New buildings in the UK consume far more energy than predicted by their designers - up to 10 times more according to an Innovate UK study. This performance gap doesn't arise because we lack technology. Studies by the UKGBC and others conclude that it's the result of failings throughout the project life-cycle, from concept to handover.
Performance gaps may arise because clients are unclear about what they want; project teams don't understand the impact of their design choices; contractors substitute products and materials on the fly and then install them poorly; or quality assurance is lax, with employers' agents either blind to the problems or willing to let shoddy work escape their net.
|What goes doen on paper often doesn't make|
it to bricks-and-mortar
That's a sobering realisation, because we've all drunk the same Silicon-Valley-brand of neoliberal Kool-Aid. We know that given the right market signals, some whizzy new technology that no one has yet thought of will appear and address any problem you can name: from climate change to… well, to the performance gap.
But not this time. Any purely technological solution would simply be papering over the cracks in our poorly functioning buildings, cracks that were put there by project teams.
There's a positive side to our realisation: if we don't need new technologies to close the performance gap, then we already have the tech we need. Indeed, I think we do. But, that technology must be used to empower clients, engineers and all of us on the project team to do our jobs better. Here's how:
The first step is to collect data from existing buildings. Organisations like CBx, Digital Catapult and Guru Systems, the company where I work, are already doing this. This data is being collected from utility meters (e.g. smart meters and heat meters), building energy management systems and other monitoring systems. By analysing this data, we can understand which factors have the biggest influence on performance.
We can then set clear performance requirements and explicit means of measuring them. These must be measurable before the building reaches practical completion, while the people who can put it right are still on site. It's no use specifying kWh/m2/annum or any other target that can only be calculated once the building is occupied. By the time they can be measured, the project team will have long since moved on. So, we must define requirements for the characteristics that are measurable before occupation and that lead to good performance in operation.
|Collecting in-use data from buildings rather than relying on projections is key|
Casey Cole is speaking on ‘Are you ready for a digital future?’ at the CIBSE Building Performance Conference on Thursday, November 17 from 10:25am to 11:20am.