Energy efficiency: cutting costs

Rein in your energy bills

7 March 2013

Paul Reeve explains how expert knowledge of energy-efficient electrical measures can help businesses to cut costs  

Continual buffeting in the commercial environment means that many organisations must become leaner and more efficient just to hold on. This effort goes far beyond ensuring that staff are being used effectively, or sweating already hard-worked assets. It also means ensuring that the buildings where all this activity takes place make the most efficient use of resources and energy.

When it comes to energy use, many commercial clients are unaware of what to look for when upgrading their premises, or even finding a more efficient building in which to work. Yet with serious energy price hikes expected – an increase of up to 50% by 2015 (Ref. 1) – clients need high-quality practical advice on how to cut their energy demand. So how can chartered surveyors help business owners to improve the energy efficiency of their properties – without breaking the bank?

Advice on energy use

In many cases, the major energy cost for a building is electricity use. RICS is a Partner in Excellence with the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA), the largest trade body for the electrical contracting sector. As a result, RICS members can benefit from the same high-quality advice given to ECA members on how to help clients make big improvements in energy efficiency.

 Association role

The ECA represents 3,000 member companies involved in electrical installation work, including more than 400 that design and install renewable energy systems. Collectively, they have an annual turnover of more than £5bn, employ more than 30,000 operativesand support 8,000 apprentices in craft training. The role of the ECA is to provide a focus in terms of safety, training, qualification, technlogical development and industry performance. 

The ECA can provide a detailed checklist based on 'active' energy-saving measures designed to help operators reduce energy and therefore operational costs. These differ from 'passive' measures, which reduce the amount of energy wasted, mainly through walls, windows and roofs. There are six areas where energy savings can often be made quickly and effectively.


Switching to more efficient lighting systems, such as those based on high-frequency ballasts with fluorescent tubes or LEDs, is often a good first step. These can extend lamp life, although expert advice and installation is needed to get them working optimally. Lighting systems should be used with a good control system for maximum efficiency.


Passive measures such as additional insulation can substantially reduce heat losses from buildings, but alternative forms of heating should also be considered. The condensing boiler is a standard solution for replacement gas boilers, but alternatives such as air or ground source heat pumps can be used. The heating system should be used with a suitable control system for maximum efficiency.

Control systems

A more holistic approach could be to use a Building Management System (BMS) to control lighting, heating and ventilation systems on a pre-programmed sequence or on building use. Sensors for presence, daylight and temperature enable settings to be plotted to suit the internal conditions required to use energy in the most efficient manner.

BMS systems can vary from simple programmable timers to highly sophisticated units with remote stations capable of 'learning how a building is used', and then optimising all the services to keep energy to a minimum.

Small appliances such as coffee makers, PCs, printers and photocopiers may not use much power individually, but collectively over the year, the costs add up. Much like heating, these appliances can be put on timers or connected to a BMS to ensure that they only use energy when they are needed.

A full building refurbishment offers an opportunity to install a BMS, central timers or occupancy switches to control small powered items across a building. For larger power use items such as manufacturing machinery, Power Correction Factor control systems should already be installed and regularly maintained. It may also be worth recommending an additional transformer to optimise the incoming voltage, which is cost effective when working with older or very inefficient systems.


'You cannot manage what you cannot measure' is true. Modern building regulations require buildings to be heavily metered so all energy use can be allocated. Older buildings will not have this level of metering, but substantial savings can be made by installing additional meters, sometimes called 'smart meters', to identify areas of high consumption.

OHM Meter

Figure 1: Electricians using OHM meter

The government is insisting that energy suppliers install 'smart meters' for all premises in the UK by 2020. These meters will enable data to be downloaded to a remote station but information or control signals can also be sent to the meter to change tariffs or control any connected load.

Renewable energy systems

Adding renewable energy systems to a building can not only cut down energy use but also provide a revenue stream for a business through Feed-In Tariffs (FITs), which pay owners for the energy they generate. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are probably the most popular, but buildings need a south-facing roof to really benefit. Solar PV panels have an added bonus for businesses in that they are a very conspicuous sign of reducing energy consumption, which can be valuable for corporate social responsibility and marketing purposes.

Wind turbines could also be considered but are generally more effective in open, rural areas. Meanwhile, heat pumps (but not air source as yet), solar thermal systems and biomass boilers profit from the Renewable Heat Incentive, which provides another revenue stream similar to FITs.

General maintenance

It makes good sense to replace old inefficient equipment in a building, even if this could incur an initial capital outlay. Electrical contractors can provide advice on whether equipment is energy efficient, allowing the operator to make short-, mid- and long-term investment decisions.

Another highly visible step is a Display Energy Certificate (DEC). Displaying this is compulsory in public buildings but it is increasingly appearing in commercial ones too. Basically, the certificate shows how efficiently a building uses energy and placed prominently in the reception area, for example, it is a very powerful reminder about energy performance, while also providing a benchmark for visitors to observe. Some businesses go a step further and consider installing a 'live' energy display for up-to-date information in their reception and staff recreation areas.

Client Associate Scheme

Through an agreement, RICS members have access to the ECA's Client Associate Scheme. This offers advice for direct use with their clients, as well as the chance to stay up to date with the latest developments in energy efficiency.

Another element to consider is the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, which sees large energy consumers paying an additional tax on their energy use. The ECA can help clients to find electrical contractors that can help to boost the energy efficiency and profitability of business properties. With rising energy prices and increased expense from the CRC, getting an energy audit from a reputable electrician could be one of the wisest business decisions of 2013.

Paul Reeve is Head of Environment at the Electrical Contractors' Association

Further information

  • Ref. 1: Deutsche Bank, UK Energy Bills: back to the 1970s, October 2011 
  • For more information, or to apply for the Client Associate Scheme, contact the ECA on 01635 237679. To find an ECA member, visit the ECA website
  • Related competencies include: M009