Mind the Gap

By Tamsin Tweddell

24 October 2016

As a Practice, we have been designing low energy buildings for decades. We are now focusing on how to ensure we can achieve low energy performance in practice.

There are many reasons why actual operational energy can be greater than expected. These could be grouped into technical, people and procurement issues.

As environmental engineers, we feel pretty confident about the technical. We need to focus on getting the relationship right between the technical, people and procurement.

Part of our approach to addressing this has been to develop an Energy Risk Register, tailored to individual projects. By identifying factors likely to contribute to greater energy consumption, we can monitor the most significant risks and mitigate them through the project.

But risks often focus on the interplay between technical, people and procurement.

For example, if the design does not take into account the skills and resources available to manage the building, then it is unlikely to be operated in an energy efficient way.

Another factor is the usage patterns of the building, which can be notoriously difficult to predict. Many buildings are used outside standard working hours. The design team can work with the client’s organisation to develop a best guess as to how the building will be used. This can establish how sensitive the energy use is to these assumptions.

Building controls intended to minimise energy use can often lead to unexpected energy consumption. This may arise because they have not been set up correctly, because they are too complicated for the users or because they do not achieve what the users want. Improving engagement with building stakeholders can make a big difference. Involving them in reviewing proposed controls can be part of this.

Our energy risk management approach acknowledges that the energy performance of a building involves many different parties:  not just the design team and contractor; but also the client – as  primary decision maker; end users and building managers.

It also acknowledges that managing and minimising these risks requires action throughout the project lifetime, from briefing through design and construction and into use.

This approach often flags up the need to improve management of expectations, and results in improved communication with stakeholders throughout the project.


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