildings because they help companies save money on energy bills and they provide a level playing field for comparing the market.”
He fears that if the Energy Bill is not used to introduce DECs it will impair the chances of reaching the Government target – enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 – of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050.
Members of the UK property industry also support clause 22. They include the British Property Federation, British Land, Land Securities, commercial property agents Colliers International and International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, Allen & York, who specialise in recruiting for the energy and building services industry.
Their Senior Recruitment Consultant for Energy Management, Nikki Clark, has commented that “rolling out DECs to all public buildings could provide better data on energy use in non-domestic buildings, enabling better building management and energy, carbon and financial savings”.
Both Construction Minister Mark Prisk and Energy Minister Greg Barker have hinted that the Government will back the new clause 22.
But this is far from certain. Given the Government’s record on “slashing red tape” and Treasury opposition to many of DECC’s policies, it is quite likely that they may insist on a voluntary approach.
But as Green MP Caroline Lucas points out, business wants the legislation.
An open letter was sent from businesses that would be affected by the legislation to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, signed by the British Property Federation, the chief executive of Siemens, Marks and Spencer and others.
In it, they stated that they were absolutely delighted when the Government’s carbon plan committed to extend the DECs to commercial buildings by October 2012.
They said, “a voluntary approach to take up in the private sector will not work, because without that level playing field there is a reputational risk for those businesses that voluntarily adopt certification and achieve poor ratings”.
They go so far as to say they do not believe this will provide an undue burden on businesses of any size, “as evidence demonstrates that savings resulting from the application of this scheme significantly outweigh any costs, from year one”.
“Indeed,” they propose, “DECs for small businesses could be automated and even provided free of charge, based on existing energy bills.”
Whether the clause makes it through to the final Bill in its current form is immaterial as long as its the intention is carried through in one draft or another.
Readers might want to consider lobbying their MP to ensure the rollout of Display Energy Certificates to all non-domestic buildings.