Rather than giving up on Display Energy Certificates in the public sector, the government should be extending this success to private buildings

Andrew Warren

This week communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced that he proposes to abolish all Display Energy Certificates (DECs) in England and Wales. If he succeeds, he will ensure that the public sector continues to spend far more on its energy bills in its buildings than necessary.

DECs show actual energy consumption of public buildings on an A to G rating scale; as of now, they need to be “prominently displayed”. They are required annually for each public building of over 1,000m2, and every 10 years for buildings between 500m2 and 1,000m2. So far, 54,000 public buildings have them.

They raise public awareness of energy consumption in public buildings, make the sector more accountable for their energy consumption to tax-payers, and act as both a driver to reduce energy consumption in buildings and a tool to convince building owners to invest. The rating on a DEC can be improved by both energy efficiency works – and by getting building users to cut back on unnecessary energy use (Energy Performance Certificates don’t register the latter). 

According to a study cited in Pickles’ new public “consultation” itself, public buildings with DECs had reduced their energy consumption by 2% more than their private sector counterparts between 2008 and 2009, within one year of their introduction. Little surprise that, when becoming prime minister, David Cameron promised his government would extend the requirements for DECs to buildings in the commercial sector.  

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has used its DEC to improve its building’s energy consumption to a rating of C, saving £156,000 annually on fuel bills in the process.

Despite this rollout to the private sector being supported by representative bodies including the CBI and the British Property Federation, in 2013 Pickles reneged on his own prime minister’s promise. He announced he wouldn’t extend DECs to the private sector. Now he is proposing to row back even in the public sector, to an extent that beggars belief. 

Pickles is claiming that abolishing DECs might save public authorities £760,000 each year. That figure only considers the cost of the energy surveys. Foolishly he has forgotten to consider any of the potential energy savings that will be forgone as a result. 

One example. When the Department of Energy and Climate Change moved into its HQ at 3 Whitehall Place, its DEC had a rating of G. That caught my attention – and the attention of countless others who visited the building and could see the DEC hung up in its foyer. The unflattering spotlight being shone on that Department  played its part in stinging the department into action. Subsequently it has improved its building’s energy consumption to a rating of C, saving £156,000 annually on fuel bills in the process. 

Those are the savings already achieved in just one building. One building out of 54,000. Just five such cases would already exceed Pickles’ “savings” estimate. Investing in order to save.

The government should make good on that original promise. It needs to extend DECs to the commercial sector, not abolish them. This staggering case of idiotic dogma must be stopped in its tracks.

Andrew Warren is honorary president of the Association for the Conservation of Energy