Wednesday, 30 March 2016

How engineers can save civilisation

Earlier this month CIBSE was delighted to welcome Fiona Cousins, PE, CIBSE, ARUP and LEED Fellow, to speak at the Annual Lecture. The audience were treated to a visionary and optimistic view of the place of building services engineers in saving civilisation as we react to the threat of climate change. Following on from this, Fiona writes more about what we need to do to fulfil our great potential. 

A video of the full lecture is now available on our YouTube Channel

Earlier this month I had the honour of speaking at the CIBSE Annual Lecture, a chance for people in the industry to get together and discuss ideas. My thesis that engineers can ‘save civilization’ seems like a bold one, but is that uneasy feeling because the claim really is grandiose, or is it a symptom of how we engineers often sell ourselves short?

Currently facing us is the biggest threat that this generation and the next will face, that of man-made climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and (unless you’re Donald Trump) the world is pretty unanimous on our need to fight it. Every society on Earth is at risk from its effects, from richest to poorest on every continent, and the world could lose some of its great cities or even whole countries by the end of this century.

As engineers, we have the tools we need to save the world. Buildings services engineers, and engineers in general, are part of a huge and talented profession that focuses on solving problems, using old and new technology together to do the possible and the apparently impossible. When the Chinese wanted to dominate their vast and wild territory, their engineers built the Great Wall. When the Romans needed to expand their great cities, their engineers built aqueducts which stand to this day. When public health in London reached crisis levels, engineers built great sewers which still serve the capital.  We now have the most advanced tools humans have ever had: supercomputers, advanced new materials, alternative power sources and more, created by the best scientific minds around today. Engineers have the skills to actually bring these ideas from prototype uses into the mainstream.

Engineers built the Tube to solve the societal problem of overcrowding ©Tom Page CC BY-SA 2.0
Unfortunately, using the tools to solve problems defined by others is often where the role of the engineer ends: we tend to facilitate solutions, not formulate problem statements. How do engineers take their place at the top table where they can help create informed, practical policy that acknowledges and stretches the art of the possible? Like a lot of engineering problems, the answer is both very simple and very complex. Engineers must reach out and engage with broader society.

Engagement is not easy for many of us and we need to have the courage to advocate for what we know. We must ‘inhabit’ our roles as change agents and push for better performance in our industry and beyond. We cannot let ‘good enough’ be good enough in a world with a rapidly changing climate – we must be robust in our knowledge of sustainability issues and the ways in which we can address them. This might mean pushing for better energy performance even in the face of cost-cutting or collaborating to create better problem statements, defined by sustainable goals, for our design projects. Our value relies on our technical abilities and how we apply them so we must build our knowledge and experience.

Building knowledge and experience comes from a tight cycle of knowing and doing: our education is not over when we graduate, much of what we learn in later years will be from our peers and seniors. We must nurture our curiosity and then share what we know, finding colleagues and collaborators who will push us to better solutions. We should read broadly and participate in a wide range of activities: creativity often comes from the using ideas common in one field to solve problems in another, or from trying to see things from another point of view. A design problem might be solved through a teaching technique or the confidence to speak out might come from learning something new.
Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is a radical solution to an environmental concern 
Armed with this knowledge we can reach out and work with the community, thinking outside projects to understand how they interact with the world. We can seek alternative points of view and use them as the keys to unlocking problems or defining design constraints – debate and discussion are tools for learning how best to do our work. Our best work will come from convening the right groups and framing the problems, and solutions, in ways that prioritize the most important issues.

With this knowledge and experience we can take our courage in both hands and start to take our proper place in society as citizens and contributors. We must be bold as we inhabit this role: pushing ourselves to lead, to communicate and mobilize. We need all the help we can get and all the skills we can muster to solve the greatest problem of our generation. It’s essential that we bring others along with us and welcome working with others. Together we can find ways to challenge governments on bad policies, other building professionals on unsustainable designs, and the media on poor sustainability reporting. A good engineer is technically competent, but a great engineer thinks how their role can benefit wider society. We need to know our stuff, do it well, and fully inhabit our roles if we are to make the world a better place.

Engineers discuss sustainability with MPs
at a CIBSE event
This is not a new path: the best-known engineers in history have been curious problem-solvers who collaborated with others and advocated for their ideas. When Brunel wanted to prove fast transatlantic travel was economical, he went ahead and built the ship himself before the shipping companies believed him, Robertson pushed for the development of trains, Emily Roebling’s work made the Brooklyn Bridge possible, Edison’s grid provided light to parts of New York.

