Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  31 May 2011

ENERGY: Practical Ways to Conserve Energy in Commercial Buildings


Recent Gauteng Business News

Rising electricity tariffs coupled with increasing pressure locally and globally to reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy, are resulting in increasing interest among businesses regarding practical ways to implement energy saving measures in commercial buildings.

Sean Liebenberg, senior manager, facilities management, for JHI Properties, says there is a broad range of energy savings devices or interventions which can be implemented, which are categorised according to low to medium cost. “These incorporate structural, mechanical and electrical savings – which can achieve savings up to 25 percent or more but generally seek to achieve on average about 11 percent, as well as human or managerial interventions such as behavioural changes – which can see savings of up to five percent,” he says.

He says if the business is an owner occupier of an entire building then energy saving measures can easily be implemented. If the business is a tenant then in cases where the tenant occupies the entire building the business owner is in a better position to determine and manage the usage patterns and consumptions of the business operations within the building than if the tenant only occupies a portion of the building. The tenant can either retrofit the premises to improve on or comply with minimum savings criteria set out by supply authorities, or insist as part of the lease negotiation that the landlord implements these savings prior to occupation. Either way, anything is possible as more and more national and international tenants are insisting on energy efficient or ‘green’ buildings to meet international carbon footprint / emission targets set out according to global standards - or individual corporate strategies.

Tenants occupying partial or limited spaces in buildings have fewer opportunities to make changes or impact on usage or consumptions in general. While such interventions are usually initiated and implemented by the landlord on their behalf, the tenant can make improvements to their installations during the initial tenant fit-out process. Liebenberg advises that where tenants have made improvements to their individual space or areas, they insist on separate metering to ensure that they can isolate and calculate their consumptions and be billed accordingly. Common areas beyond that will be billed proportionately and according to usage patterns and energy efficiencies of equipment in these areas.

Liebenberg says currently the landlord is not obliged to make any commitments in terms of retro fits to meet energy savings in a tenant’s premises and so each tenant, depending on their own strategies, will choose to pursue this process or not. However, once legislation is implemented and demand savings are monitored, then it will be a ‘hand in hand’ process upon which both the landlord and tenant must embark. The landlord will then need to ensure that systems and infrastructural changes, if required, will be carried out to meet demand savings criteria, while the tenant will also have to determine and reflect on how his or her business uses power within their premises in order to avoid having an adverse effect on the total building usage pattern. In many instances tenants are pro-actively driving the process and implementing energy savings solutions within their premises – and demanding similar or better of the landlord in common areas. Landlords are under pressure to ensure their properties are as energy efficient as possible because tenants, due to the rising costs of utilities, are becoming wiser and more demanding of available space before committing to or renewing leases.

He says with the rolling blackouts experienced in recent years some landlords have invested in back-up generators in order to provide power to all or limited installations and systems within the building during power outages. In practice, running power supplies off generators is very costly to the users and negotiations with landlords and tenants are required to determine to what extent these generators need to supply power. If in many instances tenants cannot afford downtimes or the nature of their business requires security of power supply for various purposes, then these requirements must be either met by the landlord’s generator supply or by installing an additional generator linked directly to the tenant’s premises and systems. The latter would then be a direct cost to the tenant for installation, operation and maintenance.

Says Liebenberg: “Structural energy interventions to modernise and improve buildings include - to name a few: improvements to natural light during daylight hours; insulation of internal spaces to maintain optimal internal operating temperatures in all seasons; and insulation of the building ‘envelope’, especially the roof. If the roof is not correctly and efficiently insulated and regularly maintained this can place strain on the mechanical systems of the building, eg air conditioning and heating, in order to compensate – thereby wasting energy and increasing costs.”

He says in regard to mechanical energy interventions, these are designed to monitor, improve, maintain and modernise installations. For example in regard to lifts - specifically lift drive gears, modern and efficient new motors can in some instances generate or store power as part of the general usage. Other mechanical energy saving methods include upgrading to more modern HT (high tension) and LT (low tension) installations or to complement with new support systems, and upgrading or modernising boilers. Regarding heating, ventilation and air conditioning (referred to as HVAC) there are opportunities to improve energy efficiency during peak times through the insulation of pipes and ducting, conducting regular maintenance and the use of intelligent software which manages and monitors optimal systems usage. Avoiding individual space heaters in favour of central systems can also effectively conserve energy.

Commenting on HVAC Liebenberg makes the observation that ‘sick building syndrome’ can occur. “Some buildings are prone to this syndrome and in most instances maintenance of HVAC systems and ducting is to blame. Unless addressed and monitored buildings can fall prey to this. The design of systems providing and controlling air flow in the building are paramount and so taking into account planning and budget constraints, no short cuts should be taken in this regard. Many ‘sick buildings’ have been turned around by retro-fitting systems and implementing correct and sufficient maintenance regimes.”

Saving electricity is key and interventions to achieve this include retro-fitting the building with energy efficient light fittings and bulbs such as CFL’s (compact fluorescent fittings) and LED lighting; smart lighting installations in parking lots and occupancy sensors or timers to conserve electricity when vacant; the use of reflectors to maximise light; and reducing or dimming artificial lights in common areas during daylight hours where practically possible.

Adds Liebenberg: “Further savings in regard to behavioural energy interventions can also effectively minimise energy consumption. By determining the usage patterns of occupants and designing an optimum usage strategy – including the use of timers and sensors – in order to minimise the use of mechanical and electrical systems savings can be achieved. Systems and equipment can be turned on only when required instead of left running constantly. Many businesses today are already making maximum use of natural light and planning office installations around this, ie open plan offices, using glass walls in deep spaces and reflective or lighter materials and finishes.”

He adds: “The sky is the limit, but don’t rush into implementing new energy saving methods until you have done your homework. Read up about the ‘Draft Energy Efficiency Strategy’ to be implemented in South Africa and look for energy efficiency partners that are not linked to specific technologies and/or brands, who can give you an objective holistic analysis and recommendation on which technology or approach to implement to best suit your needs, business requirements or to complement the building structure, mechanical or electrical installations. Begin with an energy audit to determine the baseline of current energy demand and then ensure that the solutions proposed can make substantial and quantifiable improvements before making final commitments.

“In addition to the baseline of current energy demand, a great deal of emphasis should be placed on metering and verification of energy usage and savings achieved. Unfortunately this is often an afterthought and not well planned, yet it forms a crucial piece of the puzzle and will be the indicator to whether the savings achieved will provide the return on investment initially anticipated. If this is done correctly and accurately, it will play an important role in ensuring the correct decisions are made in future regarding other projects in other buildings within a property portfolio,” concludes Liebenberg.

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