Energy efficiency race

Energy efficiency race

By Beverly Quinn, Environmental Engineer at TÜV SÜD

Winning the building energy efficiency race

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, buildings consume more than one-third of total end-use energy and cause a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, market demand is driving energy-efficient construction projects. At the same time, building price premiums, regulations and government incentives are spurring on energy-efficient and sustainable retrofits of existing properties. The perception of energy-efficient buildings as a business opportunity is growing.

To realise these benefits, building investors and developers need to integrate energy efficiency and emissions reduction in new buildings from the design phase. While building owners that want to make utility cost savings in existing properties must make them more energy efficient and consider the implementation of other sustainability criteria.

Refurbishment can be the more sustainable option when considering long-term environmental impact and the building’s whole life cycle, and it could also allow building owners to attract higher rental rates or retain existing tenants. A sustainable refurbishment process could also significantly reduce ongoing maintenance costs and limit maintenance requirements.

When it comes to office buildings, the UK’s Carbon Trust estimates that around 75 per cent of an industrial unit’s heat is lost through the building fabric. According to a report from the Building Efficiency Initiative (Driving Transformation to Energy Efficient Buildings), each $1 spent on energy efficiency avoids more than $2, on average, in energy supply investments. Such buildings also have other impacts, such as increased employee productivity and wellbeing. Indeed, the UK Green Building Council reports that office workers in high performing, green-certified buildings have a 61 per cent better cognitive function.

While government policies largely fall behind market factors in promoting energy efficiency, there are still regulatory concerns to consider in some markets. Owners of existing properties may also wish to achieve voluntary certification of energy-efficient buildings due to the rental and sale premiums now associated with such properties.

Sustainable building certifications, such as LEED and Energy Star, have been shown to result in a sale price premium of over 30 per cent and a rental premium of six per cent for existing commercial properties. In the UK, a study from the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) found that over 40 per cent of construction industry respondents recognised “return on investment” and “operational savings” as benefits of implementing BREEAM, which has been identified by the British Research Establishment as the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.

In the case of new buildings, reducing energy requirements and operating costs is an increasingly complex task requiring a holistic design approach. This calls for not just engineering skills but a broader understanding of building design, and it is important to understand the costs and benefits of implementing energy efficiency features in any project. The cost savings of a project can vary, depending on climate and location, but the adoption of newer building energy codes is proven to yield significant long-term benefits.

The market for sustainable retrofit and renovation projects is also growing, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach as the energy usage of each unique building structure, alongside its systems and components, must be assessed on an individual building basis.

Taking a multi-disciplinary approach

Energy efficiency covers a wide spectrum of expertise, addressing all aspects of a building. This includes its passive design features, efficient systems and low/zero carbon technologies (LZCT). All of these elements must combine to provide an all-inclusive and complementary solution to realise reduced utility costs. As the requirements will be different for commercial, industrial and residential real estate, a high degree of technical know-how is required for both new construction and retrofitting projects.

New construction calls for expert insight into the building design, the materials used, the technical building services, equipment and components throughout the entire building lifecycle. Existing buildings also require a similar approach towards building structure and infrastructure in order to reduce the building’s specific energy consumption (SEC), including an energy audit of the current systems.

Investments in energy efficiency can be optimised through a solution that combines multiple engineering and design disciplines, such as architecture and a sustainable approach to mechanical, electrical and public health (MEP) design.

One approach to consider is the implementation of an energy management system (EMS) in line with the ISO 50001 standard, which supports organisations in all sectors to use energy more efficiently. Also, to help identify areas for improvement, 3D computer modelling, and dynamic simulation modelling can be used to conduct energy efficiency and simulation studies, delivering an accurate and reliable representation of a building’s energy consumption.

For new buildings, all of this data can be used to develop realistic energy plans, incorporating variations such as different energy prices in model calculations and also take into account funding options, operating expenses and other costs. A tailored approach to sustainability should begin at the concept design phase, as planning for carbon reduction and energy efficiency at this early stage of the building lifecycle will help to reduce costs and the complexity of the final product. A screening analysis approach could also be used to help save time by eliminating options that are not suitable for the project.

To revitalise existing buildings, an energy efficiency consulting approach should focus on analysis, measurement and interpretation of all aspects of the project. An energy audit could be used to assess the status quo of the building, covering process analysis, electro-technical system and consumers, heating systems, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as the condition of the building itself. The energy supply infrastructure and the energy demand of the main consumers within the building should also be measured, taking into account factors such as heat transmission, air distribution and potential re-use of waste heat during actual production processes.

Based on the findings in such an audit, energy-saving measures can be identified, including the savings potential for each proposed measure, as well as the costs and payback period of any required investment. To aid the decision-making process, the suggested energy efficiency measures should be divided up according to whether they require ‘no capital investment’, ‘minor capital investment’ or ‘major outlay’. The catalogue of measures should also be supported by feasibility studies that take annual operating and total costs into account, helping to achieve carbon and energy reduction in a cost-efficient manner.

By integrating passive and active design elements for lighting, HVAC and other building processes, requirements for engineering services can be reduced by as much as 25 per cent, as well as reducing energy consumption and optimising efficiency in building operation. Taking a more holistic energy efficiency solution such as this enables buildings to be future-proofed against rising utility costs and any new energy performance legislation. Building owners can also meet corporate social responsibility obligations and demonstrate building efficiency through sustainability scoring systems such as BREEAM.

Several factors are driving demand for energy efficient and reduced emissions buildings, including market pressure, client expectations, operating cost reduction, social/corporate responsibilities and legislative requirements. While the correct implementation of energy efficiency measures requires a strong degree of technical know-how, the results deliver great business benefits, including utility savings through improved energy efficiency, added value to real estate assets, and the achievements of corporate social responsibility requirements for emissions reduction/carbon neutrality.


Energy efficiency race