Engineers have the technical tools society needs to save itself from the threat of climate change. What they need now is the confidence to make it possible for them to do their work.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Beyond compliance

As part of a CIBSE Certification briefing on ISO 50001, Deon Joubert of Kingspan gave a presentation on his company's efforts to implement an energy management system. Prof. Andrew Geens, head of certification at CIBSE, was at the briefing and gives us his thoughts on what the Group had learned from employing energy management. 

Thanks, in part, to some vigorous lobbying by organisations like RICS, the Edge, CIBSE and others, energy efficiency is on the upward curve of its cycle. To address the trilemma of security of supply, affordability and carbon reduction the energy efficiency solution is being acknowledged in government circles.

In addition to the £730 million support for offshore wind and other renewables announced in Wednesday’s budget, or longer term plans to build non-renewable capacity, the Government is increasingly bringing energy efficiency in from the cold and giving it a prominent place in its strategy. At yesterday’s UKGBC ESOS event, someone from DECC made the statement “the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use”.

Uncertainty around the future of UK energy policy keeps the issue in the headlines
Through ESOS the Government is helping businesses to achieve their energy efficiency potential by providing a flexible framework for identifying energy saving opportunities and mandating that larger companies use it. Even so, there is always the risk of ESOS being put on the back-burner, if managers lose focus on its goals for even a month. This is as a result of seeing compliance as a box-ticking exercise rather than a continuous process of identifying new ways to make savings. 

Even so, many companies recognise the multiple benefits of managing their energy use better, and in this way are ahead of the Government.  During the recent breakfast briefing “From ESOS to IS 50001” run by CIBSE Certification, Deon Joubert, Divisional Manager, EHS Compliance of Kingspan Insulation Ltd explained how their wider push within the group to reach Zero Net Energy by 2020 and join the Carbon Disclosure Project had helped them with their ESOS compliance. 

And this is where a standard like ISO 50001 really comes into its own. In relation to the point above, it's not just another 'fit and forget' energy measure that gets dusted off every four years to show that the requisite boxes are indeed being ticked; it requires monitoring and, as such, provides metrics that are actually useful to an organisation, and can save them money.

As they already had some sited under ISO 50001 certification from CIBSE Certification, their compliance strategy for ESOS involved a mixture of ISO 50001 certification and ESOS audits. He also added that Kingspan were saving a lot of money as a result of their efforts and reminded delegates of the DECC estimates that if participants in the ESOS scheme reduce energy consumption by an average of just 0.7%, this would reduce their total energy bills by over £250m per year.

Kingspan have more than 100 locations across 16 countries
Deon explained why Kingspan had already embarked on the ISO 50001 route before ESOS came along. Firstly and most importantly for them was the uniformity that ISO 50001 brought to energy management across such a large number of sites. It may seem obvious, but it’s hard to measure progress and compliance when every site is applying different standards to itself – and that’s crucial from a financial perspective, when a company’s whole strategy may rely on the savings made across a portfolio.

Secondly, and less tangibly, is the culture change that the standard brought with it. An energy management system isn’t just about the paperwork, humans are part of the system too and their actions need to be accounted for if the system is to work. Using a certified system like ISO 50001 ensures that it has been tested and proven to work, and enables organisations to implement something that employees can get behind and engage with. For those in charge of implementing the system it also serves to formalise the efficiency process, factoring in capital expenditure to make a proper business case to those holding the purse strings.

Kingspan have been making a range of innovative and impressive changes at their UK sites alone, saving over £300k and 12GWhs of gas in the process, but if business and the Government are to get anywhere near the savings required, we’re going to have to get serious about energy management.

Savings can only be fully realised if solutions are managed properly
CIBSE Certification is UKAS accredited to certify ISO 50001 compliant EnMSs. CIBSE ISO 50001 training is for those involved in the design, implementation and management of an Energy Management System (EnMS).

The three-day course is a mixture of lectures and workshops, and provides 21 hours of CPD. There is an exam for those who wish to become a Low Carbon Consultant (LCC) EnMS; this allows consultants to plan and implement EnMS to ISO 50001. 

