Our Big Energy Challenge: a final reckoning?

End-of-project review asks ‘did it work, and will it last?

5 March 2010

“Do the monitoring and the energy saving technology, and engage the people in energy saving. But don’t forget to change the institutions.” That’s one of the key lessons learned from a review just published by CSE of Our Big Energy Challenge, our major public-sector energy saving project.

Our Big Energy Challenge has featured frequently in CSE news over the last few years. It was a three-year initiative that aimed to slash the gas, electricity and oil bills of public-sector bodies in and around the city of Bath. It began in April 2006 and had a total budget of £1.7m, half of which came from HM Treasury’s Invest to Save programme.

The project combined technical improvements to energy metering and monitoring, investment in energy saving measures, and a programme of staff engagement through volunteer workplace ‘Energy Champions’ who helped to identify opportunities for action and stimulate energy saving behaviour.

The 12-page review lists the technical measures that the project funded or part funded such as lighting refurbishment at Keynsham police station and portable power monitoring kit for the council. It also describes the innovative role played by Energy Champions, and explains how the target of a 10% cut in energy use was met (resulting in an estimated fuel bill saving of £700,000 per year). The review concludes by detailing the lessons learned during the course of the project.

“One of the most valuable lessons,” says CSE’s Martin Holley, who led the project from its inception, “is that, whilst top-level commitment and the consequent allocation of resources are critical to the ultimate success of an initiative like this, you can’t hang around waiting for this to happen. Indeed, there’s a risk that if the challenges had been fully understood at the outset, the ambitious targets would have been watered down and the achievements would have fallen well short of what we managed in the end.

“That said, we could really have benefited from thinking more at the early stages about the challenges of organisational change, cross-departmental working and securing real political buy-in. We did the technology and we engaged the staff – and we hit the targets. But next time we’ll pay more attention to the organisational factors – the institutions – to try to ensure early on that these don’t present unnecessary obstacles to the changes needed to secure cuts in energy use.”

Bath and North East Somerset Local Strategic Partnership now has carbon reduction as a core part of its work with a key priority being the continuation of the progress initiated by Our Big Energy Challenge.

The review can be downloaded here.

Read more about Our Big Energy Challenge here.

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