Saturday, 21 March 2015

Gold-plated DEC

I spent a couple of days recently responding to a government consultation, which will seriously effect the work that I do and could leave me looking for a new job. Improving the Display Energy Certificates Regime for Public Buildings is a consultation from the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), with the objective to simplify and "reduce the burden of compliance" of energy certificate legislation.

Display Energy Certificates, known as DEC, provide an energy rating for public building such as schools and hospitals over a certain size. This A to G rating is based on the actual energy consumption for the building, so if the energy consumption decreases, the rating will improve. For the DEC shown above, the graphs on the right show that the energy rating has improved significantly each year for this building, from a G in 2012 to an E in 2014.

The DEC need to be displayed in a prominent place, so that if you walk into your local town hall or hospital you can see how much energy they consume compared to the average for that building type. They are a good way of raising awareness, and staff walking past these ratings on a daily basis may become more active in reducing their energy waste.

At the same time Leicestershire County Council's newsletter dropped through the door and the extent of cuts they are facing over the next few years as a result of austerity measures is horrendous. The cost of DEC is only a very small slice of the budget, but the focus is clearly going to be on keeping essential services going.

Whatever the responses were to the consultation document, it was already clear that there was a very negative slant towards DEC in the document, referring to them as a 'burden'. DEC have been a large part of my work for the last 7 years, but the picture painted was that they no longer had a future. I was left feeling rather gloomy, that I would inevitably have to find an alternative way to make a living.

Then some of my old colleagues kicked me back into touch. (Thanks Phil, Nick and Bryony!)

In 2008 the legislation forced DEC onto reluctant building managers. Gathering all the data needed was a pain the first few years, because in many cases energy wasn't being managed. Where energy was being managed well, the DEC seemed somewhat superfluous. But over the last 7 years building managers have adapted to using DEC as a tool. The DEC is an independent, annual energy review resulting in a visible, clearly understandable, and easily comparable energy rating. It provides useful information to help building managers make decisions on maintenance, justify investment in efficiency projects and target awareness campaigns.

I know of County Councils who use the DEC energy ratings to help them monitor the energy consumption of their buildings and to target their improvement measures - improvement measures that save them money on energy bills. They want to keep using the DEC as they are a valuable tool.

Headteachers, who have far more to worry about than tracking their complicated energy bills, can see at a glance how their school performs compared to an average school. And yes - they do check out the DEC rating in other schools that they visit! Displaying the energy rating in reception means that a poor G rating cannot be ignored, and is visible for parents, governors and teachers to see. It is a powerful motivation for making improvements.

Back in 2009 I compared how the DEC ratings I had produced had changed from the previous year. You can see that in general there was a shift towards the higher A, B and C rated certificates. The graphs above show that even in just one year there was an improvement in energy ratings, which means my clients actually reduced their energy consumption.

The above DEC is for a leisure centre, where the CHP (combined heat and power unit) was old and the efficiency was deteriorating. The effect of replacing it for a new CHP unit and additional improvements can be seen with the increase in the energy rating for the building from a D to a C. The cost saving was over £20,000 the following year, even after allowing for the effect of weather. What part the DEC played can't really be quantified, but raising the awareness and priority of energy efficiency improvements can have some significant financial benefits.

DEC aren't a financial burden, they are a money saving tool. Evidence from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, shows significant energy efficiency improvements between 2008 and 2012, which outweighs the cost of providing DEC. Shame that CLG, sees DEC as a 'burden' and wants to reduce or eliminate DEC requirements. Many of the proposed changes in the consultation would undermine DEC and make them almost useless as a tool for encouraging energy efficiency. CLG must understand that, yet they continue to push for dismantling them.

All the options DCLG provide in the consultation (my summary above) are to cut corners, whilst trying to stay just within the boundaries of the mandatory EU Directive. If the intention was to save money rather than reduce the 'burden', there could have been several options for improving the DEC to make an even bigger impact on reducing energy consumption. This would be a win-win for public bodies looking for efficiency savings, and also the government who has a legally binding carbon reduction target to meet. I get the impression this has all been tossed aside in favour of protecting energy company profits instead, as they are the only ones to lose out from further energy efficiency measures.