Visit here to book. Further dates for 2016 will be added around July. For notification of these, email

Monday, 14 March 2016

Setting new benchmarks

Display Energy Certificates (DECs) were introduced by the UK Government in 2008, in order to demonstrate a more transparent approach to how public buildings perform from an energy efficiency perspective, and thus their value-for-money to the taxpayer. However, in energy efficiency, the eight years since their introduction may as well be 100 in terms of how energy efficiency in practice has moved on. CIBSE Research Associate in Energy Benchmarking Sung-Min Hong of University College London (UCL) writes below on his research into how the methodology behind DECs might be updated

When a consultation on the Display Energy Certificate scheme was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2015, I was surprised to say the least. At that point, I had just completed a four-year long doctoral program on the very topic of benchmarking supported by data from the DEC scheme. I had analysed more than 120,000 DEC records for assessing the energy performance of public sector buildings, and it was invaluable for completing the study. And it is from this experience that I had come to appreciate how valuable the scheme is for understanding the stock and benchmarking their energy performance. 

It was also evident how valuable such framework would continue to be if we were to derive benchmarks that are based on large empirical data. So it wasn't very exciting to realise that a few options mentioned in the consultation were either to ‘do nothing’ or ‘abolish’ the DECs for reducing burden of compliance, without any options for making it better. It also reminded me of conversations I had with people like Bill Bordass about the history of benchmarking in the UK and challenges they had faced over the past decades. It was only after reading the consultation document that I truly understood what they meant and realised the complexity surrounding the topic.

2016 Building Performance Award winner Wilkinson Primary School by
Architype is one such high performing public building
A key challenge that we are facing at the moment is therefore to acquire empirical data that is large and comprehensive enough to represent various groups of the building population. An analysis of schools showed that uncertainties associated with a statistic or a benchmark considerably reduced until sample sizes reached close to 300 (Hong et al. 2014). Although it may sound small, getting such sample which is also representative of a particular group can be quite challenging, especially when dealing with such a heterogeneous stock. Once such data is available, revising benchmarks, or at least renewing the figures and refining classifications, would be a relatively simple task.

What’s more is that many people who I was fortunate enough to meet were very positive about the project and to support it wherever possible by sharing their data. The most recent of these, and a very positive experience, was with the Greater London Authority (GLA). The Mayor of London’s Business Energy Challenge (BEC) has been organised by the GLA since 2014 to encourage higher levels of efficiency in businesses. Each year participating businesses are required to submit energy consumption data and a host of other contextual information on their premises. With help from the GLA, we were able to gain access to data on close to 1,000 premises in the private sector, which had not been previously available at such scale and detail. 

The work showed that there were growing number of businesses participating in the BEC and that many of them were becoming more energy efficient. Also, they were generally more intensive in electricity use compared to CIBSE TM46 benchmarks whereas heating consumption was less intensive. Interesting thing is that a similar pattern was also found in the public sector in the analysis of DEC records (Hong & Steadman 2013). 

CIBSE Guide F on Energy efficiency in buildings
Since April 2015, I have been working on a three-year project called ‘Benchmarking and Assessing the Energy Performance of UK non-domestic Building Stock’. This CIBSE and UCL sponsored project is an attempt by both organisations to drive things forward. It has two key aims but I will focus on the first one in this blog. The first aim, which is also a precursor to the second, is to review and refine the existing energy benchmarks in CIBSE Guide F, whether it be the classifications or the benchmarks themselves. 

If we look at the historical approaches to benchmarking in the UK, most energy benchmarks such as those presented in CIBSE Guide F that are publicly available are statistical in nature, except for some exceptions such as those presented in Energy Consumption Guide 19 that were based on a bottom-up approach (Bordass et al. 2014; Action Energy 2003). 

So for a large part of the past 10 months much of my effort has been focussed around meeting people in various sectors trying to get as much data as possible. During this period it was very encouraging to see a growing trend in so called ‘big data’ on buildings becoming available across public and private sectors. It appeared as though there was a growing number of organisations who had been and were planning to regularly collect data as part of their initiatives to improve energy efficiency. 

Collecting real-time data on energy usage is an emerging efficiency strategy
One of the things that I am really looking forward to is to observe how such pattern changes over a long period and to identify factors that contribute to such changes as more and more empirical data become available in the future. Insights gained from such studies would be invaluable for developing a framework for producing benchmarks that are representative of the stock, relevant to a diverse range of buildings used in different ways, and sustainable.

