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‘Opportunity’ Certificates

21 October 2008

Faced with Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates, Dr Gavin Dunn asks “What will provide customer reassurance in this field, and what unexpected opportunities will this whole new regulatory and measurement regime afford?”

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES WITH ASSESSORS QUALITY and experience? With the possibility of there not being enough assessors to go around at first, there is the likelihood that FMs will be concerned about the quality of what they are paying for. It will clearly be some time before the overall regulatory mechanism is tested by the policing processes that will come to bear: Trading Standards, Part L inspections, lawyers and the Courts, not to mention the mandatory auditing procedures. It is with the latter that perhaps the most hope lies for the FM in the short term.

Some of the accrediting bodies have a much better track record of complying with the auditing part of their role than others. Some see it as integral to the maintenance of the quality of their training, and their role in supporting Energy Assessors and building the value of the energy rating process. It is vital that FMs check
the accreditation of their selection of assessors. Elmhurst, for example, has achieved industryleading levels of auditing of its assessors.

With limited numbers of assessors to choose from it is also possible that FMs on large sites or campuses will consider getting trained themselves or offer professional development to a member of staff. DECs (Display Energy Certificates) will need to be renewed annually and with the evidence of the domestic sector to go on it won’t be long before this will be required for all buildings on every site even if the regime is beginning in a more relaxed way. It is important to get trained by a company that understands your particular needs.

Another alternative will be to contract the work to a larger service provider with a number of trained Energy Assessor teams, in-house support and guaranteed auditing. This is almost certain to be the case for most local authorities with large numbers of buildings to cover. Elmhurst has a separate sister services company providing a wide range of energy consultancy services including commercial EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) and DECs.

Some building control departments may be asked to provide services in-house to their own local authorities but this goes against the current history of the development of the outward facing role. There are also staff
shortages here, although the recent announcement of Elmhurst Energy as a training and services provider to Local Authority Building Control (LABC) should throw some local authorities a lifeline. Elmhurst’s close
relationship with LABC and its depth of understanding of building control issues is another quality and reassurance measure for FMs to apply when looking to choose an assessor or when judging the quality of an accreditation and training provider.

Why is it important that an assessor is wellsupported as well as well-trained? The procedure is complex, and the software is under constant development and refinement. There are competing software products in the marketplace. All offer something slightly different. None are expensive any longer – indeed some are free. But as there is no such thing as a free lunch it is important that an assessor knows what he is using and can talk to you about the quality and value of the software he is providing.

Elmhurst has very recently announced a tie-up with well-established property and construction consultants Property Tectonics (pt) to offer the pt Lifespan-SBEM web-based software to its energy assessors, ensuring seamless lodgement of certificates. The Lifespan product is webbased which gives an assessor equipped with a laptop greater flexibility than with some products. Understanding all the capabilities of any software takes time, and in everyone’s experience, can require considerable technical support. On-site assessors very often need instantly available expert advice. It is the effectiveness of this support role that really sets the accreditation schemes apart and often directly impacts the speed and quality of the service offered.

Once an accredited, well-supported and authoritative assessor has been tracked down an FM needs to know what to expect – so far, the process has been applied too few times for it to be common knowledge. But in general the first thing the assessor will want to establish is the level of documentation already available for a given building. Indeed this is most likely to be factored into the progress - and the cost - of the
project at the quotation stage. Accurate floor plans, occupancy details and utility billing data will be particularly important and will greatly reduce the amount of onsite surveying time, and hence the costs.

Nonetheless a site survey will be required in all cases even if its scope is only to verify the accuracy of the documentation provided and to confirm the validity of the proposed recommendations. During such site surveys the constructive input of the FM’s detailed knowledge of the building will enable the assessor to maximise its potential rating – all the methodologies assume the worst where information is missing or cannot be confirmed. Once the data is obtained an approved calculation methodology will be applied.

As far as the question about unexpected opportunities is concerned, it is the DEC that holds the key to the real benefits for FMs actively managing buildings over the long-term. The DEC is based on actual energy use of the building, versus theoretical usage, as in the case of EPCs. At first, and particularly in the public
sector, DECs may seem no more than an administrative burden. However, the private sector will probably lead the way in seeing the commercial value of the DEC, and others will follow.

There are significant energy savings to be made, and therefore money to be clawed back from the utility budget, as a result of optimising a building’s consumption, but there is much more to be gained from following the corporate responsibility agenda and displaying those savings to the world. DECs enable an
organisation to do this.

Many buildings won’t officially need one but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one, display it and update it as often as you make changes to your energy using systems as a result of a dynamic and sensitive energy policy. These ‘voluntary’ DECs are an area where FMs can make their mark. And if you require one it will have to be re-done every year anyway, so it may as well show improvements. Because if you don’t measure your performance in this way someone else will! Some companies are already openly competing with each other to bring their carbon footprint down and revisions to the DEC will prove who are the real victors.

In terms of the commercial valuation of the built estate, it may be quite some time before buildings come to be valued mainly on the quality of their energy performance. It is perfectly possible that it will happen in the
foreseeable future but it will certainly be an important factor here on in. New buildings cannot be traded without energy rating certification and a premium can be expected for buildings with lower energy costs. With older buildings the pressure will be on FMs to ensure that building value is held or at least not damaged by energy performance which no-one wants to publicise, and indeed the ability to ‘shout about’ good performance should become a marketing tool. Buildings with poor energy ratings will lose value over time, and surely that’s a good thing. It should certainly have an impact in the building refurbishment field.

Reassurance for the purchaser of energy rating services will come from a knowledge and understanding of the accreditation bodies and the support that they provide to the industry. It will come from the quality of the auditing process. It will come over time, and with experience, and it will come from not fuelling any price war that will inevitably cut quality and value-added services.

Energy rating can become a very powerful tool in the FM’s armoury. Optimising energy use will be the new
battlefield and energy assessors can make the recommendations that will make the difference sometimes
enabling hundreds of thousands to be saved every year. This can become a corporate publicity tool with power to influence shareholders and the public alike thanks to the invention of the DEC. The voluntary
commissioning of DECs could increase the influence and importance of every pro-active FM.

Elmhurst Energy is a government approved energy rating provider and the largest overall accreditor and trainer of energy assessors to date. Elmhurst Energy, like CIBSE with its low carbon consultants, is both an accreditation body and a services provider. It has positioned itself as a completely independent professional support organisation within this emerging new and rapidly expanding energy rating and energy consultancy industry. Elmhurst Energy provides a full range of energy rating services to organisations large
or small, private or public, as well as the software, training and accreditation systems to support new Energy Assessors who wish to practise in the energy rating market in their own right. Elmhurst’s comprehensive range of energy rating systems encompasses both Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)
and Display Energy Certificate (DEC) production, for use in the design, construction, sale and rental of domestic housing, commercial and public buildings. Elmhurst Energy has been in the energy rating business long before the current crop of new regulations has been around. In 1992, it developed some of the first energy performance measurement software for several mortgage banks, building societies and other forward-looking environmentally conscious organisations, and continues to build on this impressive track record.

● Dr Gavin Dunn is Operations Director for Elmhurst Energy

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