The Quest to Improve Energy Efficiency in Flexible Workspace
Suzanne Murdock, Managing Director & Co-Creator of The Hub Newry, has written for the Flexible Space Association on The Hub’s experience of maximising energy efficiency.
As a flexible office workspace operator with several locations in Newry, Northern Ireland, one of our biggest challenges is the enormous increase in operational overheads, particularly the cost of energy – gas, electricity and oil. The quest to improve energy efficiency is ongoing……
Setting the Scene
The UK government’s initial energy support for businesses was a very welcome short-term fix to the problem that the flexible office workspace industry is currently facing. However, we knew that come 31 March 2023, our business would either be required to absorb rising energy costs or to pass the additional overheads onto our members.
This is an ongoing & very much moving target and we’ve approached the challenge from varying perspectives, looking at not just the costs but the longer term sustainability and wellbeing of our members as well as our business longevity by reducing our overall energy consumption.
Through consultations with member businesses and partner suppliers we agreed that achieving energy savings would be through a combination of behavioural change, switching energy suppliers and capital investments through energy efficiency improvements.
The cultural & behavioural change of our members residents, visitors and partner business was a lower cost option that required working in partnership to educate, raise awareness, monitor and make continuous improvements to.
Capital investment on the other hand required building fabric improvements and services upgrades most of which were expensive to undertake.
As a building owner / operator the decision to invest could be justified as the evidence in the commercial property marketplace is that the investment value of the building correlates to the energy efficiency of the building.
The position of a flex operator on an occupational lease is a very different scenario – the landlord is ultimately responsible for the building fabric and building services. It’s not always practical or even realistic for a tenant / operator to undertake many of the modifications needed to achieve energy efficiency.
There is some positive news the Government will be introducing minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) rulings with implementation by 2027 when buildings will require a ‘C’ rating and by 2030 a ‘B’ rating so landlords will be legally obliged to make energy improvements.
Below is a summary of the improvements we’ve made to our buildings and we’re hopeful that our energy bills remain as close to 2021 costs as possible:
1. Cultural & Behavioural Change
The lowest cost method of reducing electrical consumption is in the behavioural change of residents by eliminating waste, for example lights left on overnight, removal of under desk heaters etc.
This was achieved through a combination of:
- Email newsletters setting out goals, benefits & ways we can work together and
- Informal conversations
- Strategically placed signage placed near taps, light switches etc which
Over time this has resulted in a cultural change within the office especially when members are remined that energy efficiency is necessary to keep office and desk rental costs down.
2. Changing Energy Suppliers
Although this is currently a closed market and opportunities to change supplier for more competitive tariffs are limited, changing energy suppliers and ensuring you are on the right tariff for your business will in the long term offer savings for flex operators.
3. Building Fabric Improvements
Here are some improvements to the fabric of your building that will help reduce the consumption of energy:
- Increase the levels of thermal insulation in roofs, floors, walls and windows – adding additional, high performance rockwool insulation.
- Additional secondary double glazing in older windows offering little thermal insulation.
- Improving draught seals etc also provided us with immediate improvements.
4. Alternatives to Gas & Oil
One of our buildings previously used oil and another gas and we recently upgraded to electric heat pumps and installed Daiken air conditioning systems, both significantly more energy efficient technologies. These technologies are admittedly more expensive to purchase with even a small heat pump and small air conditioning unit costing approx.. £4k – £6k to supply and install.
- The latest air source heat pump technologies can be plumbed into existing heating systems which use traditional radiators and air conditioning units can be installed in most commercial offices.
- Heat pumps and air conditioning systems both consume electricity and as flex operators we are therefore still vulnerable to electricity price increases.
- Other costs including electrical infrastructure upgrades and builders work, scaffolding etc need to be considered as part of the investment and although a small building may need a single heat pump to replace a boiler, they may require multiple air conditioning units for these to be effective replacements.
We would advise that any flex office operator requests an engineer, (typically the heat pump or air conditioning supplier if a reputable brand is being purchased), to model the energy savings that can be achieved against the capital cost of the heat pump or air conditioning system so the savings that are potentially available are understood and the payback periods calculated as there is little point in making the investment if the payback period is over a long period of time.
There is also little point in installing a heat pump to a building which does not have an energy efficient thermal fabric so the investment in building fabric improvements and heat pump do go hand in hand.
We have also installed an EV charging point into our Abbey Yard, Newry location
It sounds obvious but really, the only way to save on electricity costs is the use less of it! We’ve been working on this using some of the following modifications:
- Replacing our fluorescent lighting with energy efficient LED lighting some and this has been our single most impactful way to reduce energy consumption in an office environment given lighting consumes more electricity in a building that any other electrical source.
- Instead of investing lighting controls we installed PIRs (presence detectors) in our common areas and toilets resolving the wasted energy usage from residents leaving lights on.
- The investments in heat pump and air conditioning technologies although their installation resulted in increased electricity usage, will offer energy savings compared with the cost of gas and oil.
- Solar Panels – We also made the decision to invest in a 10KW photovoltaic system to generate electricity on site and our initial calculation is that these panels will cut our electrical consumption by 1/3 with a three year investment payback. We have a south facing pitched roof, ideal for solar installation. The installation was a relatively simple installation and contractors took a day to install the equipment and make all the final electrical connections.
Not as efficient in winter months with less sun but even in February after a period of 1 month we generated circa 365kw per annum which equates to a monetary saving of £219 or a reduction of 248 Kgs of CO2. We expect the savings to be substantially higher in the spring and summer months.
- Every building has it’s nuances – the location, its own technical specification, it will require a range of bespoke solutions that in many cases calls for the expertise of specialist engineers and architects. But there are many technical and practical solutions that will reduce energy consumption in the workplace.
- It’s important that potential energy savings are modelled against the capital investment required and available tax incentives to undertake improvements.
- We would encourage all flex operators to consider what they can practically achieve to their reduce energy consumption and to work in partnership with resident members, landlords, experts and partner suppliers.
- Tax relief in the form of capital allowances are potentially available and we had the benefit of having an “in house” capital allowances specialist to help us with preparing these calculations
So there are solutions out there and there is hope that our energy bills can remain as near to 2021 costs as possible, we just need to pull resources together and share the expertise!
21 February 2023
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