Our Big Energy Challenge

Achieving a 10% reduction in energy consumption among public sector organisations in Bath

This was one of CSE's largest and most innovative projects.

Imagine you could reduce the energy consumption of the main public-sector bodies in a small city by 10% over three years. 

In the case of Bath this would save organisations such as the council, the hospital and the universities around £0.5m a year – money that could be better spent on the things people want, like street cleaning, library books and healthcare.

This was the aim of Our Big Energy Challenge, one of CSE’s most ambitious projects to date which worked with organisations in Bath to make significant cuts in gas, electricity and oil consumption through a combination of technical intervention and cultural change. It’s one thing to patch up energy-leaking buildings: it’s quite another to persuade the people working in them to change their energy-using habits.

The project was funded by the Treasury’s ‘Invest to Save Budget’ - money set aside to support schemes aimed at improving public services – and amounted to £770,000 over the three years.

So, 'demanding-yet-realistic' – or 'pie-in-the-sky'?

Bringing down the cost of running Bath
The organisations that took part in the project were all members of the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP): Bath & North East Somerset Council  |  University of Bath  |  Royal United Hospital Trust  |  Somer Housing Trust  |  City of Bath College  |  Bath Spa University  |  Norton Radstock College  |  Avon and Somerset Constabulary  |  Bath & North East Somerset Primary Care Trust  |  Council for Voluntary Services  |  Racial Equality Council  |  Avon Local Councils Association.

They employ over 14,000 people and they spend a lot of money on energy - over £6m in 2005 (the first year of the project) alone – leading to the release of nearly 80,000 tonnes of CO2.

Never before had so many key organisations within a defined district committed to work systematically together to reduce their energy use. And they had good reason to do so; at the time, members of the LSP were renegotiating their contracts with fuel suppliers and facing increases up to 52% in the cost per unit of gas.

A two-pronged approach
Our Big Energy Challenge worked on two levels: the technical and the behavioural.

Firstly, we made use of state-of-the-art metering and monitoring equipment to identify which buildings could be made more energy efficient and where energy management could be improved. Hi-tech wireless systems were used, removing the need for expensive hardwiring and allowing trained energy management staff to establish energy usage patterns for each site.

The ‘capital element’ of the funding also paid for the installation of smarter lighting, better insulation and more sophisticated heating controls at various sites.

Secondly – and because technology alone isn’t enough – we worked to raise awareness about energy and change behaviours and attitudes among thousands of employees. This ranged from the simple – encouraging the switching off of lights when appropriate and not leaving office equipment running overnight – to the more sophisticated e.g. the better understanding of heating and cooling systems.

A range of materials was produced, including a website: www.bigenergychallenge.org. [NB this site will close in 2013, but will be accessible on the UK Web Archive here.]

Energy champions
Particularly innovative was the recruitment of around 150 staff from within the council, universities and other organisations as ‘energy champions’. These volunteers – ranging from university professors to council admin staff – received formal training in energy issues and engagement to help them promote the project internally and support their colleagues in efforts to save energy in the workplace.

Training for other occupational groups – such as estates, catering, security and sport centre staff – was also undertaken.

So, did it work?
Was the 10% target met? It’s frustratingly difficult to be sure, but we think the answer is ‘yes, it was’. The issue is that until Our Big Energy Challenge put the spotlight on energy use, many of the organisations involved didn’t have accurate records of their energy use and expenditure, so a true benchmark could not be set.

However, we can calculate that the combined savings from the technical measures installed during the time the project ran comes to some 7.5m kilowatt hours per year - representing over 4% of the LSP’s estimated annual energy use.

These measures include:

  • Voltage optimisation at the city library
  • Heating controls in one ward at St Martin’s Hospital
  • A range of boiler modifications at the Royal United Hospital
  • A new lighting regime in selected buildings at Bath Spa University
  • Heating meters for a district heating system at University of Bath

However, this figure does not include savings realised through behavioural measures, which, although difficult to quantify, can yield savings of 5-10% (Carbon Trust publication CTG001*). In one strikingly successful contribution, an energy champion at the University of Bath – a lab technician - identified changes to working practices that have led to savings worth a cool £25,000 a year.

The partners in the project with the best energy monitoring have reported significant progress  with a 7% overall reduction in electricity use over 2 years at University of Bath, and a 9% overall energy reduction at Bath Spa University.

Additionally, around 37% of the total capital funding in Our Big Energy Challenge was spent on monitoring and targeting measures. These should help keep a lid on consumption increases as well as flag up further energy saving opportunities, both technical and behavioural. Again, a study by the Carbon Trust (publication CTC713*) demonstrates that advanced metering can identify an average of 12% carbon savings, with 5% savings typically being implemented.

All this leads us to conclude that our target of reducing energy use by the Bath & North East Somerset LSP by 10% over three years has been reached.

What other successes did Our Big Energy Challenge achieve? We’d point to the following:

  • The establishment of permanent senior-level commitments to providing resources for energy management in several organisations of the LSP
  • Proof that investments in energy efficiency have an attractively short pay-back time
  • Proof that it is possible to sow the seeds of an organisational culture change with regard to energy efficient behaviour
  • Providing thousands of staff with basic information about energy efficiency, climate change and behavioural adaptations that can also be applied in their own homes

* Carbon Trust publications are free to download. Click here.

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