Well, if you have been following for a while, you may know that I am not a 'cut and run' type of person. If I can't make a stand and act when it is about DEC, which I am an expert on, then when will I ever make a stand on anything? So......... I have made a decision. I am not waiting for any of these bad outcomes to be enforced by people who are really rather ignorant about energy certificates.

Saving energy is hard. It is an uphill struggle, with investment seen as the lynch pin. My clients want things that are easy and that work to reduce energy consumption, and for this the current DEC aren't good enough. With some small tweaks, they could be so much better - Gold-Plated in fact, but with little to no change to the clients 'burden'.

For example, the value on the current energy certificates is a carbon ratio, quite meaningless to most people. But in the process of gathering all the energy data, I end up with all the cost data too. Displaying the cost of energy consumption as well would help understanding. As in the leisure centre example above, a £20k saving has a much bigger impact on people than seeing a C rating. Equating that cost into something real, like how many nurses or teachers that money could employ if it wasn't spent on energy, would help to hit the message home. For an individual, using the stairs instead of the lift may seem like a tiny insignificant amount of energy in a large hospital, but when that energy is equated into real people and jobs saved (or climate change and lives) it is energy that is well worth saving.

I can't change the actual DEC certificate, but I can change how it is presented and provide additional information with it. I can't change the legal requirements of DEC, but I can demonstrate the benefits of having them, and encourage voluntary DECs. Already I have clients who have decided to go beyond the minimum requirements. And as an energy assessor I always strive to provide more value than the basic energy certificates require, with advice on energy bills and added details for recommendations.

Working with my regular clients I will be setting up some trials to see what improvements to the DEC give the best results for the least additional burden. My target is that within 3 years, every DEC I produce will be a Gold-Plated. I will also make all the results and Gold-Plated DEC templates freely available for everyone to benefit from. So if you are a disenchanted energy assessor, accreditation body or building manager and want more than CLG are offering, spread the word - Gold-Plated DEC will be coming your way soon!


  1. How interesting your blog was to read today, thank you for writing it. I think it can only be incentive to cut energy usage, which has to be a good thing...well done for working so hard on it all

    1. Thanks. Your kind words are really appreciated :-)

  2. Wow, Judy, you are one determined, proactive person! No rolling over and playing dead for you! I think that is a brilliant idea - I need to confess right now that I am literally the average 'Jo' - dead scared of maths, and graphs and statistics make my brain hurt. Second confession - I skipped all the technical bits of your article and had trouble working out what those graphs might be about - but I can totally understand financial savings! I would totally sign up to your gold standard. Go you!

    PS Also, if you can work out an easy way for a maths challenged person like me to do a similar job in my own home, I will sign up for that too:)

    1. Thanks Jo. Sorry, I did try to be brief with the Technical stuff which is rather boring, and just leave links for people who wanted to know more. It really isn't very mathematical, except I rather enjoy making spreadsheets and graphs ;-)

      The bottom line is that cutting corners may look like it gives a quick saving, but in the end it will cost more. Just like if you tried to cut corners with making passata. You may save time not sterilising the jars, but it would cost you dearly in the long run. It may seem a pain having to have energy certificates, but in the long run it is going to help reduce energy costs.

      Do you have to have an energy rating when you sell a house in Tasmania? If so, that would not be mathematical though does involve some measuring. The training here is only a few days so not too onerous. We also have something called GAP Global Action Plan
      which I think would suit you. It is about helping people to make changes in their lives, normally in teams or community groups. I think you would be excellent to lead something like that.

    2. Energy ratings for houses? No! Although some new houses have a star rating in their advertising. But it's not compulsory. Australia is pants at efficient housing! This year I would like to make our house more efficient, and work out where all our electricity is going.. I will pop over here regularly to ask you questions if that's ok?

    3. Yes. Hope I can help :-)