ENERGY EFFICIENCY MADE SIMPLE
By Gary Thomas, Sustainability Lead at Ecotricity, Britain’s greenest energy company.
Landlords and property managers might be thinking that the walls of sustainability are closing in. Since the Energy Act was introduced in 2011, there’s been a raft of new measures to ensure that landlords maintain energy efficient homes.
In April 2018, governmental regulations came into effect requiring all landlords to improve their properties to an energy efficiency rating of at least E (on the scale of A-G). By 2020, landlords cannot actually let out a domestic property with an EPC rating below E. Local authorities will even have the power to fine landlords up to £5,000 if they fail to comply with the rules.
That means leaseholders who are increasingly aware of their rights and landlords who are keen to meet the new regulations will both be putting managing agents under increasing pressure to get measures in place.
These measures are not just about the environment, though, they’re about ensuring we have happier, healthier, wealthier leaseholders. Plus, once sustainable, energy-efficient practices become commonplace, it will mean lower costs for everyone: more often than not, the sustainable option is also the cheapest one.
So where do you start as a property manager? Well, the best method, to keep emissions low, and keep landlords, leaseholders and regulators happy, is simply to take the most comprehensive approach to sustainability you can. Look at your properties in the most holistic way for sustainability – from the paint on the walls to the jacket on your water cylinder - and you’ll be onto a winner.
The Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) is a fantastic place to start when you’re looking for energy efficiency guidance, so it’s worth checking out all their excellent content online. In fact, there’s a lot of advice out there, which we can largely boil down to four principle areas: energy efficiency, energy management, carbon reduction, and additionality. Here’s a quick intro to some of the key considerations in each of those areas.
The energy we use in Britain to generate electricity and provide heat makes up a quarter of our climate-change-causing emissions, so being more careful of the energy we use and putting the equipment in place to ensure properties use less will make a big difference.
When it comes to energy efficiency, you’ve got two main things to consider as a property manager: physical change and leaseholder education.
a. Physical change
Insulation: Depending on the size of the property, you can lose a quarter of your heat through an uninsulated roof. Meanwhile, up to 33% of heat is lost through property walls. Investing in insulation now is the most effective way to save in the longer term, and it means you’re saving a huge amount of energy. Communal areas suffer from the same concerns, so take a look at where you might be losing heat in these areas, and check out the solutions that work best for your specific buildings. If you don’t have double glazing in communal areas, for instance, see whether taping polythene across window frames would work in the short term.
Heating and water: You could write a list as long as your arm of all the heating and water savings you can make. Much of it depends on how your buildings are set up. Some have communal heating systems, with split costs across all the residents, for example. You want to make sure you’re not losing heat in unnecessary areas because of exposed pipework – make sure you box in, insulate or cover any exposed heating pipes. Check your hot water cylinder is appropriately sized for the building too – don’t have the cost and obligation of a huge cylinder when you simply don’t need it.
Where water is concerned, it’s about being vigilant: regularly monitor water meters. Your meter will give you a heads up if there any leaky pipes. And act fast if you find leaks: the cost can be vast if you don’t.
Draught proof: All leaseholders and landlords benefit from taking action on draught proofing. Communal areas also need attention though. Make sure there are no badly fitting doors, and check floors, walls and windows to make sure you’ve not got draughts pushing through. If you have radiators in communal areas, consider shelves or fittings above them so you can direct warm air into the centre of the space. Placing foil behind radiators on exterior walls can help reduce the heat lost outside.
Upgrading communal heating systems: How you heat any communal areas is important too. If your boiler is more than 15 years old, it’s 20% less efficient. Simply replacing an old boiler with an A-rated model with heating controls can also result in significant costs savings, equivalent to £340 a year for each boiler.
Communal and external lighting: There are obvious ways to save on energy and cost by getting rid of halogen and spotlights and bringing in LED energy saving bulbs. Check if there are other ways you can save with lighting too though. For example, consider push-button lighting with a timer or movement sensors for corridors, communal areas, and car parks so lights are not left on when they don’t need to be. And make sure you check them when the clocks change so they’re not going on too early!
b. Leaseholder education
It’s a good idea to work with landlords and leaseholders to see how you can collectively reduce energy use. One property management company we know, in an effort to reduce energy consumption in a student block, presented the residents with energy usage information in nearby blocks – and challenged them to save enough energy so they could hit the same standard.
Where education is concerned, it’s about giving leaseholders the information they need: welcome packs with information about how to use communal areas and recycling, for example.
With the advent of smart meters and other smart energy technologies, there’s a whole new world of energy management at your fingertips. With energy management platforms like Stark, for example, you can manage every site on a half-hourly basis, monitor your energy data, generate reports on your energy use, set reduction targets, target anomalies and potential energy abuse, and even engage tenants with the information you’ve got to get them to try to save energy.
