Friday, 18 March 2011

Energy at Endeavour House: A Closer Look

Avoiding doing any real work today, I had a chance to look in a bit more detail at the DCLG energy efficiency figures that were released the week before last. As mentioned in the previous post, I think it's worth keeping a relatively open mind about what the 'F' rating for Endeavour House might actually mean -- I'm no expert on sustainable architecture or engineering. Still, it seems odd that a building so frequently touted as 'environmentally friendly' and 'green' should have come out with such a low efficiency score three years running.

One way to get a better picture is to compare the Display Energy Certificate information for Endeavour House with that of similarly sized and similarly utilized buildings elsewhere in the country. Filtering the data for structures with similar floorspace (between 14,000 and 17,000m2), similar owners (local government) and identical energy/heating combinations (natural gas and air conditioning) yields, among others, the headquarters of Buckinghamshire County Council, Leicester City Council and Reading Borough Council.

Bucks is perhaps the most obvious comparison -- the head office of a rural County Council, with floorspace that differs from Endeavour House by only a few hundred square metres. The 2010 DEC for the building gives it a score of 119 and a rating of 'E', not quite meeting the target of 100 but still better than SCC's 138. Crucially, Fred Pooley's County Hall in Aylesbury is not a modern piece of 'sustainable building' but a classic example of mid-'60s brutalism, with all the attendant energy efficiency challenges.

Leicester is, obviously, a less perfect match, but its score is the best of the bunch at 106, almost pushing it into the 'D' bracket. The floorspace at New Walk Centre is just over 14,400m2, and, as the Advisory Report makes clear, it's a '[m]ulti-storey flat-roof office block; circa early 1970s construction'. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the serious recommendations in the report focus on issues like improving insulation and updating the glazing on windows -- the building's electricity usage, in kWh/m2/year, stands at 92, three points under the target ceiling of 95.

Reading, finally, shows a pattern of steady improvement over the three years in which certificates have been issued: 176 (G) in 2008, 138 (F) in 2009 and 116 (E) last year. Another monolithic '70s building, the Civic Centre has achieved these gains by cutting heating and electricity usage simultaneously -- the former now sits only a few points above its target.

Compared to these examples, the figures for Endeavour House become a bit clearer. As might be expected for a relatively new building, the heating appears to be working well, meriting a score of 47 where the 'typical' figure is almost 140. The electricity usage, on the other hand is shockingly high: 202 to the typical 110. This ties in with a number of recommendations in the latest assessment report, which describes the turning off of electrical equipment ('water heaters ... vending machines ... laminators, phone chargers, fax machines') as a 'high priority'.

I plan to submit an FOI request over the weekend to see if I can get a bit more information about the amount and type of equipment that SCC is using at Endeavour House. Until that comes back, we're left with some very strange figures. Greenest county?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Endeavour House rated 'F' for energy efficiency

Earlier this month, the Centre for Sustainable Energy released a swathe of data on the energy efficiency of UK public buildings, obtained from the DCLG via a Freedom of Information request. The Guardian then picked up on the story and mapped the entire dataset using Google Maps, making it easy to click around and compare local buildings — schools, hospitals, local government, etc. It turns out that Endeavour House, Suffolk County Council’s flagship ‘green’ office complex in West Ipswich, is rated a mere ‘F’.

Technically, this information has been available for a while. Since October 2008, in compliance with EU energy performance directives, all large public buildings have been required to undergo yearly assessments and to display the results prominently in the form of ‘Display Energy Certificates’ (these certificates are also available online, via the Non-Domestic Energy Performance Certificate Register, but require knowledge of a building’s 20-digit reference number.) Visitors to Endeavour House are greeted by a glass cabinet full of environmental awards and commendations right by the front door — perhaps not surprisingly, it does not include the certificate itself, which is hidden around a corner by the reception desk.

The building was bought half-finished from the defunct TXU Europe in 2003, for £16.75 million. According to the Council’s website, it ‘boasts a host of … environmental features’, including rainwater collection, ‘mini recycling centres’ and extensive solar panels. The annual power produced by the latter is estimated by the Council to be around 72,000 kWh, ‘about the same as the energy used by 20 houses’; Chelmsford firm Solar Green, responsible for installing the panels, reckon on a higher figure of 84,000 kWh, and note that ‘[a]t the time of construction this solar photovoltaic system was the largest of its kind in Europe and is still the largest building integrated solar pv system in the UK.’

The Display Energy Certificate, however, shows that it is barely producing 2% of the electricity used at Endeavour House, leaving the building with an annual carbon footprint of almost 2,000 tonnes and an Operational Rating of 138, where ‘100 would be typical for this kind of building’. (The rating for 2009 was slightly lower, at 136, but the figure of 147 in 2008 almost tipped the building into the very bottom bracket, ‘G’.) The building’s Advisory Report, issued at the same time as the latest certificate, gives fourteen recommendations for improvement, every one marked as potentially ‘high impact’.

There may well be more to this data than meets the eye — these sorts of centralized assessments are notorious for their heavy-handedness and inattention to detail. Still, the methodology seems solid and well thought-out, making provision for a broad range of buildings and functions. Perhaps the Council just needs to remember to switch the lights off now and then.