Display Energy Certificates produced by building occupiers could be a powerful tool to drive greater energy efficiency, says Liz Peace

There is no shortage of initiatives aimed at persuading the real estate sector to make its buildings more energy efficient. Indeed, it could be argued that the plethora of ‘helpful' systems, advisory pamphlets, websites, toolkits, measurement protocols, indices etc, simply serves to confuse the poor building owner and induce panic or paralysis rather than real energy reductions. In the UK, however, we believe there is a very simple device that would help beyond all others to focus the industry on the task of improving energy efficiency, and that is the Display Energy Certificate (DEC).

The genesis of the DEC in the UK lies in the EU's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which specified that there should be certificates that measured the energy performance of buildings and that for public buildings over 1,000m2 those certificates should be displayed in public for all to see. The UK decided on a twin-track approach.

The certificate that had to be produced for the bulk of buildings at the point of construction, sale or lease, the Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) was to be based on an asset rating, which reflected how the fabric of the building and certain fixed energy services (heating, lighting, ventilation) were capable of performing at its completion. The DEC, which had to be displayed for public buildings, had to reflect the actual energy consumed by the building while it was in use.

Clearly, there is a huge potential for variation in the performance reflected by these two types of certificates. A highly efficient privately-occupied building with an asset rating of A or B could be very inefficiently used by its occupiers and, if DECs were required, might come out at an F or G rating. On the other hand, a fundamentally energy inefficient building with a low EPC could actually be well used by its occupiers, but this would be totally ignored in the preparation of its asset rating and the occupiers would get little or no credit for their efforts. Moreover, the fact that efficient occupiers were effectively masking the poor asset performance of the buildings would leave the building owner little incentive to improve.

If we are to make real progress in achieving actual emissions reductions, it surely makes sense to be looking at the actual amount of energy used in buildings, not some notional measure that tells us how a building is capable of performing. And that requires all buildings to produce DECs.

Moreover, the logical party to produce the DEC would be the occupier, who would be responsible on a day-to-day basis for the bulk of a building's energy consumption. That in turn would remove at least some of the anomalies that result from the landlord/tenant divide, since there would have to be co-operation between the two, particularly with regard to exchange of energy use data, in order to arrive at the total energy consumption figure for the space as used on a day-to-day basis.

The tenant would be able to influence the numbers in the DEC through their operational behaviour, and where it was the fabric of the building that led to inefficiencies, the tenant would be able to put pressure on the landlord to improve it. Having to display an operational certificate would also leave absolutely nowhere for the inefficient building owners and occupiers to hide, since their performance would be fully in the public domain for their employees, investors, clients and the general public to see. Such public visibility would surely speed up the establishment of a firm connection between energy performance and value.

The EU missed a great opportunity to mandate the type of certificates required under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Only a handful of other countries besides the UK (Malta, Slovenia, Sweden, Belgium Flemish Region, Germany and France) decided to introduce some form of operational certification or assessment, and like the UK they did not specify its use across all buildings.

The UK government does, however, seem to realise that to make serious inroads into the energy used by the built environment, particularly commercial as opposed to domestic buildings, it needs to have a method of measurement that looks at total energy usage. It has recently announced in its response to the Committee on Climate Change, as part of the obligations resulting from the Climate Change Act, that it would be consulting on the proposition that all buildings should be required to have DECs.

Interestingly, a number of commercial property owners had already decided that measurement of the total energy consumption in a building was a necessary pre-requisite for efficient energy management and had taken advantage of a measurement methodology produced by the British Property Federation, known as the Landlord's Energy Statement - Tenant Energy Review (LES-TER)* to calculate DEC-type readings for their portfolios.

Others have now decided to proceed with the production of DECs across their building stock in advance of the outcome of the government's consultation. This is not an inexpensive exercise - but the cost is outweighed by the potential that DECs offer landlords and tenants seeking to pursue joint-energy efficiency programmes. Moreover, those building owners who have already taken the plunge see this as a means of reducing costs and enhancing the saleability of their buildings to both investors and occupiers.

Property people are not known for being soft or emotional about financial matters so if the leaders of the industry think that operational certificates will make a real difference as a cost control technique and as a market differentiator - while also saving the planet in the meantime - then it will not be long before others take a similar path. The legislators in Brussels could score a quick win by following their example.

*The LES-TER toolkit is available completely free of charge at www.les-ter.org.uk