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Powering ahead

Facilities managers can now choose from an array of advanced low-carbon technologies and energy storage solutions, says Robert Styles, business development manager at Norvento UK  

The built environment is widely recognised as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, with the World Green Building Council estimating it’s responsible for up to 30 per cent of global emissions. Closer to home, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) reported that emissions from direct buildings accounted for 37 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 alone.

Against this backdrop it’s no surprise that growing numbers of FMs are reassessing their energy setup as a way to minimise their premises’ environmental impact, cut costs and hit carbon reduction targets.

But with such a plethora of energy-saving, energy-generating and energy storage solutions on today’s market – not to mention new disruptors emerging all the time – how can FMs be sure they’re making the right choice?

It’s important to have an idea of what you’re hoping to achieve. This will differ from building to building and will depend on a number of factors. For example, is it a new-build or retrofit project? If retrofit, how much opportunity is there to modernise the current setup? And how much dependence do you want the building to have on the grid?

It’s crucial to remember that there is never a one-size-fits-all solution to lowering a building’s carbon footprint. However, the underlying principle is always the same: introduce more sustainable, self-sufficient methods of collecting, storing and using heat and power to your energy mix.

The good news is, this can be achieved within virtually any budget and time constraints by adopting a flexible approach. Depending on your goals, this could mean integrating just one renewable technology into an existing system, or designing a completely off-grid building from scratch. It’s all about combining different energy generation and energy-efficient technologies to find the right balance – a process that, in the energy services industry, is known as advanced energy engineering.

Do not let specification of renewables become a mere box-ticking exercise to meet short-term objectives. Instead, focus on analysing a building’s unique needs in order to find a bespoke solution that truly delivers on long-term environmental, financial and logistical benefits. An energy engineering service provider can guide you through the whole process, from the initial design phase of the project onwards. It can even help after the building is complete, in the case of retrofit applications.

Once you’ve got an expert on board and have had an initial consultation, they should be able to advise on the level of support needed to achieve your targets – whether minor adjustments to an existing setup or a fully managed, start-to-finish energy ‘makeover’. Here are three example scenarios of different-level approaches.

Level one – first steps towards minimising carbon emissions. This could be a straightforward on-site generation project, designed to reduce the energy costs of a premises that is connected to the grid. In this scenario, the simple combination of a couple of technologies that work together to generate renewable energy could significantly reduce dependency on traditional supply, without eliminating it altogether.

Norvento UK carried out a project like this at Shoreham Port, a small commercial port where two nED100 wind turbines were added to complement the site’s existing 200kW rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) array. As a result, 25 per cent of the port’s power demand now comes from renewable sources, cutting electricity costs substantially and increasing energy independence. Through actively managing the site’s energy demand in line with its renewable energy generation patterns, the ultimate goal is to reach a point where 50 per cent of all power is renewable.

Level two – strong commitment to carbon reduction. The next level up would involve a more sophisticated approach, with a view to keeping grid dependency to an absolute minimum. This may suit FMs in charge of larger buildings, which have plenty of land to host a range of renewable energy generation and storage systems. Depending on the building’s setup and requirements, a combination of several different energy-saving, energy-generating and energy-storing methods could do the job. These could include efficient lighting, insulation, and HVAC for energy saving; solar PV and CHP (combined heat and power) for generation; and lithium-ion batteries for storage.

A multi-faceted approach like this will not only minimise a building’s actual energy consumption, but can also reduce grid reliance by as much as 90 per cent. In this scenario, the storage could also work as a back-up system to meet 100 per cent of the site’s short-term energy requirements in the event of a grid fault.

Level three – total energy independence: a smart micro-grid. With the right mix of the most efficient and advanced technologies the energy engineering market has to offer, it’s possible for a building to become totally ‘zero energy’ – emitting no carbon and costing nothing to run. This approach might be more suited to buildings that were planning to use or are currently relying on other costly, volatile off-grid energy sources (such as diesel generators).

As concerns about long-term energy security grow, FMs are bound to be among those leading the shift away from traditional, grid-source energy in favour of on-site, renewable generation. This transition is strengthened by international legislation, such as the Zero Carbon Buildings EU Directive 2010/31/UE, which stipulates that all new builds must be ‘nearly’ zero-energy by 2020. The nature of facilities management professionals’ roles means they are naturally placed to help ignite change – futureproofing their organisations’ energy supply, reducing overheads and avoiding carbon emissions penalties in the process.

About Sarah OBeirne

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