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Energy-saving champion puts theory into practice

16 April 2020

One of the many highlights within each PFM Partnership Awards’ presentation ceremony is that of the Team Member trophy, awarded to a non-managerial colleague on the staff of one of the finalists.

Phil Harris with Linaker MD Claire Curran (R) and presenter Sally Phillips

The 2019 award was presented to Engie UK & Ireland energy engineer Phil Harris, pictured with award sponsor Linaker managing director Claire Curran and presenter Sally Phillips, who impressed the judges with his determination in progressing his career and for his infectious passion for his work and support of his colleagues and his employer’s clients.

“Engineering is the triumph of common sense over a problem,” says Mr Harris, who further states that in his case, it is a mix of common sense backed by years of education, training and practical, hands-on experience.

Continuous training and self-improvement have been the hallmarks of his career, beginning with his early days as a plasterer when he decided to go to night school to train as a plumber. He was subsequently taken on by Elyo (now part of Engie) as a general handyman, before beginning training to become a gas engineer.

When a degree course at UCLAN came up in ‘Building Services and Sustainable Engineering’, he recognised an important opportunity to expand his horizons.

“It really struck a chord with me,” he says. “At that time there was growing awareness of climate change, and I knew it would become an increasingly important priority. It meant three more years of night school, but it felt like the right thing to do.”

Mr Harris was able to put his new qualification into practice when an opportunity came up to work as an energy engineer at MediaCityUK in Salford, but his appetite for training did not end there, as he went on to take an MSc in Energy, which he completed in 2018.

“While completing all this academic training, I was getting plenty of practical experience on the job,” he continues.

“It gave me a good mix of theoretical and hands-on knowledge, which meant I understood the fundamentals behind energy management, as well as the practical considerations for implementation.”

Mr Harris says an energy engineer has to balance the priorities of building managers with the need to reduce energy use. He stresses that the first consideration for any business that wants to save energy is to measure consumption accurately.

“Until you measure it you can’t manage it – that’s the energy engineer’s slogan. Once you have accurate data, you can begin to identify and address anomalies,” he says.

When it comes to maximising energy savings, Mr Harris advises following a four-step process: “First you reduce your energy consumption.

This could include avoiding energy-intensive practices and lowering heating settings, pump and fan speeds and making other almost imperceptible reductions, which can eliminate unnecessary usage and be more energy efficient.

“Next you can change assets to low carbon, energy-efficient models and invest in renewable more efficient alternatives. This is the first step that requires any capital investment.

“When your energy use is as low as it can go you can consider the next step, which is renewable sources. This could involve installing renewable generation or purchasing energy direct from renewable generators. Finally, you can offset any residual carbon emissions through tree planting and similar carbon compensation and conversion schemes.

“Of course, reducing your carbon emissions involves more than cutting energy consumption,” he continues.

“It means looking at the bigger picture, considering things like transport emissions, employee behaviour, waste management and other factors that may be beyond an energy manager’s control.

"These require strategic decisions made by planners and developers. As energy engineers, we can play our part by managing waste streams and liaising with suppliers to minimise waste and emissions.”

Mr Harris says he doesn’t have a favourite energy-reduction technology, because every building requires a different approach.

But he recognises that LEDs can easily save around 50% when replacing old fluorescent lighting, which he describes as “an easy calculation and a very visible improvement”.

On a personal note, he particularly enjoys working on large plant, such as pumps and motors, because “there are big savings to be made here, but they’re not so widely understood and not visible to most people in a building”.

When asked about the energy-saving initiative he is most satisfied with, Mr Harris is emphatic: “Car parks,” he says.

“They are an easy win when it comes to energy saving. “In 2015, Engie completed a project at the Lowry Outlet Mall car park, which is open 364 days a year.

"It was being lit 24 hours a day, to allay safety concerns, and was fitted out with energy-intensive sodium discharge lamps. We replaced all of those with LED bulbs, fitted with PIR motion-detection and LUX daylight sensors.

“This ensured lights were never switched on unnecessarily, while still providing the necessary security for car park users. And when the lights were on, they used a fraction of the energy of the old bulbs. It was a really successful project.”

He says the UK’s commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 reinforces what his employer is already doing: “Companies like ours sit in the sweet spot. We can use our technical and financial resources, along with our practical expertise, to help businesses achieve zero carbon.

“There is now more demand than ever for these services, and we have the resources to really influence carbon reduction across the UK.”

Looking to the future, Mr Harris believes that fast-changing technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and smart building systems will keep energy engineers on their toes.

“Buildings are becoming like a black box of information, with so many assets able to gather data,” he explains.

“You need to have the expertise to open that black box and extract the information required to understand how buildings operate. That’s the challenge for energy engineers of the future. So it looks like my training days aren’t over yet!” Mr Harris concludes.

Entries for the PFM Awards Team Member category can only be submitted by companies confirmed as finalists and invitations will be sent to all those on this year’s shortlist as soon as this is confirmed in June for the 2020 awards.

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