Together, Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates will help drive a market in low carbon procurement and transform our building stock says David Vincent, Director of Projects at the Carbon Trust.

There has been some discussion about the costs of implementing parts of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in the press. At first glance, the costs might seem quite high. Typically, a Display Energy Certificate (DEC) will cost anything between £1-5,000 depending on the complexity of the building in question and this will have to be borne by the building owner.

However, this cost will be small in comparison with the potential for energy, carbon and cost savings which the DECs - Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) will almost certainly identify. Typically, 20% of energy consumption could be saved through cost-effective energy efficiency measures such as improved lighting, boiler efficiency improvements, building management controls, and an occupancy awareness programme to encourage responsible attitudes towards switching off equipment when not in use.

There’s everything to gain. Until this year, there was no mass market interest in the carbon footprint and energy efficiency performance of buildings. However, in today’s business climate of uncertain energy prices and concern about climate change, the energy and carbon performance a building is rising up the procurement agenda. Those who want to make sensible procurement decisions about the buildings they will own or occupy want to have reliable information to help them make the right decisions. The EU EPBD, and in particular the introduction of EPCs and DECs, will provide important information about a building’s energy use. Over time, this should stimulate demand for more efficient buildings and, with supporting policies and measures, lead to the transformation of the UK’s building stock. As the commercial buildings sector alone is responsible for around 90M tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, equivalent to over 16 % of the UK’s total carbon footprint, this step is vital in reducing long term carbon emissions.

DEC for effort

The public display of building energy performance raises awareness of how good, or how poor, a building’s energy and carbon performance actually is. Good performance is clear recognition of the efforts made by the building management team to cut out energy waste and keep carbon emissions as close to the initial design performance as possible. Conversely, poor performance may be indicative of, for example, inadequate attention to building energy management, the need to make energy efficiency investments or of inherently energy inefficient design – or a mixture of all three. If any of these is true, then it would be well worth those responsible looking at the indicative recommendations for improvement which accompany the DEC (and EPC). These will point the way to reducing the carbon footprint of the building, cutting out energy waste and managing rising energy costs.

At the moment, DECs are only required by those responsible for those public buildings which the Government have determined are within scope of the Directive. However, that does not stop anyone from taking voluntary measures to carry out a DECs style assessment of the actual performance of their buildings in use. These DECs would provide useful information on performance and how to improve it. Looking forward, the Communities and Local Government Department have said they intend to consult on broadening the scope of DECs to the private sector. We welcome CLG’s initiative and look forward to participating in the consultation process.

What do DECs and EPCs hope to achieve?

Supported by the right policy framework, including positive public procurement, EPCs and DECs help prospective owners and occupiers take the carbon footprint and energy performance into account when comparing buildings for purchase or rent. Knowing which buildings are low carbon, which buildings could be made lower carbon relatively easily, and which buildings are, by virtue of their design, going to be hard to improve is the first step to making low carbon investment and procurement decisions.

DECs give an indication of how the building is actually performing from an energy and carbon footprint standpoint. They tell it the way it is now, with the particular occupants, the particular building management systems, and the building services, controls, etc in place. Combined with information from the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), DECs can signal whether a building is being operated as well as the intrinsic design allows or whether there is room for improvement. That is why the wider use of DECs, alongside EPCs, would be valuable.

Systematic comparison

For the first, time, those of us who make decisions about which buildings to buy or occupy will be able to take energy and carbon performance into account on a systematic basis. Top managements will be able to ensure that purchasing and procurement decisions made on their behalf are aligned to their organisation’s position on climate change and reducing carbon emissions. EPCs and DECs will provide valuable, hitherto unavailable information on the energy performance and carbon footprint of the buildings they occupy – and the buildings they propose to short-list for occupation in the future. Better performing buildings will, under these developing considerations, be more attractive to those organisations committed to positive action on climate change. If energy and carbon performance becomes a significant market driver, greater consideration will be given by the current owners of those buildings to improving energy efficiency, reducing the carbon footprint and thereby making those buildings more commercially attractive. Dropping energy efficiency and low carbon technologies from the building management and/or the refurbishment specifications will no longer make business sense.