There are however challenges that lie ahead before the revised benchmarks can be made publicly available. Many of these are related to the data itself. From what I have noticed over the past 5 years, the vast majority of data isn't often stored in a centralised location, even within the same organisation, and is very likely to be stored in formats that are not compatible to other datasets. 

Establishing a standardised data storing protocol is probably a way to make things easier for the future, but developing a consensus and rolling it out across the sectors are likely to take time. Also, data that is collected and processed at the moment is likely to be short of representing all groups in the building population, mostly due to the vast size and diversity of characteristics that influence demand for energy. Despite the challenges however, what is exciting about the current process is that having a centralised database will give us an opportunity to continuously assess what we know about data and the population,and this will provide a basis for making continuous improvements.

Current benchmarks do not represent enough diversity in building types, sizes or ages
Going forward, 2016 is likely to involve continued work on data gathering and also a chance to start working on the second aim of the project. The second part will focuson understanding the influences that intrinsic features specific to a building or an activity type have on demand for energy. The hope is then that the findings will help us explore how benchmarking could become more relevant for buildings in different contexts. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to do before anything specific can be discussed. Please keep visiting the CIBSE Technical pages for updates on the progress of the project. 


Action Energy, 2003. Energy Consumption Guide 19: Energy use in offices, London, UK.
Bordass, B. et al., 2014. 

Tailored energy benchmarks for offices and schools, and their wider potential. In CIBSE ASHRAE Technical Symposium. Dublin, Ireland, pp. 3–4.Hong, S.M. et al., 2014. 

A comparative study of benchmarking approaches for non-domestic buildings: Part 1 – Top-down approach. International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment, 2(2), pp.119–130. 

Hong, S.M. & Steadman, P., 2013. An Analysis of Display Energy Certificates for Public Buildings 2008 to 2012. Available at:

Friday, 4 March 2016

Inspiring confidence

The Government has recently made a number of decisions regarding energy, ranging from conflicting with national priorities to those which are just plain confusing. The slashing of the solar PV Feed in Tariff is a prime example. It is important that renewable energy technologies are economically viable in the marketplace, and not seen as an unsustainable money pit, so the goal of eventually weaning new technologies off subsidies is a sensible market objective. 

However, there is also danger involved in this process, as removing them too soon and too quickly leads to a ‘cliff edge’ situation and if investors don’t have some assurances over what lies beyond it could cripple the renewables market. 

CIBSE has warned the Government against this risk in the past, and now the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has echoed these concerns in its report ‘Investor confidence in the UK energy sector’. Among their criticisms, inconsistent and contradictory policy featured highly, as did a lack of decision-making transparency and consideration for investors. 

MPs address CIBSE on sustainability
Such has been the impact of the Feed in Tariff that it has attracted significant public investment, both in terms of money and skills. Workers throughout the supply chain for renewable technology have shifted their focus towards skills that allow them to work on PV projects. Infrastructure has been set up to supply the needs of the work that the tariff has created, from manufacturing to maintenance, often by entrepreneurial SMEs. The changes to the tariff already have and will continue to jeopardise the value from subsidies already paid since the scheme was set up. 

Beyond the impact on this one renewable energy scheme, the Government’s attitude risks being seen as symptomatic of its attitude to the entire industry. In an environment where confidence is a prized commodity, a perceived lack of commitment by the Government is a severe blow to anyone who may have been considering investing in a low-carbon technology. For energy projects that can take years or even decades to go from inception to completion, this is a potentially devastating blow from which it could take the sector many years to recover, and meanwhile the accumulated skills of the industry are going to waste.

Those investors are going to remain reluctant to spend on projects that will come on line ten years hence, a particular risk for renewable schemes that rely on new infrastructure and technology, when they have no idea what the legislative landscape will look like in the future. Constant changes to Government legislation in the area mean investors can’t budget for subsidies, tax rates, support for skills or manufacturing; this puts them off investing in renewables, and worse, may drive them towards more familiar projects involving polluting fossil fuels.

New energy infrastructure can take decades to develop
If the Government hopes to make renewables a large part of its plan to increase energy security and cut the UK’s carbon footprint, a long-term view needs to be taken. The nature of the industry and its funding need to be given priority over short-term policy changes that undermine confidence in the industry, and mixed messages that confuse industry and consumers alike. The UK should be aiming to be the most attractive country in the world for investors in renewables, but investors can’t be expected to put their money and skills on the line if the Government doesn’t appear to share their convictions.

By Matt Snowden, CIBSE Blog Editor