You also want to choose an energy supplier that can provide you with collective billing and the right portfolio management – so you can centrally manage all of your accounts. By keeping a better grasp of your entire portfolio, you’ll be better able to target reductions and improvements – and that’s better for the environment too.
Switch to green energy: One of the single biggest things you can do to cut your carbon footprint is to switch your properties to green energy. If you choose this route, make sure you choose a provider that offers 100% green electricity and frack-free green gas – and ask what they do with your bill money too. Some suppliers will reinvest your bill money into building new sources of green energy, while others won’t reinvest in British green infrastructure. Make sure they can offer collective billing too – so you can better control your entire energy use.
Make your own green energy: Making your own green energy will have a significant impact on reducing your properties’ carbon footprint. It makes the grid greener, reduces our dependency on fossil fuels, and brings us closer to an energy independent Britain.
Solar panels are typically the most logical choice for landlords and homeowners. You’ll be paid per unit of green electricity you generate, and you’ll save money on your energy bills because the energy you produce will power your property. You’ll also get paid for energy you don’t use that can be exported back to the grid.
By exporting renewable energy back to the grid, you’ll be helping to reduce the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels. And by creating a greener grid, we can help reduce dependency on dirty gas and coal.
Keep in mind though, the Feed in Tariff – the government scheme that pays you for the energy you generate – closes for new applicants in April 2019, so if you want to start making your own green stuff, get in there quick.
Battery storage and Virtual Power Plants: There are lots of ways you can better manage the energy you use or the energy you generate. If you have space for domestic scale battery storage, that will be a great way of making the grid more sustainable while also getting paid for storing much needed green energy in the future. There are a range of sizes and capacities available on the market, but keep in mind energy storage is still at early stage of development, and there is no well-established scheme like the Feed in tariff which pays battery owners at the moment. However, that should change the more batteries come on the market.
If you’re storing or using energy on a large scale, becoming part of a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) would be a good step. A VPP is a digital control system that wirelessly connects thousands of businesses, energy generators and energy storage systems across Britain – what we call ‘assets’. The Virtual Power Plant monitors the energy grid and makes small adjustments to these assets – better balancing supply and demand. The result of this is a more stable grid and better energy efficiency.
It’s a really simple system, which has worked really well in Germany. When demand on the grid is high, the VPP can wirelessly lower air conditioning or dim lights for just sixty seconds. With thousands of businesses and properties plugged in, it makes a big difference.
The changes happen in the background, so there’s no disruption to day-to-day activities – but those involved benefit from lower energy bills and a revenue share for being part of the VPP.
For energy generators, the control system simply reduces your generation at certain periods when the grid is full or increases your generation if the grid is low. You’ll still get a generation payment, plus the added benefit of revenue share payments for being part of the VPP.
For energy storage systems, it means remotely charging or discharging your battery at optimal moments to maximise the battery’s revenue generation – and, importantly, maximise its life. Plus, you’ll get revenue share payments too.
Ground source heat pumps: Ground source heat pumps use pipes that are buried beneath land to extract heat from the ground. Heat pumps can run all day, so are great if the leaseholders are in during the day, like in residential care homes for example. Although they are easier to incorporate into a new build, they can also be retrofitted into older properties and the heat used for radiators, underfloor or warm air heating systems and even to provide hot water. They can lower bills, lower carbon emissions, heat properties as well as your water, and could provide an income through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
There is also a mass of additional initiatives you can undertake to make sure that your property is sustainable from the ground up. Key to this is looking at the changes in sustainability and making sure you keep up with the latest trends and technologies.
Electric vehicles: Planning for the future means thinking about the possibility of charge points for electric vehicles. The EV market is growing massively in Britain, and putting those charge points in now will mean you won’t get landlords and tenants asking later. Transport is now the biggest single contributor to climate change in Britain too – so the more we can do to cut emissions on this front, the bigger impact we can have in fighting climate change.
Green spaces: Think about making room for nature too – what else can you do with those communal spaces at your properties. Allowing for green spaces outside is the ideal, but it could be something as simple as providing bee boxes or planting a small area with wildflowers – the better the environment for tenants, the less likely they are to abuse that environment.
We’re just scratching the surface here, of course, and there’s a lot more you can do to bring your properties up to the highest standards of sustainability. Even the smallest steps can get you on the way to cutting costs and emissions, and having more content leaseholders.
Ultimately, energy efficiency is the other side of the coin to green energy – we need to use less energy and make more of the green stuff at the same time. It’s essential in the move to a green Britain.
For information on Ecotricity’s products and services, visit www.ecotricity.co.uk/business-energy or call 0345 600 1994.