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5 ways to improve energy efficiency in municipal buildings: How local government can take positive steps towards carbon net zero

The built environment significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact. Through its provision of buildings for millions of citizens accessing public services, the public sector plays a significant role in the country’s journey towards net zero.

Energy efficiency and management in the heating and cooling of public buildings are crucial to the UK’s decarbonisation goals. Changes to how the public sector manages its estate have enormous potential to be a force for good.

Local authorities have a ‘unique and powerful’ role in climate change. Government estimates indicate that 82% of all UK emissions are within the scope of influence of local authorities.

Net zero challenges for local authorities

The challenges of energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation for local government cannot be underestimated. According to our research, cost is the biggest challenge to implementing net zero strategies. Additional barriers include:

  • lack of inter-departmental and stakeholder coordination
  • access to affordable and readily available energy efficiency technologies
  • limited capacity and experience
  • insufficient information about their energy performance

Practical steps to net zero

Energy efficiency projects represent an investment opportunity for local authorities, but knowing where to start can be difficult.

Many of the buildings local authorities will need in 2050 have already been built; therefore retrofitting and decarbonising the buildings you plan to use for decades, such as council offices, town halls, libraries, and leisure centres is a good place to begin.

A ‘whole building’ approach to heat decarbonisation combines low carbon heating system upgrades with energy efficiency measures. The solutions are all interlinked.

Understanding your data is a good place to start. Do you know where your primary energy consumption is coming from? After you understand where you are wasting energy, the changes you implement will be more effective.

An energy audit can help you understand what energy efficiency improvements will deliver more impact. Using data you collect, and the results from your audit can highlight potential areas for improvement and help you prioritise.

Write an action plan based on your priorities and use it to allocate resources and timings to implement improvements to the building. You can then identify short, medium and long term actions including:

  1. Switching to LED lighting

Lighting accounts for nearly 5% of global CO2 emissions. A global switch to energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) technology could save over 1,400 million tons of CO2 and avoid the construction of 1,250 power stations.

With savings of up to 50 to 70%, LED lighting has been recognised as one of the most actionable and ready-to-implement technologies for cities to transition to a low carbon economy and peak emissions in the next decade.

  1. Air source heat pumps and heat networks

Installing heat pumps will help reduce carbon emissions and allow you to save money on your heating bills by replacing older, less efficient boilers. However, as heat pumps can increase electricity demand, you may need to factor it into your business case and financial forecast.

Another option for local authorities to consider is a heat network. A heat network, sometimes called district heating, is a distribution system of insulated pipes that takes heat from a central source and delivers it to a number of domestic or non-domestic buildings. Heat networks allow you to exploit larger-scale – and often lower cost – renewable and recovered heat sources that otherwise cannot be used.

  1. Choosing renewable energy sources

Local governments can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing or directly generating electricity from clean, renewable sources. Options include generating renewable energy on-site through solar panels on a municipal building and purchasing green power through power purchasing agreements. Securing a longer-term renewable power supply contract at a fixed price can also offer more certainty in power costs and origin.

  1. Scaling up smart building technology

Central and local government organisations can integrate advanced technology solutions into operations, ecosystems, and maintenance regimes.

Introducing IoT solutions that use sensor data is a cost-effective way to tackle energy inefficiencies from heating to lighting. In addition, designing and deploying automation into systems, buildings management, operations, and ecosystems at scale can enhance capacity while helping building managers focus on more complex operational processes.

  1. Investing in retrofits

Energy efficiency retrofitting allows you to upgrade the energy performance of public sector buildings for their ongoing life. Energy efficiency retrofits help reduce operational costs, particularly in older buildings, by improving insulation, water efficiency and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

How we can help

Crown Commercial Service offers ‘end-to-end’ solutions to help with decarbonisation. You can also visit the CNZ grants and funding page to see what funding is available.

Join Joe Tilley at this year's Smart Asset & Estate Management Conference on December 8th  2022 at the QEII Centre in London.  Smart 2022 is the ideal place for all public sector property professionals to get the latest policy updates and discover new initiatives around estate management, sustainable buildings, smarter working and the technology that enables them.

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